This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
lyra strode 🎃’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Cw: rape, sexual assault, mental health.
English subtitles, Japanese audio.
How do you review your favourite film? The first time I saw Perfect Blue I was an emotional wreck by the end. I didn't know how to handle this wealth of emotion, I wasn't well versed in film theory at the time (I like to think I'm at least a little bit better now) but I knew I was seeing something important. Even today, although four viewings over two years has softened the film's impact, it never feels old or expected. The personal story isn't anything special. I was alone, it was Halloween time, I had heard of it but never experienced it and so I watched it. I instantly formed that personal connection, that irrational rationality is reason enough. It's graceful but heavy, never pulling its punches and showing the bloody aftermath of its violence. Coloured in deep purples and reds, contrasted against softer beiges and whites; its stiffer animation adds to its sense of removed reality. Realism but not real. A film heavy with sympathy for victims of trauma, mental illness, identity crises and the plight of minorities, there is no film more grim and disturbing in its approach to understanding the human condition. It believes that there is no way to truly understand someone without first understanding their suffering, someone might seem whole, but in actuality they hold within them a complexity that can't be fully portrayed. Some may say that it's a criticism of this film therefore that it only focuses on one person, but I disagree for a couple of key reasons. For this film's arc is about learning to identify with others and understanding those who are unfortunate. This is done through viewing Mima's (Junko Iwao) experience and then having her map onto others an understanding of their situation through the trauma that she went through.
Mima's identification with the victim is the core tenet, without it the film would not work. A film that does not believe in neurodiversity would have simply killed her off. A disposable person. Yet in the background of the film Rumi (Rica Matsumoto) undergoes a serious and transformative (also very understated) character arc that makes her (along with everyone else) much less identifiable with Mima despite the fact they share that trauma. It is only from identification with the victim (realised in that shot at the very end, just before Rumi is about to be hit by the van where she appears to Mima as 'the true' Mima) that we see that flip itself on its head. Mima is the protagonist so she must be the sufferer, but it runs deeper than that; and that final sequence turns our preconceptions about the relatability of trauma around. Everyone suffers. I think it's also interesting that it comes from a form of identification with trauma from rape (implying that Rumi has also been sexually assaulted), these women become so obsessed and depressed at their own situation that they become self-absorbed and Mima has the privilege to realise that her situation is one that is shared and thus she can move on. A luxury those touched by the spectre of sexual assault don't always get to experience. In focusing on this sensitive topic, I'll just say this outright: I believe this film perfectly depicts the resulting trauma of rape. I will preface what I am about to say with a disclaimer that I don't get to dictate to people who have been sexually assaulted how they should feel about this film, but I will say that as far as I can tell, this film's depiction is sensitive and honest.
The theming blends into the mixing of fantasy and reality (the implications of which I'll get to later) but for now I'll stick with the fact that it is about women and how they are controlled under patriarchy. Every decision Mima makes isn't hers. It's from the will of men. Her agent, the screenwriter, the photographer, it's all for their benefit, and she suffers as a direct result. Their deaths are a result of righteous feminist rage. By making Mima go through a traumatic experience, her agent Tadokoro (Shinpachi Tsuji) wants to sympathise but can't. He can't even say sorry. Instead he rewards her for conforming with a meal. We don't see this meal ever taking place, so we can assume the (lack of) importance of this to Mima. The photographer very blatantly objectifies her and the screenwriter exploits his female characters. This film, above all else, is a harsh criticism of media treatment of women. Mima is exploited by a hack who wants to manufacture tension in his badly received story. A story that means the world to Mima (but as a lingering wide of a cluster of billboards goes to show) is just as synonymous with mediocrity as the next show. In fact in the English translation, it cleverly goes out of its way to criticise the film The Silence of the Lambs by very directly lifting from it the transphobic rhetoric of Hannibal Lecter. There's no originality and the exploitation and general harm to society is second in thought to the possibility of the pursuit of money and vanity. It's also interesting (I believe) that in the key moment of this film, Mima's rapist apologises to her but it doesn't stop the trauma. She doesn't say it's too much to keep filming. She conforms. She shrugs it off and tells him not to worry. Even when she's being manipulated and abused she's still serving men 'independent-minded-ly'. It's a lie, the men in Perfect Blue are despicable but we're encouraged to identify with them anyway which serves the purpose of exposing their lies and exploitation.
Uchida the stalker (Masaaki Õkura) is a representation of this patriarchal control exerted over women. Unable to deal with the possibility that Mima is making her own decisions, he wants to control her, going so far as to fantasise talking to a 'real her' who wants her dead. Uchida is a threatening presence. A reminder of the spectre of patriarchy, Rumi's co-option of him in her plans speaks to a wider delusion about how the idea of purity is upheld to this high moralistic standard, even to the point where it inspires self-loathing in Rumi herself. She seeks a new identity because seeing the rape of Mima triggered her memories. She is as much a victim as Mima is and I think it's telling that the film chooses to end on this focus. Who is the 'real Mima'? What is Rumi's identity now? Rumi can't bare to live her life without conforming to this standard of purity and Mima; well, it's made explicit who Mima is in that ever-fantastic final shot. She's the real her. Like, the real her. What that means is perhaps vague, but we can assume since she walks into her red car (red being the colour of fate with the possibility of danger in this film) and looks into the mirror at her reflection (reflections being a means of internal monologue) that it's a symbolic ending that realises her complete mental control. She owns a car now and she's behind the wheel, no need to take a subway or be driven. She's in control. The ending as written proves that Mima finds happiness. Or at least a bittersweet happiness. We don't see it but the institutions are still in place, people still experience trauma but there's only so much one can take before it all comes crashing down in some form or another.
The final thing I want to quickly touch upon is this film's blurring of fantasy and reality. I've talked about it briefly already, but not only does it work wonders for a postmodern reading, utilising the principle of schizophrenia to demonstrate the fracturing identities of its cast, making them co-dependent and undermining the weight assigned to social structures; but it also allows one to talk about metatextuality within the framing of trauma. I love the idea of watching a film being made within a film and it allows for self-reflexivity, it being left ambiguous whether or not Mima was actually raped or whether it was part of the performance criticises the media which use it as a plot device whilst simultaneously allowing us to understand that it doesn't matter. For her, it was the same thing - it has the same weight to it. It's a film about the theatrics women perform for men and the suffering and trauma that comes from the resulting self-loathing; it aims its vicious attack towards the media and systemic institutions as well as the individuals who allow it to happen. The sheer emotion I felt on my first watch as I was overcome with guilt, sadness, empathy, bafflement and finally identification. It's no secret that this film with its theme of fractured identity has been latched onto by the LGBTAQI+ community (specifically the trans/non-binary community) for being brutal in its portrayal of dissociation with reality. The film allows that identification because growing up as such doesn't allow you to feel 'normal' yet at the same time you have nowhere to turn to in order to understand. I love that it's so open to this plight of all people. It's accepting by, ironically, being exclusionary. Perfect Blue is a unique experience. I say experience because that's exactly what it is. Nothing even compares. There's more to say. There's always more to say. I doubt I'll ever be able to do this film justice; but that's why I love it, it's my film because it belongs to everyone.