Film theorist Vivian Sobchack hypothesized the idea of cinema being a “sensuous object” that is dependent on the relationship between the viewer and the film. Film is an artistic, visual medium that often challenges the viewer’s attention, memory, emotions, and perception. How we view films is filtered by our own perceptions and the intended perceptions of the puppeteers behind the scenes. There are only a handful of directors who have mastered the art of perception, and one of these directors is Satoshi Kon.
Satoshi Kon is a Japanese anime director known for his fusion of fantastical elements embedded in the modern era of reality. Kon’s influence can be seen in films such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Kon’s visual storytelling is one for the books. He manages to seamlessly create edits that alter the viewer’s perception by masterfully toying with time and space and the audience’s sense of reality. In his 1997 debut film, Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon explores this visual thriller, inviting the viewer into the warped nightmare of his protagonist Mima Kirigoe.
Perfect Blue, written and directed by the late Satoshi Kon, is a psychological thriller which follows the life of Mima, a Japanese pop artist, who experiences a mental breakdown after going through a major career change. It is in this film that Kon uses real life events of the toxicity of idol culture and the entertainment industry to showcase the psychological trauma and stress those in the limelight often experience. In the Encyclopedia of Perception, E. Bruce Goldstein covers the psychology of perception and how “we perceive scenes and events as continuous even though they are presented across multiple viewpoints […].” This illusion he refers to in his book is called continuity. Perfect Blue uses continuity by continuously using edits to confuse the audience. Kon’s films are known to have sharp scene cuts without losing the flow of the narrative, ultimately causing a distorted reality. For the purpose of this analysis, spoilers will be made.
Satoshi Kon’s central character Mima enters the world of the acting, and in her first role, she plays a rape victim. This role is a complete opposite from her bubble gum sweet persona in her previous career as a pop idol. When she signs for the risqué role, there begins a conflict internally and externally, when her idol fans take offense to her new mature look and attack her through internet forums. This subplot mirrors modern idol culture where idols are attacked online or, in extreme cases of violence like, Christina Grimmie, Rebecca Schaeffer, and John Lennon, physically attacked when they break away from the facade that their fans perceive as reality.
The third act of Perfect Blue is one of the most intelligently edited acts in film—both animated and live action. Mima begins to lose her grip on reality in the third act of the film. As a result of her career change, she begins to realize the dark side of being an idol. She realizes she has a stalker who is obsessed with her pop idol persona. But, in addition, she begins having nightmares of another stalker—herself. This is where the psychological aspects of the film are heightened. Kon uses forceful editing and powerful imagery to showcase the disturbing identity crisis Mima is facing. In one of the most iconic scenes in the film, Mima murders a photographer who does a nude photo shoot of her. The murder is animated beautifully by showing the overboil of frustration she feels towards the new lifestyle she must adjust into to fit into the acting industry. The violence is bold. And Kon, once again, uses the motif of perception by projecting an image of Mima during her idol days as she continuously stabs this man to death. Blood splatters on the image of the old Mima symbolizing her tainted perception of herself and her frustration. Then there is a sharp cut to Mima waking up in bed causing the viewer to question the reality of the previous scene. This use of editing creates a muddled narrative blurring the lines of reality and perception for the protagonist, and for the audience.
In many ways, Perfect Blue is an illusionary commentary on idol culture, especially the toxic part of idol culture and how fans often have a perception of who their idol is and what their idol should be. But it is also a commentary on self-perception and how when one struggles with their identity and lets the pressure of what others think they should be, it can cause detrimental consequences in one’s life. Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a perfect psychological journey dripping with thrills, commentary, seamless editing, jarring scenes, and powerful perceptions.