A good psychological thriller takes viewers on a twisting ride that makes them question everything they thought was certain, and Perfect Blue does this masterfully. Directed by Satoshi Kon in 1997, Perfect Blue has taken up the mantle of an animated classic and enjoys its place among the ranks of Japanese works that influence Hollywood.
The film follows Mima, a young pop idol who decides to try her hand at acting in an attempt to move forward in her career. However, she is not granted a clean break. The idol world breeds its own unique toxicity, which is made apparent by Mima's fans who are displeased by the implications of her switch. Even Rumi, Mima's manager, is wary of Mima losing her manufactured innocence. This displeasure stems from a deeper desire for control. Instead of letting Mima grow and do as she pleases, people complain that she won't always be who they want her to be.
In the entertainment industry, image is everything, and this is especially true for women. The loss of image can spell the loss of an entire career. Young women, especially idols whose images are carefully crafted, are encouraged to portray a sweet innocence that makes them agreeable to the masses. Those who break from this image are often confronted by judgmental crowds and denounced by puritanical critics. It's enough to drive any girl -- like Mima -- crazy.
Perfect Blue's feminism becomes more obvious when discussing Mima's stalker, who eventually attacks her, and a particular scene she is forced to act out for a film. In the movie Mima manages to score a part in, her character is sexually assaulted, and the scene is performed with an intense amount of detail. The simulated act of violence points out glaring issues in regard to violence toward women, but it also highlights less obvious feminist issues.
Rumi's main qualm with the scene is that it will deal a death blow to Mima's perfect image. However, the idea that sexual assault can lessen a woman's perceived value in any way is highly problematic. The film's nuanced handling of this conversation forces audiences to address their own feminist beliefs.
With its artful and shocking twist, Perfect Blue also addresses a feminist issue that is often glossed over: women working against other women. The main antagonist of the film turns out to be none other than Rumi, the woman who was supposed to protect and guide Mima. Instead, she attempts to control Mima and live vicariously through the vulnerable girl, resorting to murder when things don't go her way. Rumi is proof that violence toward women can come from any angle, and Perfect Blue doesn't spare anyone when it comes to its criticisms of society.
Perfect Blue tackles a healthy spread of pressing topics, from obsessive consumerism to mental health, but its feminist undertones hit particularly hard even today. For this reason, among others, Satoshi Kon's film is a timeless classic that will remain fresh for years to come.