Animated: What ‘Perfect Blue’ teaches about fake love
I used to desperately want to be an idol. As a child, I would make “concert” invitations for all my relatives, handing them out whenever I saw them for my latest show.
There was no set date. I’d just pick the time that most people (read: family members) could come to maximize the amount of attention I’d receive. I’d dress up in my fanciest sparkly pink outfit from Justice with my little plastic microphone and sing and dance. The small crowd of grudging relatives mostly heard covers of “Hannah Montana” songs.
I loved the attention those moments performing gave me. As I sang and danced, however badly in retrospect, I felt as if my relatives weren’t seeing me as the introverted girl, but me, the star.
I’ve long outgrown the age to be an idol now, but every so often I think about how that desire has shaped me. It’s a subject that I’ve written about before: how loving Chinese idols and consuming what I could of their work affirmed my own pride in my Chinese identity. I also commented on the dangers of worshiping idols to the point where we project our own desires onto them. In short, we don’t view them as real people, but as objects.
This particular theme of idol worship gone too far is a core idea in Satoshi Kon’s 1997 animated film “Perfect Blue.” Perhaps best known for its alleged influence on Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film “Black Swan,” “Perfect Blue,” which follows an idol struggling with the repercussions of her image, is widely regarded as an anime classic. It’s still being written about for its contemporary relevance in a world of digital personas and parasocial relationships with celebrities. These relationships often border on obsession under the guise of real love.
“Perfect Blue” touches upon these issues through the story of Mima, a J-pop idol who decides to leave the industry to pursue an acting career. However, she soon finds that there is another “Mima” who is blogging from Mima’s “perspective” online, and the real Mima’s psyche begins to deteriorate as a result of the imposter.
After landing an adult acting role, Mima encounters a crazed fan who is enraged that Mima is supposedly ruining her pure idol image. He sees himself as knowing the true Mima better than Mima knows herself. Mima begins experiencing frightening visions about her persona as an idol and the real her. The condition is made worse when the people around her who are responsible for her career change start getting murdered.
At the end of the film, Mima discovers that the person behind the murders and the blog was her manager, Rumi. Rumi had become obsessed with Mima’s idol image and developed a delusion that she was Mima, and that the real Mima was the imposter. With this hard-hitting reveal, the film warns audiences about the consequences of obsessive love toward a concept of a person over who they really are.
One lesson we can take away from “Perfect Blue” is that digital personas are a central aspect of idol worship and the formation of those parasocial relationships. Just like fans would read “Mima”’s blog in “Perfect Blue,” I remember watching idol and celebrity vlogs throughout high school.
I’d find solace in those pieces of an idol’s life during those nights when I’d stay up until 3 a.m. working on pre-calculus problems. In the dead of night, I felt terribly lonely. Hearing my idol talk about their life made me feel less so.
Looking back on it, I thought those idols were my friends. I’d slip into the habit of talking about them as if I knew them or had met them before when I hadn’t. I forgot that they didn’t know who I was. I’d forget that I was just another fan who consumed curated aspects of an idol’s life and thought that was all there was to know about a person. I had ingrained into my mind that watching vlogs and interviews was enough for me to get a real sense of who a celebrity was.
I tell my friends often about that phase in my life, a connection to idols that stemmed from severe anxiety over my own insecurities. I would watch idols eating food while I was eating at my own desk, wanting so badly to be an idol myself. “Perfect Blue” magnifies those concerns by reflecting how those projections negatively impact idols and contribute to delusions.
In many ways, I see the same phenomenon today. Below YouTube videos of idols, I spot comments praising the idol’s perfection and their god/goddess status when they’re merely doing everyday, mundane things. I feel like there are forms of Rumis everywhere, myself included, that idealize idols and think we know what’s best for their lives.
Similarly, I cringe at myself for being akin to a celebrity worshiper. There are times when I just have to get the latest celebrity skincare line or want to buy everything that a celebrity lists in a recommendation article. I later reflect on why I want those things and find it’s because I feel like stardom must be contagious. If I use a moisturizer that a celebrity uses, then I must somehow get that same shine, that same glow that oftentimes actually comes from an abundance of fame and money.
If that’s love, then it’s a deeply problematic kind of love. At the same time, our culture makes it so easy to fall into that hole.
What I got from watching “Perfect Blue” was that in an ideal world, idols would be seen as people, not products. In a world where we can distance ourselves from excessively glamorizing celebrities, we can also realize that what we perceive as a person is just a persona, and that the products are just products. The shine of that star dims, and we’re no longer so blinded by the light.
Valerie Wu is a senior writing about animation and digital arts from a contemporary perspective. Her column, “Animated,” runs every other Thursday.