Circle Cinema screened “Perfect Blue” for Anime Club, delving into the idea of obsessive adoration of pop culture idols.
Fangirl (noun): a girl or woman who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something. (Merriam-Webster)
Between the ages of 12 and 17, I was what the internet would snidely refer to as a fangirl. Whether I was cosplaying Sherlock Holmes on a Tuesday morning in AP Calc or blasting My Chemical Romance on the drive home from school, my identity was largely dependent on my current pop culture obsession. And honestly? I loved it. Every repeat watch or listen was a direct hit of dopamine to my teenage brain. I was hooked. I didn’t just love being a fan. I needed to be one. Because, outside of that … who was I?
And that is, perhaps, why the 1997 film “Perfect Blue” hit me so damn hard. The story follows Mima Kirigoe, a former teen pop idol trying to be taken seriously as an actress. I don’t want to give too much away — I seriously recommend watching it for yourself and don’t want to spoil the plot— but I will attempt to discuss the major themes of the film. And I do say attempt, because director Satoshi Kon goes absolutely feral with this movie.
First off, I should say that “Perfect Blue” was being shown at Circle Cinema as a part of their Anime Club. If your first instinct was to dismiss this movie as a shallow weeaboo fodder just on the fact that it’s an “anime,” I couldn’t really blame you. The current state of anime is an entirely separate discussion, but it’s safe to say that while many animes can be absolutely fantastic, you really shouldn’t expect a constant stream of cinematic genius out of your Crunchyroll subscription.
And that’s how “Perfect Blue” begins. Power Ranger-like superheroes and a cliched supervillain locked in melodramatic battle. Cutesy pop idol girls in bright costumes animatedly bouncing around on stage. Everything critics hate on this genre for ready and accounted for all in the movie’s first few minutes. But that’s when “Perfect Blue” shows its cards. Contrasted to this bright and shiny plastic wrapper, the film cuts to pop idol Mima going about her normal life. Quiet moments riding the train. All lights on Mima. Deciding what brand of milk to buy. Dancing in choreographed unison with her group. Feeding her beloved little fishies. Singing for her devoted fans. Jumping back and forth, back and forth, this humanizes this “kawaii anime girl” — not to mention this “anime movie” — and draws attention to the differences between Mima’s public and private personas.
As Mima performs with her pop group, CHAM!, we see just how attached her fans are to that public persona. The crowd goes wild. Video recorders, cameras and hands all wave out from the crowd. But one fan sticks out. A blank, distorted face and wide set eyes. He crouches at the front, palm splayed in front of his face. The camera moves and we see what he sees. He is holding Mima in his hand. He wants her, he wishes to possess her.
He is obsessed.
But what happens when that public persona is gone? When the object of your obsession is no more?
Mima announces that this will be her final performance, that she is leaving pop stardom to pursue a career as an actress, a drastic image change and huge shock to her adoring fans. What follows is a terrifying rollercoaster ride into the aftermath of her decision. Mima struggles to redefine her public persona, which in turn wreaks absolute havoc on her private one. Shaking off her cute and innocent pop star look with violent, oversexualized and traumatizing roles breaks her as she gropes in the dark for who she truly is.
Not only do we watch Mima’s identity crisis, we see what this conflict in character does to the people around her, those so invested in the CHAM! Mima. What lengths will these people go to to protect their perception of Mima, who they think she is? At what point will their delusions of the perfect, lovely CHAM! Mima take over and convince them that the actress Mima is nothing more than a fake, tarnishing their beloved idol?
This movie is wild. Its various storylines — Mima’s life, her new show, her fans, a string of vicious murders — twist around each other, muddling and melding into a bewildering, beautiful mess that left me mouth open for the entire third act of the film, utterly perplexed as to what was unfolding on screen. But I think that was the whole point, for the audience to feel as baffled and untethered from reality as Mima does.
Yes, the English dub does leave something to be desired. The art direction is beautiful, even striking at times, but it definitely looks like an anime from the 90s. The animation is a little dated, but the message is not.
In 2019, obsessive celebrity-fan culture is back with a vengeance. Think of all the “stan accounts” you see on Twitter, the countless Tumblr blogs and Instagram pages devoted to various celebrities, fanboys, fangirls and fanfolk pouring over every word of their favorite piece of entertainment. People love to love things. What “Perfect Blue” examines is what happens when your identity is so largely based on a fictional, and thus unstable, person. (Yes, no matter what you say, a celebrity’s public face will always be a bit of fantasy.) What will happen to all the BTS stans when the K-Pop group eventually splits up and explores other, individual ventures, incongruent with their former selves?
It’s doubtful things will turn out like they did in “Perfect Blue,” but the fact remains that being an obsessive fan can be incredibly damaging to your mental health. What left is there to cling to once you faves start to act differently than you’ve always pictured them in your head? Or once they’re gone forever?
This film has seriously made me reconsider how I consume media. I was able to escape the tunnel-visioned mindset of a fangirl, but what if I hadn’t? Would I have ventured down a similarly dark path of disassociation? Probably not, but still, seeing just what blighted obsession can do to a person truly frightens me. In a different set of circumstances, that could have easily been me. And it could be you.
So please, go and watch “Perfect Blue.”