Content 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.
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.
On the surface, it seems like Perfect Blue has a relatively simple premise – an idol finds herself being stalked by an obsessive fan – the movie itself is far from simple. It does an excellent job of placing the viewer within 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 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, at the very least, they 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 feel the need to put fictional women in these situations in the first place. Of course, the answer is that it 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 high amount of women who have reported being stalked, and the countless other disturbing things that disproportionately happen to women, it makes sense that they are so often the stars (and victims) of horror media.
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 scary statistics 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’s 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 but, since a main theme of Perfect Blue is the melding of reality and fiction, the scene plays out just as intensely as it would have if Mima was actually being violated.
As far as Mima’s concerned, this rape scene might as well have been an actual sexual assault. The camera shows us her perspective as her vision blurs and unfocuses, representing her attempts to disassociate from the events. Then, the audience sees the diagetic 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 escape. She awkwardly waits, trying her best to seem fine with the role she’s been placed in.
Even though Mima wasn’t actually being raped or penetrated, the circumstances around the filming 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 shouting, “of course it wasn’t okay!” She then admits that she felt pressured and that she didn’t know how to say no.
Mima’s bedroom breakdown scene parallels the way rape victims often feel. More often than not, sexual assault isn’t a random guy jumping out from the bushes and attacking – most rape culminates in a “trusted” person pressuring and manipulating their victims until they feel too uncomfortable to say “no.” Afterwards, many rape victims end up in denial, trying to convince themselves it was a consensual act before finally admitting the truth.
Mima also gets signed up for a nude photoshoot, largely against her will. Once again, Mima is going along with something sexual that she feels uncomfortable with, simply because she thinks she has to in order to shed her idol persona. Afterwards, Mima runs out 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 her self-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 penetrative 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 person at all. 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, many of those feelings of self-doubt and self-questioning also tie in with the violent rape scene that she was asked to perform. A huge issue that rape victims deal with is self-doubt. Often, the victim blames themselves, convinced that they’re just a “slut” or “dirty” or that they must have wanted it in the first place. It turns into a cycle of self-hate and confusion. We see some of these thoughts reflected in Mima’s encounters with her illusory self.
As a sexual assault victim, any horror movie that centers on the visceral fear associated with sexual assault makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Yet, on some level, it’s strangely validating to see scenes like these that portray the full depth and horrors of rape. It’s not always easy to talk about these feelings, or to even acknowledge that they 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 fears.
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 the thing that’s truly scary is how it affects your mind and your self-image in the aftermath.
Though Perfect Blue is not completely centered on sexual assault and its effects – there are plenty of other themes regarding innocence and illusion that are arguably more prominent – this aspect of the film is what stands out to me the most, even upon repeated viewings. Since sexual assault has affected me personally, it’s hard not to view pieces of media through this lens of sexual assault-related PTSD. It colors everything I experience.
These parallels with sexual assault and the more-thoughtful-than-usual look at how it can affect the 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 inflicted through manipulation of a woman’s sexuality…to me, there’s something strangely beautiful and comforting in that. 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. 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 match up with Satoshi Kon’s intentions, but that’s the beauty of media – it can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the individual viewing it.
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.