Pâfekuto Burû (1997) (Perfect Blue)
Satoshi Kon’s remarkable debut feature Perfect Blue (1997) begins with an action scene from a television episode of Power Rangers, revealed only shortly later to be a live performance by the actors in a public auditorium. As the resoundingly unsuccessful show winds down, we hear some young audience members sourly point out that it was nothing like the television version. This idea of the virtual, the illusionary coming across as more real than the real drives the central conflict of Perfect Blue, in which an erstwhile pop idol, Mima, finds herself becoming the prisoner of her own fabricated personality. A good ten years ahead of its time, Satoshi Kon’s film frighteningly presages the progressive virtualization and publicization of our personalities. Mima loses out to one of her fans who does a better job of impersonating her than herself and develops a persona for Mima that’s truer than reality. Perfect Blue doesn’t merely subordinate reality to illusion and personality to identity, but thoroughly undermines the possibility of constructing such dichotomies, as reality and illusion bleed so thoroughly into each other that it is not just impossible, but also immaterial that they be separated. Even with its deceptively assuring closure, a la Shutter Island (2010), the film pulls the rug of reality from under our feet and leaves us hanging like Scottie Ferguson. Very much like Mima, the audience struggles with the instability of the movie’s construction and attempts (perhaps in vain) to hold on to a solid ground from which to view things, to secure its own sanity. Directed with an extremist’s taste for visceral shock and a modernist’s eye for reflective surfaces, Perfect Blue challenges the psychological seriousness of many similar live-action features, while benefiting from its choice of the medium.