By Fernando Bazan
In a time when so much is dominated and infused by social media, it is difficult to separate our real life from the one we display online. In 1997, when the internet was still in its primitive stages, Japanese director Satoshi Kon made a film that eerily foreshadows that contemporary dilemma.
“Perfect Blue” is an animated film that depicts the life of a pop star named Mima Kirigoe trying to maintain a grip on what is actually happening and what is in her imagination. Essentially, it examines the duality that exists between the person and the online persona, or avatar.
It’s not stretching too much to claim that, for many of us, our online profiles are more “real” than our off-line lines. Our social media accounts depict who we are and what we advocate, but rather than letting the real us manifest on our accounts, warts and all, we usually decide to post only the most polished photos or posts in order to show others’ the most ‘perfect’ version of ourselves.
What makes “Perfect Blue” so interesting is that the film makes the viewer wonder what would happen if we lost control of the representation of ourselves online. What happens if that online representation becomes an entity in of itself, and begins shaping who we are?
The film begins with Mima performing her final concert and telling the audience that she will pursue a career in acting. This brings most of her fanbase to bash her online and call her a fraud and sell-out. The harassment causes Mima to hallucinate a copy of herself but in her popstar outfit.
This hallucination, which is obviously a manifestation of her psychic doubts, begins to follow Mima everywhere and berate her with comments on how she should just go back to being a pop star.
This is when Kon blends Mima’s reality and hallucination into becoming nearly identical. Mima, as well as the viewer, becomes confused as to what is happening in Mima’s head and what is actually transpiring in the world around her.
It is beautifully done, and that is what makes this film the pinnacle of the suspense and mystery genre. Her mental breakdowns bleed into her acting (in the original Japanese version, Junko Iwao was the voice actor; in English, it’s Ruby Marlowe), which seems to be coming from a place of hate.
As the film progresses and Mima’s mental state becomes increasingly fragmented, the audience sees her lose grasp of who she is. The way newspapers talk about her, candid photographs, and even online posts about her put Mima in a different light than what she was used to. That leads others to believe that Mima is a changed individual despite being the same person she was before the transition of career choice.
Ultimately, that is a scarier reality in today’s age. If someone is put in a bad light and it becomes viral, the rest of the world will have an impression of that individual without really knowing them personally. They have inadvertently stripped them from their identity, and when you lose that, what is left?
The film has a lot left to offer, but this central idea that someone can have his or her identity completely skewed by others online is something that I feel rings true today. We have our avatars that represent us online, but if someone feels like they don’t like your online self, then it usually leads them to make assumptions of who you are in real life despite never meeting you.
Technology can be an amazing tool that brings us together, but this film continually reminds us that, as hard as we try to make our online word an idealized, perfect of, we can’t control what others think of us.