The secret influence of ‘Perfect Blue’ on the most radical authors of contemporary cinema

25 years ago it came by surprise Perfect Blue. An anime in the apparent key of a psychothriller, debut film by Satoshi Kon, that would captivate audiences around the world, influencing authors such as Darren Aronofsky and David Lynch in the process.

When Perfect Blue was screened for the first time on August 5, 1997, at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal (its premiere in Japan would take place on February 28, 1998) nobody could have expected the profound and progressive impact it would have on contemporary culture. At that time, Satoshi Kon was an absolute unknown to the industry, the creator of the OVA JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the script of the segment magnetic rose of the anthological tape memories of Katsuhiro Otomo.

But both works caught the attention of Masao Maruyama, company producer Madhouse, offering him the adaptation of a Japanese novel belonging to the psychothriller genre, entitled Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis, written by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. An adaptation that in principle was going to be a feature film in real image but due to budgetary problems it would end up being developed as an OVA, or television animated series.

That would end up changing in the final stages of the project, when the production company decided to convert the production into an animated feature film for movie theaters. A production in which Satoshi Kon would decide not to base himself on the script written by Sadayuki Murai nor in the original novel, which he never even read.

The reason, that Satoshi Kon did not want to make a slasher to use but to enter the field of identity and the subconscious. Something with which the author of the original novel had no problem, except for three points that were immovable for its adaptation: that the protagonist was an idol star, that it had a harassing fan, and that it was a horror movie.

Between Bergman and Argento

From there, Satoshi Kon would deliver a work that would go far beyond a genre that the director himself considered overexploited and that did not work very well in a medium such as animation. Influenced both by the work of ingmar bergman (especially, Person) and the experiments between sleep and wakefulness of the thrillers of Brian DePalma (as Dressed to kill either In the name of Cain), Satoshi Kon would turn a tale of a teenage pop star overwhelmed by her public persona into an essay about fragmented personalities, the weight of fame, and the media. In addition to, above all, a denunciation of the exploitation and degradation of the female figure in the Japanese culture of the 90s.

Perfect Blue
Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue It begins with a sequence that will determine the structure and theme of the work. A fiction (an OVA of an apocryphal version of the Power Rangers) within another fiction: the story about Mima Kirigoe, the lead singer of a J-Pop group who decides to abandon her musical career and become an actress in the Japanese industry. A change that will cause his agent, his family and his fans not to receive him with open arms. Conflict that Mima’s fragile psyche, the fruit of a personality similar to an empty shell, will cause the boundaries between reality and fiction to begin to merge and intermingle.

That fracture of a personality built based on what others see and expect them to want from you is the key to the film. Kon fills the frames with mirrors and reflections that question a protagonist unable to develop a personality, the result of an industry and some fans who only seek to reflect her fears, insecurities and perversions in the apparently fragile and innocent Mima.

The fracture has its breaking point in the filming of a rape sequence –inside the serial he is making, a psychothriller no less, full of all the clichés that Kon wanted to avoid in Perfect Blue– and where what appears to be mere simulation ends up overwhelming the protagonist of the story.

From there, and forecasting the hack and phishing of personality in the age of social media, Mima begins to fracture motivated by a personal website where someone is apparently posing as her and committing crimes in the name of the real Mima.

This game of the “me”, plus the multiplicity of faces and personalities that an audiovisual star must recreate to stay in the sector, plus the exploitation of it, helps Kon to build a narrative structure based on the concept of Russian dolls, where both the protagonist and the spectators begin to doubt that it is real and that it is not the via crucis that Mima’s life becomes.

Perfect Blue
Perfect Blue

Revolutionary staging and narrative structure

All this supported by a staging that demonstrates the skill of a filmmaker who is making his first film. It has a chromatic palette that affects the primary colors from its first chords (red, green and blue), whose emotional and formal intensity progressively dominates the frames of the film to visually express its emotional tumult. Without forgetting the artistic direction, especially represented in the apartment that Mima lives in, which gradually deteriorates to a state close to still lifes in parallel to the psychogenic escape of her protagonist.

A psychogenic fugue that gives rise to the most interesting formal and stylistic successes of the film. Kon jumps from the real to the imagined, from delirium to fiction and from this to everyday life without apparent editing cuts. Everything from a fascinating use of camera movements (those 360º tracking shots that evoke in the viewer the emotional tumult of its protagonist) or chained with a sensation of perpetual déjà vu (the metaphorical and deadly representation of the spotlights and lights of stardom that we see for the first time in Mima’s exit to the stage and that will later be replicated both in her near collision and the near fatal accident of her doppelgänger in the final climax).

Doppelgänger that brings the film closer and plunges into a tribute and evolution in a Freudian key of the giallo of Dario Argento. Just because Perfect Blue inside you look at the precepts of the psyche of Person of Bergman, the forms associated with it make use of the characteristic chromatic palette of the giallo, especially in its final act and when the film reveals its true and ambiguous cards.

‘Perfect Blue’ and its influence on contemporary cinema

Those risky and unprecedented ways in anime were what made Satoshi Kon one of the most important figures in world cinematography in the first decade of the 2000s. From there, the director would take his idea even further. of cinema as a place between sleep and wakefulness with the spiritual heiress of Perfect Blue, but far from its most rugged components, which was Millennium Actress.

Some lurid and surreal components that would explode in perhaps his most risky work, Paranoia Agent, an OVA of thirteen chapters as hermetic and fascinating as the best David Lynch. Without forgetting his last job (before he unfortunately died prematurely on August 24, 2010 victim of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46), the dreamlike Paprika.

But his legacy lives on in the retina of moviegoers and the frames of a contemporary cinema that has been impregnated with Kon’s symbols and style. The most representative, that of Darren Aronofski, who already honored the sequence of the scream under Mima’s bathtub in Perfect Blue under the forms of jennifer connelly in Requiem for a Dream.

Comparison between 'Perfect Blue' and 'Requiem for a Dream'
Comparison between ‘Perfect Blue’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’

Years later he made an apocryphal remake of Perfect Blue in his best work: Black Swan. Feature film where, beyond the translation of the universe of the idols to the most elite world of dance, it is difficult not to see how the odyssey in low resolution of digital video of Natalie Portman narratively and visually refers to the universe of Perfect Blue.

Comparison between 'Perfect Blue' and 'Black Swan'
Comparison between ‘Perfect Blue’ and ‘Black Swan’

Without also forgetting another filmmaker as important in the 21st century as Christopher Nolan. Highlights the heritage of the short film magnetic rose and his games with the dilated perception of time in Interstellar; or the concept of dream travelers of Paprika in Origin.

But the most significant is the round trip that exists between Satoshi Kon and David Lynch. If the former allowed himself to be influenced by the psychogenic fugues of Lynch’s characters in Eraserhead, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and lost highway, the Missoula filmmaker would absorb ideas and narrative structures from his Japanese disciple.

both in Mulholland Drive as, above all, in Inland Empire, in whose final act the multiple character of Laura Dern (just like Mima’s in Perfect Blue) falls on the precipice of an identity fractured into a thousand pieces (actress, to be exact) and travels between multiple realities and identities through the cut! film.

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