In 1999, Satoshi Kon released his first feature, Perfect Blue, into U.S. theaters. The film would mark the beginning of an illustrious yet tragically short career of animated films that tapped into societal obsession and isolation, themes that still resonate today. Kon’s work, especially Perfect Blue, dove into what it means to have two personalities: one presented to the public and the “real” self.
Released at the cusp of widespread Internet usage, Perfect Blue anticipated how the online space would be used to manipulate and scare people, especially through stalking. Kon also addressed growing concerns around otaku, or young people who are obsessed with some aspect of pop culture, and how their obsessions could only be fueled by the access granted by the Internet. In 2019, Kon’s film is more relevant than ever: every celebrity’s action is scrutinized, women with an online presence are thought of as commodities, and everyone has two personalities to juggle day in and day out.
Perfect Blue follows Mima as she transitions from pop star idol to serious actress. She began her career in the girl group, CHAM, where she attracts the attention of thousands of male fans. But when she leaves the group to pursue a new line of work, those men grow angry. They dissect her acting jobs and chastise her choices. The angriest of all is her stalker, Me-Mania, a repulsive character whose room is plastered with photos of Mima. He creates a blog called Mima’s Room where he pretends to be writing posts by the young woman. Mima, having just received a computer, is learning how to operate the Internet and stumbles upon this site. As soon as she begins reading Mima’s Room — paired with her new role on the crime show Double Bind — her grip on what is real and what isn’t slips away.
In navigating what the Internet could mean for the future, Kon tapped into male obsession with the female body and a presumed ownership over women they’ve never met. The introduction of CHAM in the film’s opening moments set up this relationship between male fan and female star. Groups of otaku are seen milling around before a CHAM show, buying fanzines, scouring the Internet for news about the group, sharing videos of past concerts, and gossiping about Mima. These groups of otaku, all male, are shown throughout the film, providing a look inside the mind of an obsessed fan and how Mima’s actions are perceived by strangers. As the show starts, crowds of men armed with video cameras cheer for CHAM as they all collectively gaze at Mima and her group mates’ young bodies.
CHAM’s fans brag about attending almost all of the group’s concerts and feel, due to their support, that they are owed a say in each girl’s career moves. In one specific instance, Mima decides to film a rape scene for Double Bind. Her manager warns against it, saying it will destroy her career and her innocent persona that has earned her so much attention. Unfortunately, her manager isn’t wrong and the gossiping otaku are shown scoffing as Mima’s choice.
We see this idea of ownership that men exert over female bodies more and more, particularly when it comes to female online personalities. Twitch streamer Amouranth suffered fans’ wrath after they found out she was married. Amouranth gained quite a large Twitch following but once it was revealed she had a husband, followers were enraged and doxxed her. They thought, since she had never mentioned she was married, she was single and therefore more available. They felt betrayed. Her mod even explicitly told her that he thought since she was single that he had a chance with her. Amouranth made a comment about the controversy and sarcastically said, “Haven’t you heard the news? Every female on the internet is eligible to be dated by people who see her. She’s an eligible candidate for every person who sees her. That is the law of the land.”
In Perfect Blue, Kon imagines the worst-case scenario: Me-Mania, who goes to disturbing lengths to claim Mima as his own, and causes her to slip into an unsafe mental state, one full of fear and confusion where she is not sure who she is anymore. Even in the ‘90s, Kon saw the issues of obsession with J-Pop groups and examined how that obsession would only grow with the help of the Internet. Not much has changed when you look at the current K-Pop sensation, BTS. The group is revered around the world, and has become a content-creating machine, fueled by an army of fans who demand access to all aspects of their lives. Like the CHAM-obsessed otaku, the ARMY — what BTS fans call themselves — pick over the group’s music, photos, and videos. The behavior of the ARMY mirrors the opening scene of Perfect Blue: fans scouring the Internet for information, swapping stories, and scrutinizing career choices. The members of BTS even have numerous stalkers, some who operate fan sites that include paparazzi-like images of the group. The concept of Mima’s room, one site operated by one stalker, has blossomed into a web of obsession that stretches across the Internet as we know it today.
While the public does not have true access to BTS’ private lives and cannot truly know how such attention has affected their mental states, there is no doubting the pressure fans put on its members. It’s becoming corporate practice for groups such as BTS to cultivate ravenous fans through nonstop content creation, from new songs, videos, and even apps, not unlike the inner workings of Japanese media seen through Mima’s own career negotiations. The world of Perfect Blue exists at the cusp of such practices, where young people are manipulated into idealized images that can be spread among fans like wildfire.
However, even those of us who engage with social media experience a little sliver of what it means to be Mima. We curate our lives and present them online as perfect moments of what we want people to assume are beautiful lives. We are all Mima riding the train, looking out the window and seeing a reflection of her popstar persona. Deep down, we want to please those who look at our Instagram grids, Facebook page, and Twitter timeline. Influencers research how to create the perfect Instagram layout, painstakingly editing images to make sure they all achieve the same lighting, hues, and contrast. Just as Mima begins to lose grip of her reality, we are also lured into another place where everyone has the perfect job, relationship, pet, and life. We slip into a realm of anxiety, trying to prove ourselves to those on our feed.
Social media culture is an exponentially larger version of the world Kon envisioned with Perfect Blue. Despite creating the film at the dawn of the modern internet, Kon tapped into the dangers of technological fantasy and the damage it does to the obsessor and the targets of their obsession. In a world dominated by social media clout and follower counts, Perfect Blue scratched the surface of a digitally saturated culture that would blur the line between online personas and reality. From K-Pop fandoms to the daily ritual of posting on social media, Mima’s world has become our own. We all live in Mima’s room.