Trigger warning for sexual assault and rape mention. Not only is Perfect Blue an extremely graphic film, but I will also be relating things in the film to personal experiences with sexual assault and how it affected me, which could be unsettling for some. I’m writing something a little more serious and personal than usual, but I hope you’ll still read along because it’s something that I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now.
Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue had a limited return to theaters just this past week, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a ticket. This mind-bending psychological thriller about an idol and her obsessive stalker(s) is considered to be an anime film classic for good reason, and seeing it on the big screen reminded me of how great a film it truly is.
Though it seems like Perfect Blue has a relatively simple premise, the movie itself is far from simple. It has many twists and turns, and does an excellent job of placing the viewer in the muddled mind of Mima as she struggles to figure out who she really is versus the person society/her manager/her fans want her to be.
To be completely honest, Perfect Blue is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Though it doesn’t have many stereotypical jump scare moments, the themes tackled in this movie shake me to my very core. The reason for that is, well, I can relate to a lot of the scary situations that Mima finds herself in.
I mean, no, I haven’t ever hallucinated an idol version of myself, and I’ve never had anyone systematically murder people who have come in contact with me. I can’t, like, literally relate. But a lot of the underlying themes of Perfect Blue hit me on a personal level that other horror movies have failed to do.
So many horror movies are, essentially, about how scary it is to just…be a woman and exist in the world. Think about it – when you think about horror movies, the first ones that come to mind are probably led by a female character, right? Or they, at the very least, feature a LOT of women getting chased around or getting chopped up.
Horrors like Perfect Blue are thoughtful enough to take these “terrorized female character” tropes and actually examine why we automatically see women as being constantly in danger, and examine why we feel the need to put fictional women in these situations in the first place. Well, the answer is that it often is terrifying to be a woman! Between all those news stories about men murdering women who turn them down for dates, the ridiculously high rate of sexual harassment and sexual assault women face, the amount of women who have reported being stalked, and the countless other disturbing things that happen disproportionately to women, it makes sense that horror so often focuses on women.
In Perfect Blue, we see a complete stranger become so obsessed with Mima and this idealized version of her that he hunts her down, attempts to rape her, and attempts to murder her all at once. So those three big scary things I just mentioned? Poor Mima has to go through them all at once…and, believe it or not, this big confrontation between her and her stalker isn’t even the scariest part of the movie.
The scene that actually stands out the most is when Mima is asked to perform a rape scene for Double Bind, an in-universe television show. It is such a deeply unsettling sequence for many reasons – the most obvious being, well, you’re watching a woman get brutally raped while a group of men watch and cheer.
Now, technically, Mima’s not really being raped on-screen – she’s acting out a scene in a television show. But, since a main theme of Perfect Blue is the melding of reality and fiction, the scene plays out just as intensely and realistically as it would have if Mima was genuinely being violated.
Mima’s interpretation of what is real and what is fake is blurring at this point in the film, so as far as she’s concerned, her acting in a rape scene might as well have been the same as her actually getting sexually assaulted. The camera switches from her perspective as her vision fades in and out as she tries to disassociate from the scene she’s been coerced into performing. Then, the audience sees the literal camera’s view as her clothes are torn and a man pulsates on top of her. Even when the director yells cut, the actors are told to hold their positions, so Mima cannot get away from the scene.
Even though Mima herself wasn’t truly being raped in the scene, the circumstances around the scene reek of the manipulation and coercion associated with sexual assault. Though she tells the actors, her managers, and the showrunners that “it’s okay,” it very obviously isn’t. When she arrives home after the shoot, she rips apart her bedsheets and convulses in anger and confusion, all while she shouts, “Of course it wasn’t okay!” She then admits that she felt pressured into doing it and that she didn’t know how to say no.
Mima’s bedroom breakdown scene parallels with the way people who have actually been raped tend to feel. Rape isn’t usually as violent as a random guy jumping out from behind the bushes and ripping a woman’s clothes off – most rape culminates in a person pressuring and manipulating their victims until they’re forced to give in, or until they feel too uncomfortable to say “no.” Afterwards, many rape victims end up in denial, because they feel that they might have given consent, when in reality, they were manipulated into it. Similarly, Mima was pressured into doing this scene that she was uncomfortable taking a part in, but didn’t have the agency to say that she wouldn’t do it, and thus was taken advantage of.
As a woman who was personally a rape victim, any horror movie that centers on the visceral fear that comes with sexual assault makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Yet, on some level, it’s strangely validating to see scenes like the one I just mentioned that portray the full depth and horror of rape. It’s not always easy to talk about these feelings, or to even acknowledge that these feelings even exist, so for a film to truly tap into them and show how psychologically damaging the act of rape can be on a person…it actually, perhaps somewhat ironically, helps me cope with my own demons.
Inversely, it’s incredibly frustrating to see rape scenes sloppily thrown into horror without actually touching on how they affect the victims. For something to rely solely on the shock value of rape to propel its horror feels like a slap in the face when you know that the thing that’s truly scary is how it affects your mind and your self-image.
It’s worth mentioning that Mima also gets signed up for a nude photoshoot. Once again, Mima is going along with something sexual that she feels uncomfortable doing, simply because she thinks she has to in order to shed her idol persona and slip into this newer, edgier persona. Afterwards, Mima runs out after the shoot and starts fighting with her own reflection in the bathroom. Again, we see that she isn’t comfortable with the things she’s being asked to do, but at the same time can’t reconcile with that idol image, either. She’s left feeling broken and confused – a common feeling for any woman whose sexuality has been taken advantage of in any form, whether it be sexual assault or being coerced into taking and sharing nude photographs.
A huge theme in Mima’s illusions is that she’s chastising herself for being impure. This ties back into the idol image and that idealized version of women in general – that a woman must be virginal and innocent in order to be seen as a proper person. In Mima’s case, that innocence is intrinsically tied to her idol persona. Ultimately, the main cause of her illusions and self-doubt come from that enormous pressure that was placed upon her as a female idol.
However, I feel that many of those feelings of self-doubt and self-questioning also tie in with that violent rape scene that she was asked to perform. A huge issue that rape victims deal with is self-doubt. Often, the victim ends up blaming themselves, and convince themselves that they are just a “slut” or “dirty” and must have wanted it in the first place. It turns into a cycle of self-hate and confusion. We see these thoughts reflected in a lot of Mima’s encounters with her illusory self.
Though Perfect Blue is not really a movie centered on sexual assault and its effects – there are plenty of other themes regarding innocence and illusion that are arguably the more prominent themes – this aspect of the film is what continues to stand out to me the most, even upon a second viewing. Since sexual assault has affected me personally, it’s hard not to view various pieces of media through this lens of sexual assault-related PTSD, because it’s such a huge part of my life.
Still, these parallels with sexual assault and the more-thoughtful-than-usual look at how the threat of sexual assault can affect your mind makes me appreciate Perfect Blue even more than I already would have. To take a terrifying thing and weave into a work of art that dares to tackle the psychological scars that can be inflicted through manipulation of a woman’s sexuality…to me, there’s something strangely beautiful and comforting in that, even amongst all the fear. That is what makes Perfect Blue such a stand-out film, and part of what will make its legacy endure for years to come.
This was kind of a long one, but I hope you stuck around for it. I was kind of surprised by how much I had to say on the subject! I get that this might not be as fun as some of the other things I write, but I rarely see people address the scene in Perfect Blue that I personally find to be the most terrifying, and I wanted to write about it. Along the way, I ended up uncovering some other thoughts and revelations about how I view the film.
This is just one interpretation of the story, and likely doesn’t even much up with Satoshi Kon’s intentions, but that’s the beauty of good media – it can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the individual viewing it. This is, I think, one of my first attempts at writing a sincerely analytical piece, so I hope I did well!
I’m considering writing a second Perfect Blue post about Not This, because it’s such a terrific film that has SO MUCH to say and SO MUCH to read into. Anyways, thanks for reading this one, it was a rather cathartic experience to be able to write so openly about something important to me, even if it was just through the lens of an anime movie.