Excuse Me: Who Are You?

J Curcio on 2018-06-25

An Analysis of Identity in Perfect Blue

In a world where we are expected to play a variety of conflicting roles, in which our lives are all interconnected, broadcast and dissected, we invariably develop situational identities. We are not one person, we are many people who go by the same name.

Though all of us deal with this in varying ways as we go through life, nowhere is it more of an issue than in pop culture. The long list of psychologically and emotionally fractured ex-teen stars is ample proof. “Who are you?” Mima asks of herself, in Satoshi Kon’s animated film. It is her first line in our ‘play within a play.’ It is a question that really seeks no answer, instead expressing the complete lack of a frame of reference.

Over a decade past its release, some of the devices of this film may now seem tired— websites pretending to portray the ‘real life’ of pop idols, obsessive paparazzi, frothing J-pop fans — however, many of the questions explored by Perfect Blue remain as vital as ever. In fact, it is possible they have become even more so as the line between reality and fiction continues to blur.

In many ways it seems downright prophetic. To the Facebook Generation, everything is either performance, or irrelevant. If you can’t photograph, blog, videotape or otherwise record something, it may as well not have happened. We’ve all heard the concert in this direction before: A.D.D. running rampant in our children, cultish obsession with actresses that only recently got their periods, on and on. I’m not about to contribute to all of that alarmist noise. However, it is rare that we take a step back and think about how all of these things are symptoms of underlying identity crisis, a crisis that actually transcends most of our other sexual, cultural or racial boundaries. The teen idol, acting out the pre-scripted, cut-out role, and their screaming fans are united in their lack of intrinsic identity. The former plays to the expectant dreams of the latter, yet neither of them actually are that illusion. When it shatters, there is nothing there. Playing to the expectation of a lover is ultimately no different than playing to the hopes of the audience. It is all acted in the mirror.

Is she Mima the pop star? Mima the actress? Mima the shy girl who loves her tetra fish? Unless if pantomiming is all it takes, the answer is “no.” She is none of the above, an infinite surface without depth.

Sure, there are several things about Perfect Blue that don’t quite hit the mark. The filmmakers probably could have made their point without busting the 4th wall every couple minutes once the film gets rolling. It may have gone further if Mima’s actress-persona developed an actual personality of its own.

However, despite its occasional stylistic heavy-handedness, this movie is positively brilliant for its ability to deal with the ‘heavy’ themes of identity and cultural expectation without being a ‘heavy’ movie. (It doesn’t hurt that the animation has the ambiance and grace of classic anime such as Akira.)

“Who are you?” Mima asks herself, never really finding an answer. Everyone in the film is united in their desire to be this perfect idol. This is the reality Perfect Blue gives us a glimpse of, although you see it anytime you turn on the television. Japanese or American, all of our cultures seem to meet at this crossroad: we are a planet of voyeurs.