Sexual Assault in Perfect Blue: How Satoshi Kon’s Horror Classic Thoughtfully Frames A Woman’s Biggest Fear

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.

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Mima’s stalker.

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.

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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.

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Mima right before the rape scene begins

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.

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Mima’s perspective during the rape scene

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.

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Mima during her breakdown.

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.

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Mima’s photoshoot.

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.

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Mima confronting her idol “self” after the photoshoot

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.

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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.

20 thoughts on “Sexual Assault in Perfect Blue: How Satoshi Kon’s Horror Classic Thoughtfully Frames A Woman’s Biggest Fear

  1. Great post and that was powerful of you to talk about this movie and how you felt watching it.

    I’m glad Perfect Blue got re-licensed and it is one of Kon’s best films even though it was his directorial debut. I certainly agree that it’s one of the scariest movies ever in a good way where the horror isn’t for cheap thrills or resorting to slasher cliches. The atmosphere is creepy and the psychological stuff is extremely creepy, but believable. Kon deserved so much better and I wish he didn’t die since I know he had more great movies in him.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, that movie DID get a 10/10 from me on Iridium Eye. Hahahaha! In all seriousness, I do enjoy this movie and I think it’s great when other bloggers cover lesser-known movies like this one.

        Come to think of it, I did pop up in other reviews or articles about Perfect Blue. I tend to do that sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! I think it’s a perfect sort of “entry level” anime to introduce to people who might not “get” the appeal. I think it’s on the level of Ghost In the Shell & Akira in that regard.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Haven’t seen Perfect Blue yet, though it is something I’ve been wanting to see. Usually when people tell me about this movie they talk about the psychological aspect not so much that rape scene. I feel a similar way to rape scenes just being there in horror movies for just shock value when done wrong. It’s not impactul in any way to simply have it pop on screen, and letting it disappear after a while. Those certain sequences left more of an impression on you than it has to anyone who spoke to me about this Perfect Blue. It’s a refreshing a perspective as well as good way to analytical with something you can relate too on some level.

    The tackling of that subject matter is pretty difficult. Perfect Blue sounds like it has more going on around it that it benefiting from not having it be the focal point. When done correctly, the exploration of rape usually leaves me reflective on what I just witness, and questioning how I should feel. Other than in fiction, it’s not a topic I talk about. It’s rare when I have to deal with it, and it’s always a struggle seeing if anyone will overcome it. Stuff like this, seems to help a little.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! To me, that scene is kind of the peak psychological horror scene, so I’m always surprised when it’s not brought up much. I guess it’s because it’s one of the more “realistic” scenes that doesn’t involve any crazy hallucinations…but that’s exactly what makes me notice more, I suppose. I feel like the fact that it didn’t need any heightened effects or illusions says a lot about the scenes’ impact, if that makes sense.

      I feel like I try to avoid the topic as much as possible, and to be honest I usually avoid any movie/show/whatever that I know has it. So when I DO end up seeing something with it, I feel like I pay particularly close attention to how it’s handled, if that makes sense?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. *Spoilers for Sound! Euphonium for those who are going to read this*

    I am FINALLY able to give my thoughts on this entry of yours!!!! I’ve seriously been meaning to read and comment on your write-up of this movie. Just finding a good time to both read this article and write about it were incredibly tough. But here I am, once again, feelling lost but now and then I breathe it in.

    As shocking as this is, I have never watched this movie before. I have to admit that horror is a genre I am still getting used to. Even now, I am working up the nerve to finally sit down and play Silent Hill 2, which I have not been able to experience outside of let’s plays. Nevertheless, the topics you tackled in this write-up really spoke to me.

    I just have to say first off that you are incredibly brave and direct to be uprfront about your personal experiences regarding this heavy subject matter. Often time, watching a work whose themes resonate so strongly with that of our own lives can indeed often feel like we are looking into a mirror. Every word you put into here, I felt just how cathartic it must have been to put out all your thoughts and parallels on the details.

    In particular, the scene where you talked about Mima’s acting of that scene was rather moving. The disconnect with what the crew wanted and what Mima DIDN’T want hits so close to what often happens in real life that I cannot even begin to descirbe it. The parallels you made between that disconnect and the psychological factors of assault was so visceral. It’s rather painful to realize that , coming to grips with our choices, or in this case, lack thereof is such an uphill battle. Hindsight is such a powerful yet haunting part of life, and both Mima and yourself probably know that even more than I do…Don’t even get me started on how she was expected to do that scene with all those factors I mentioned, AMIDST her stalker problem.

    I think you put it absolutely best when you mentioned the horror of this movie didn’t just come from the traditional feeling of oppression that the protagonist, and by extension yourself feels. Instead, you tackled how oppresive this movie is from its themes and how they connected with you. Even something as seemingly minute as that can be the scariest thing. It’s almost like the work and by proxy, the creator is telepathically speaking to us.

    As you know Jenn, I even relate to that aspect of shows with one of my favorites of all time, “Sound! Euphonium”. Asuka Tanaka is my favorite character of all time (alongside Akari Mizunashi) because out of any character I have witnessed, her struggles and personality so heavily resonate with that of my own life. I think the moment when Eupho became one of my favorites of all time was when the show started focusing on her and her situation’s similatities with that of Kumiko and her sister Mamiko’s. I am far too inept with writing at this time to even begin to completely and formally type about why Asuka is special to me, and I wanted to just briefly mention this tidbit. But my point is that anytime we saw Kumiko trying to connect and reach for Asuka, it very much felt like she was trying to reach out to me. The finale of the show was such a slow burner of a pay-off precisely because of Kumiko finally shedding all her words to the Asuka. The lonely, reticent, energetic and troubled girl known as Asuka Tanaka finally found a connection. She took a big and scary step, opening her heart to someone like Kumiko and forged a bond that she will forever cherish. Eupho is a slice of life/drama series. And for me, those two genres felt close to home because I very much felt right at home with the character Asuka…from all her slice of life-y bone-handed pranks, jabs at her bandmates…and from the drama involving her reticence. It’s much like how the horror aspect of Perfect Blue hit you so hard with how Mima’s life connected with you.

    This was a very difficult reply for me to put together. I am not lying when I say that this took me about an hour in total to put out. The themes that you dicussed in this reflective-post are ones that I haven’t ever really fomally talked about, simply because I haven’t seen many works with those themes present. As such I have little experience talking about them. But seeing you speak about how this movie resonated so hard with you, I couldn’t help but relate it to my love for Eupho. As such, I just had to comment on this post and also briefly divulge about my own story about a show and character I connect so heavily with. Jenn, I have nothing but sheer applause for this post you have made. This is such a big step for you as a blogger, I think. You put out your thoughts on a movie which to your admittance, has much more to say than even what you spent an enitre post writing about. Not only that, but you also dived into much more emotionally driven themes and successfully explained how impactful they can be to a viewer.

    I look forward to that follow-up post and whatever is coming up. I am so happy to see that you’re moving forward from your slump, Jenn. And like I said before, I will keep showing my support to you every step of the way and wherever I can. Always do your best, and I hope to talk to you soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw Perfect Blue in the theater with my wife. Unbelievably it was offered as part of the GKids anime series. That’s an anime series that focused on Studio Ghibli and other stylistically similar anime for children. Shinkai is another one they featured frequently. Equally astonishingly, I had read a few reviews and NONE of them mentioned what a Hitchcockian horror Perfect Blue really is.

    I am convinced that none of the people involved in selecting it for GKids had actually watched the movie, nor had any of the reviewers seen it. And speaking of interpretations…

    My wife concluded it was a slasher flick and the sexual and physical abuse was there just to attract an audience of men who enjoyed seeing women abused. She was not amused.

    I concluded that this was the best horror anime ever. EVER. It’s where Hitchcock would have gone if he’d been free to, had he not been shackled by the Hayes code. To me, the most important point was that she eventually triumphed and emerged as a stronger person but all along the way you weren’t sure she would make it. To get you to care about a character so deeply, yet keep you uncertain as to her fate for almost the entire movie is brilliant.

    One thing that really clicked was when the actor who was the assailant in the rape scene apologized to her. It would be easy to hate on the actors but they’re just poor schmucks too, desperate to scrape together a living.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG yeah I forgot it was GKids who did that release!

      I’m definitely inclined to agree with you there. I mean, I can certainly see why the movie might be a turn-off, but I definitely think it’s deeper than the average slasher flick and treats the female protag with more care than the average slasher does, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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