Perfect Blue and the Expectation of Being Traumatized in Order To Be Seen
"Of course I didn't want to do it!"
Perfect Blue is one of those anime films that tackles themes that you wish weren’t still relevant today. I watched it for the first time the other day, and while I was familiar with the brilliance of Satoshi Kon before watching this (Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, just to name a few), it’s no exaggeration to say that I’ll be carrying the messages within his directorial debut for the rest of my life.
**Spoilers for Perfect Blue.**
**Content warning: mentions of rape.**
Perfect Blue, released in 1997, tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a pop idol who is in the process of transitioning into acting. The film explores that transition from every possible angle, from the feelings of betrayal from some of her fans when they realize they don’t get a say in what she does with her life, to Mima’s slow, mental breakdown as she tries to make sense of who she is and how she’s supposed to maneuver through the industry.
Our Princess Weekes already touched on how the movie remains relevant today, especially when talking about female celebrities:
As I watched, the thing that I felt compelled by was how similarly Mima’s transformation from “pop idol” to “serious” actress mirrors so many transformations we see female child stars make throughout their careers.
Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, etc. all came out of a system that wanted them to be pure, but sensual—sexual, but in a way that was coy and playing into male gaze, more than honestly embracing sexuality. It’s no shock that almost all of these women have done something “racy” or “sexy” in order to break away from that image.
Princess went on to say the following:
Her outfit in CHAM is a pink dress with a bow in her hair, all indicating this youthful, playful innocence, and when she does the rape scene, there is a sense that now she is seen as “dirty” and “filthy.” Yet, that scene is supposed to make her seem like a serious and mature actress, which is so emblematic about the way we frame rape in dramas. One of the things her manager says in the movie is that “Jodie whatshername” did a gang rape scene, alluding to Jodie Foster in The Accused, which was Foster’s breakthrough into adult roles after being typecast for so long.
Perfect Blue is something with layers of messages to draw from, and I feel like certain messages will hit the hardest depending on your mood and your experiences. For me, during my first viewing, the message that spoke to me the loudest was something Princess hints at in her comment about Mima trying to go from “pop idol” to “serious” actress.
Mima’s big, traumatic break
As Mima tries to be seen as something other than her CHAM persona, she takes on extremely traumatic scenes that she’s clearly uncomfortable with. They’re also scenes that the people around her know are terrible, but there’s an overwhelming sense of her having to do it in order to be, as Princess says, taken seriously. Mima waves it off, going so far as to say that it’s not like she’s “actually being raped,” leading to her being literally directed on how to go about being raped on camera.
It’s a haunting scene where we get to see the film crew shoot specific angles, telling Mima’s assailant how fast to go, and at one point someone comments on how good she looks.
Afterward, Mima goes home and breaks down, screaming that she, of course, didn’t want to do it, but, “I couldn’t trouble all the people who brought me this far!”
I had to pause the movie at this point, not just because of how heavy the content was, but because I started to think about the times I was expected to put myself out there in mentally exhausting ways and how I willingly did it because, as Mima said, it wasn’t like it was actually happening, and hey, you can’t disappoint the people giving you such a big opportunity, right?
When people only see you through negative experiences
Several years ago, a cosplay picture of mine was met with the typical kind of commentary you expect from trolls who take hold of a Black, fat, queer woman. I responded with a bit of sass, and that response made the rounds on social media. After that point, I was given opportunities to speak my piece and encourage others on how to deal with random Internet noise. I started doing panels at events, literally putting the negative comments in PowerPoint presentations, unknowingly reopening the wounds from having an inbox full of hostile messages.
I did this for a long time, to the point that I realized that the only time I was ever being given space was when it had to do with the negativity I faced. Other cosplayers would be featured for their costumes, but when it came to the fat, Black, queer girl, she was expected to have a quote about being called “Princess Whale” or how she was told that it looked like she ate the character she was trying to portray.
It’s what people expect when you look a certain way in the community, and I played into it because I thought I had to. Being featured for the hell of it wasn’t for girls like me; I was too fat for that—even amongst my own people.
Now, did I only get attention when I was highlighting how someone wrote “ew gross” under one of my pictures?
No. But it is when I’d get the most attention. Hell, a friend once told me not to start a cosplay page because they’ll make fun of you. Another friend, when I started to get noticed because of my reaction to my harassment, said something along the lines of, “I bet you’re happy you got bullied, look at how far you’ve come?”
I’m gonna stop you from responding with, “Those weren’t real friends.” The truth is? They were. They usually are. Just like in Perfect Blue, the people who are closest to you are absolutely capable of missing the mark when it comes to encouraging your growth.
When I saw how production kept upping the ante with Mima because she agreed to do something so hurtful, it hit me in a way I wasn’t ready for. I recognized that Mima didn’t protest because she thought she had to do it this way. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be taken seriously, wouldn’t be given space, and would, somehow, be disrespecting the ones taking a chance on her.
It’s so easy for someone to see this situation and go, “She should’ve said something,” but what would that have accomplished, really? We all know she would’ve been deemed “difficult to work with” if she stood up for herself, or “ungrateful” since her agent had to fight to get her more scenes in the television series.
It just reminded me of the number of times I would sandwich a legitimate concern with “I appreciate what you’ve done for me and am grateful for the opportunity.”
The truly, heartbreakingly realistic part in all of this is that after the clear psychological trauma and the numerous murders of people involved with the production, Mima’s agent signs her up in a starring role with a “few sketchy scenes,” ready to put her trauma back on display like holiday decorations you can pack up at the end of the year, bringing them back out whenever someone decides that they’re in season again.
I’ve been pretty vocal these days about focusing on more than trauma in regards to marginalized creatives (not just cosplayers), especially after last year’s double whammy of COVID and police brutality. But it took years for me to reach a point where I realized that I shouldn’t only matter when I’m being hurt—that I should be taken seriously without the need for a breakdown in my bathtub.
How did this late-’90s anime speak to me in such a way?
(image: Rex Entertainment)
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