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Reflections on Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue

Updated on January 26, 2023

Satoshi Kon expertly blurs the lines between reality and surreality, dreams and waking life, the conscious and the subconscious, in Perfect Blue.

In Satoshi Kon's taut psychological thriller, Perfect Blue, Mima Kirigoe is one third of the J-pop (Japanese pop) singing group CHAM. She decides to leave the group to embark on an acting career and establish her own identity, separate from CHAM. She takes on the role of Rika’s younger sister in the procedural drama, Double Bind. At first, her character only has one line. Rumi, Mima’s manager, is against Mima leaving CHAM, telling Tadokoro, the agent from Mima’s talent agency, that she wanted Mima sold as a pop idol and that Mima came to Tokyo to sing, not act in a show with a few lines. Indeed, at first, Mima’s character only has one line which is increased to three lines in the next episode. However, the screenwriter and director of Double Bind, have a bold idea for the next script: they want Mima’s character to be a stripper who is gang raped at a night club and for the character to have a major role in the second half of the series. Rumi is completely against the rape scene but Mima states she is willing to do it in order to become a real actress. On the way home from the set, Mima sees an image of herself while she was in CHAM dressed up in one of the group’s outfits (for the purposes of this essay, I will refer to this image as CHAM-Mima) say “I absolutely REFUSE to do it!” in the window of her subway train.

The rape scene is filmed the next day on set. Mima’s character is stripping on stage in a skimpy outfit. The males in the crowd become rowdy and the club manager attempts to calm them down. The manager is then dragged off the stage. At this point, Mima’s arms are pinned down by the males in the audience and another male jumps on top of her. The director abruptly yells cut to adjust the camera. The actor who is on top of Mima apologizes to her and she says it’s okay.The director starts filming again and the actor unzips his pants, spreads Mima’s legs and simulates raping her. The director yells cut again to tell the actor to thrust faster. The filming resumes and the actor is shown repeatedly thrusting on top of Mima while her arms are pinned down and the other males in the club grunt and cheer him on. Mima repeatedly screams and yells no and there are tears streaming down her face. Towards the end of the scene, which seem like an eternity compared to the few minutes it is actually on screen, Mima looks up towards the stage lights on set and flashes back to herself in CHAM seeing stage lights while performing a concert to the applause of her fans.

It is jarring when the director yells cut because, the viewer along with Mima, is affected by the brutality of the scene. We both seemingly forget that this is just acting and, even realizing it is, like the actor who apologizes to Mima, we realize that it is traumatizing nonetheless. Mima does not appear to be acting whatsoever when the tears stream down her face and she screams no over and over again. She, like the viewer, wants the scene to end. When the director loudly yells cut and the scene pulls away from only Mima and the males to encompass the dollies, the sound stage, the cameras and the set, we are reminded that this isn’t for real and Mima is just acting for a television show. That realization, however, does not make the scene any less visceral or disturbing. This is the first instance in Perfect Blue of Kon blurring the lines between what is real and what is not real. Yes, we know that this is a rape scene with paid actors on a television set but the impact on the viewer, and Mima, is still palpable and real.

Mima returns to her apartment after filming the rape scene and finds that her beloved pet fish are dead. This, on top of the trauma of filming the rape scene, leads to Mima having an emotional breakdown in which she throws clothes, stuffed animals and other items around her apartment while crying loudly before finally collapsing on her bed. She then sees CHAM-Mima tell her, quite cheerfully, “Didn’t I tell you? This new life would be the PITS!” The viewer then sees Me-Mania, an older creepy fan who appears to be stalking Mima, typing a blog entry on Mima’s World, which is a website that has diary entries written by a Mima impostor that has intimate details of Mima’s life, such as the groceries she buys, what the interior of her apartment looks like and the subway line she takes. The diary entry states that Mima regrets filming the rape scene. The ratings for Double Bind increase after the rape scene airs and the viewer sees Mima tell an interviewer who questions her about the scene that she wants to be seen as an actress, not an ex-pop idol. The viewer then sees fans whining that’s not Mima and the real Mima would never film a scene like that.

Mima then reads a diary entry on Mima’s World that states Mima was forced to film the rape scene by the screenwriter followed by the words Help! Help! Help! typed repeatedly. CHAM-Mima then appears inside of the computer screen and says that Mima is filthy and no one wants a pop idol with a tarnished reputation. CHAM-Mima then steps outside of the computer screen into her apartment then gracefully leaps backwards out of her apartment window then is shown skipping away on thin air. The next scene shows Double Binds screenwriter, Shibuya-san (-san is a Japanese suffix, which is the English equivalent of Mr.) in the parking lot of the set of the show. He opens the elevator to find a CD player blaring CHAM’s “Angel of Love” (performed at the beginning of the film) at top volume. In the next scene, the elevator opens and the CD player has been replaced with Shibuya-san’s dead body, which has been stabbed repeatedly with the eyes gouged out.

Mima has her pictures taken by a photographer, Murano-san, who, according to her previous bandmates, is known for getting pop stars to take off their clothes. True to form, the viewer sees Mima start out with a tank top with lace and a button down shirt on but at the photographer’s urging, she is eventually posing nude. After Mima takes the photos, she sees CHAM-Mima say “See? Didn’t I tell you? You were better off as a pop idol.” In the next scene, the viewer sees someone typing to Me-Mania that fans protect their pop idol. He then types he will protect the “real” Mima and he will get rid of the “impostor”, the current Mima. The viewer then sees Rika (the Doctor in Double Bind, played by Eri) say that “We all create illusions within ourselves..saying we only have one fixed persona.” Clearly, Mima has substantial cognitive dissonance between her current self and her former good-girl persona while she was in CHAM.

Mima visits her old bandmates who are being interviewed on the radio. As she stands outside of the studio, she sees CHAM-Mima sitting down in the studio being interviewed with the current CHAM duo. Mima starts to chase CHAM-Mima as she skips away. Mima eventually runs into the middle of the road where a truck being driven by Me-Mania almost hits her. As the truck’s headlights are shining in Mima’s face, she abruptly wakes up in her bedroom. The viewer accepts this scene is actually taking place until Me-Mania is shown driving the truck. Me-Mania has been shown doing nothing but stalk Mima, go to CHAM concerts, buy multiple copies of the magazines with Mima’s nude photos to prevent people from seeing them and visiting Mima’s Room online. We have seen nothing that would suggest that he is a professional truck driver with a Commercial Driving License. As soon as we see Me-Mania, we start to question if this scene is actually taking place, and then in a moment we see Mima waking up in her bed, confirming that the scene was actually a dream. This is another example of Kon’s trademark fluidity with what is real versus what is imagined as the viewer is constantly questioning what he is seeing.

In the next scene, Rumi cautions Mima against visiting Mima’s Room. Rumi advises it appears to be created by a fan who does not approve of Mima’s image change and they seem to be taking their things too far. Mima quietly tells Rumi maybe the website was created by her other self, buried in her heart, and that the writer of Mima’s Room is more like her than Mima is. Rumi then tells Mima not to worry because “It’s not as if illusions can come to life.” The next scene cuts to Rika (Mima’s co-star) on the set of Double Bind uttering the same exact words to Mima’s character: “Don’t worry. It’s not as if illusions can come to life.” Mima is startled by hearing the same exact words and messes up the take. The next scene quickly cuts to Mima waking up in her bed and asking Rumi: “Yesterday? Was that real?” Mima sbreaks the coffee cup she is holding in her hand and asks Rumi if the blood is real. Mima then visits Mima’s Room and reads a diary entry that says she shopped in Harajuku yesterday. Mima then says in an eerily dissociative tone: “I guess I went shopping in Harajuku yesterday.” Clearly, Mima is beginning to have problems, as is the viewer, from being able to definitively discern what is happening in reality, what is a dream and what is a hallucination, to the point she is relying on a stalker’s diary entries pretending to be her to confirm what is actually happening in her life from what is not.

The next scene shows Mima brutally stabbing Murano, the photographer who took her nude photos, to death while she flashes back to her nude photo shoot. Mima is bloodied and breathing heavily as she kills him. The viewer then sees that Murano has actually been killed- we see his corpse and his eyes have been gouged out, just like Shibuya-san’s (the screenwriter of Double Bind). Mima is next shown waking up in her bed, so it appears that she had a dream where she killed Murano. However, Mima then finds Murano’s bloodied shirt and hat in her closet. Did she put it there herself after killing him? Or did the actual killer place it there to mess with Mima’s mind and make her think she did it? Mima opens the door to her apartment and has a microphone shoved in her face by a journalist wanting to know what she knows about the murders and is it true that she, Shibuya-san and Murano were involved in a love triangle? At this point, Mima’s grip on reality is tenuous at best. In the next scene, Mima asks Rumi if she is alive or did the truck driven by Me-Mania kill her and has the rest been a dream? Again, as the viewer we are put into Mima’s shoes: what of the preceding events have actually happened and what has been imagined? Mima is then back on the set of Double Bind, where her character has just killed someone. She is instructed to breathe heavily to make the scene seem realistic. Mima then sees the bloodied victim on set come to life and it is none other than Murano, the murdered photographer. Did Mima really kill him? Or is her mind playing tricks on her?

Mima’s character on Double Bind, Yoko, is a pop idol named – wait for it – Mima Kirigoe who accepts a role of a stripper who is raped at a night club. Sound familiar? Yoko then kills multiple people and then eventually kills her sister, because she wants to be her sister, who is a famous actress- and Yoko wants to be an actress more than anything, just like Mima. Did things just get too meta for anyone else? After the last scene of Double Bind is filmed and the show wraps, Mima spots Me-Mania in an empty hallway on set. The scene then cuts to Mima’s agent, Tadokoro-san, telling Rumi that Mima has just received a starring role in a movie – he says it has a few “sketchy” scenes, but what can you do. The scene then flashes back to Me-Mania, who informs Mima that he is there to kill her in order to protect the “real” Mima. Me-Mania killed Shibuya-san (the director of Double Bind) and Murano-san (the photographer) and now to make sure the real Mima is protected, he is here to finish the job. Me-Mania knocks Mima to the ground and binds her feet together with a belt. He then tears off her underwear and attempts to rape her. This is actually on the same stage that Mima’s character was raped on inside the strip club on Double Bind. Mima manages to kill Me-Mania by hitting him in the head with a hammer that was nearby the stage. After she kills him, Mima stumbles, dazed, into the hallway where she finds Rumi. She takes Rumi back to the stage where Me-Mania was but his body is gone. Rumi asks Mima if she is sure she wasn’t dreaming, the same question Mima and the viewer have been asking themselves throughout the duration of the film.

In the next scene, the viewer sees Tadokoro’s (Mima’s agent) body, propped up against Me-Mania’s body. They have both been stabbed to death and have had their eyes gouged out. Mima is then shown in her bedroom. She calls out to Rumi to confirm she is there and Rumi assures her she is. Mima then looks around, comforting herself with all the familiarities of her bedroom. However, there is one problem: her beloved fish which died at the beginning of the film are now swimming in her fish tank. Someone has bought the exact same fish, apparently in an attempt to convince Mima she is in her bedroom. Mima knows something is very, very wrong then we see Rumi appear in front of her in the new CHAM outfit, which is different from the old outfit CHAM-Mima has worn throughout the film. Rumi informs Mima she is performing at the next CHAM show and says that a pop idol is always protected by her fans and that Me-Mania failed in that respect. Rumi then attempts to kill Mima. The viewer alternately sees Rumi as CHAM-Mima and then as she actually appears, middle-aged, plump with wild eyes and a disheveled appearance. Rumi sees herself as CHAM-Mima which is who she wants to be more than anything. Rumi is not only Mima’s manager but a former pop idol, who was never quite as attractive as Mima, even in her heyday, and never achieved CHAM’s popularity level.

Rumi is exactly like Yoko, Mima’s character on Double Bind, who wants to be her sister so badly she is willing to kill for it, even going so far as killing her sister. Mima also sees Rumi as CHAM-Mima as they struggle. Just as Mima envisioned CHAM-Mima shaming her for filming the rape scene and taking the nude photos, she knows Rumi agrees with her old self, represented as CHAM-Mima, about the things she has done since leaving CHAM and I think this is why she sees her as CHAM-Mima as well when they struggle towards the end of the film. Mima, in desperation, jumps from the balcony of her apartment on to the balcony of an apartment next door and lands roughly. Rumi, seen as CHAM-Mima does the same jump, but she is seen skipping and landing lightly. Ofcourse, in reality she landed just as hard and as violently as Mima did. As they struggle, we see Rumi as herself, grunting, sweating and out of breath and as CHAM-Mima, perfectly put together in her performance outfit. Rumi catches up to Mima and stabs her in her side with a large umbrella, telling her “We don’t need two Mimas. Mima is a pop idol and we don’t need an impostor.” Mima then rips off Rumi’s Mima wig (Rumi’s hair is much shorter than Mima’s) and at this point, the mask is off and Rumi proceeds to have a psychotic breakdown as she is, momentarily, forced to see herself as she truly is and to admit that she is not CHAM-Mima.

Rumi falls on to a broken shard of a window pane and is bleeding profusely from the wound on her side. Rumi calmly picks up her Mima wig, places it on her head and puts her hand on her bleeding wound then smears the blood across her face. The viewer sees Rumi as she sees herself, as Mima, with blood smeared across her face. This is one of the most iconic images from Perfect Blue and can be seen as the middle picture on this blog. Rumi then steps in to the middle of the street and there is a truck driving full-speed towards her. In her psychotic state, Rumi sees the truck’s headlights as it quickly approaches her as stage lights at a CHAM concert. She calmly raises her arms in appreciation to her fans as they loudly applaud her. At the last moment, Mima is seen knocking Rumi out of the truck’s path and saving her life.

The next scene is the last in the film. Mima is shown, with considerably longer hair and she looks older and more mature. It is apparent that several months, at least, have passed since Rumi tried to kill Mima. A rep from Mima’s talent agency states that Mima has visited the hospital and brought Rumi roses several times. Mima is told by a nurse that once in awhile Rumi’s old persona – Rumi – surfaces, but other than that she believes she is CHAM-Mima. Rumi is seen accepting the roses from Mima then views her reflection in a glassy surface and she sees herself as CHAM-Mima. As Mima enters her car after leaving the hospital, she explains out loud to herself that she visits Rumi because she got her to where she is today, an established actress. The last shot of the film shows Mima say triumphantly – directly into the camera – “I’m the REAL me.” It is clear that at this point Mima is finally comfortable in her own skin and self-confident in her post-CHAM self. The self-doubt and guilt that plagued Mima’s character throughout the film has been replaced with a self-assured demeanor. She is her, as she stated so simply, just Mima, instead of CHAM-Mima.

Satoshi Kon examines conscious versus subconscious desires in Perfect Blue. Rumi is fiercely protective of Mima's innocent, good-girl image. She warns Mima prior to the filming of the rape scene that her role in Double Bind will do irrevocable damage to her reputation. Rumi sees herself as the guardian to Mima’s uncorrupted self. There is clearly a part of Rumi that actually wants to be the pristine version of Mima and cannot accept the fact that this Mima no longer exists and has metamorphosed into another Mima who is challenging the boundaries of her former persona. Once Rumi realizes that Mima is committed to this new self, she resolves to kill Mima, thus preserving the “pure” Mima in perpetuity. She attempts to have Me-Mania kill Mima. When that fails, she takes matters into her own hands.

This murderous urge is a subconscious desire that Rumi successfully masks for nearly the duration of the film. On the surface, Rumi is the devoted and loyal manager who only wants what is best for Mima, and by all outward appearances is very protective of her, especially after the stalking begins. This motherly relationship, on the conscious level, is hideously contrasted with Rumi’s true subconscious desires revealed at the end of the film to protect angelic Mima’s image and persona – even if that means killing Mima, which very nearly succeeds in doing.

There are many psychological layers to Mima’s character and Kon deftly analyzes them all. Mima’s conscious desire is to leave CHAM and break away from her girlish, J-pop image. She accepts the role on Double Bind, which is a step in the right direction, insofar as making a clean break from her former persona. The viewer is witness to the subconscious struggles Mima endures as she films the traumatizing rape scene. The fake online Mima diary expresses regret after the rape scene is filmed. Mima is shown reading the diary entry and admits that she didn’t like filming the rape scene either but it was necessary in order for her to break away from her prior image and be taken seriously as an actress. After the magazine issue with Mima’s nude pictorial is released on newsstands, Mima sees CHAM-Mima telling her she should have listened to her and stayed in CHAM. The cognitive dissonance Mima is experiencing is palpable and remains unresolved until the very end of the film, where she is shown as looking older, more mature and exuding self-confidence. As she walks the halls of the psychiatric hospital, the nurses are heard saying to one another in reverential hushed tones, “That couldn’t have been Mima! What would she be doing in a place like this?” It is effectively conveyed that at this point Mima has firmly established herself in her acting career and her sighting at the hospital sends shockwaves amongst the nurses at having such an esteemed celebrity deigning to visit a psychiatric ward.

Kon also probes the conscious desires of the Japanese public at large in terms of the question of what they expect, want and demand from their pop stars. In a September 4, 1998 interview posted on Perfect Blue’s official website, Kon states the following: “There are many people who don’t know that the Japanese also have a culture in which B-grade idols are manipulated.” Mima faces extraordinary backlash for her acting choices as it is not what the public wanted from her. Mima opens a fan mail letter after her final show from CHAM, stating simply “Sing for us forever!” Me-Mania, and to an extent Rumi, are stand-ins for the general public, who condemned Mima for choosing sexualized acting roles and for “betraying” her long-time CHAM fans and former image. Towards the beginning of the film, Mima receives a fax in her apartment that says TRAITOR in big, bold kanji. The public stuck Mima in a box of “innocent J-pop star” and it was only after Mima had taken considerable risks and endured the backlash that she was able to achieve success in her acting career and was “allowed” to move on from her past persona with CHAM. As Mima is heard telling her Mom after her last show with CHAM, the pop idol image was suffocating her and she wanted more for herself and her career. Kon seems to be questioning some of the unintended consequences of the Idol phenomenon in Japan through the lens of Mima’s character.

I will end this with a quote from the director himself which I believe perfectly encapsulates the entire film. When asked in an interview if there is a message he tried to deliver through Perfect Blue, Kon responds “Perhaps it would be ‘losing reality’.”


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