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Perfect Blue (1997)

What happens when your love is conditional?

The soft terror of Perfect Blue anime can be explained through Carl Rogers' - a humanist - view of human nature.

Mima is a famous celebrity in Japan. “Idol” is a tongue – in - cheek word people use in Korea and Japan to refer to young superstars who have trained for years to sing, dance, and act, and are making it in the industry. Idol literally translates to an image that one can look up to. These young celebrities are attractive, trained, talented, and fit in all the standards of perfection.

The idol – culture is way more complex than the celebrity worship going on in other entertainment industries like Hollywood, Bollywood, or any European cinema. First of all, the fans are much more possessive of these idols, almost as if they personally know them. This is by design. Idols are rigorously trained not just to sing, dance, or act, but also, to present a friendly image to the public. Now it can be said that politicians, pop stars, and other public figures are also image – trained, but idols are supposed to broadcast their lives via shows, live streaming, vlogs, holiday tour streaming, sport events etc. More than that, they’re supposed to come across as available, within reach, and single, so that fans don’t lose interest.

Idols give years and years of their life to present such image to keep the business running.

[Gidle; a girl group in South Korea]

Mima is an idol in this movie, part of the girl group SHAM. She’s adored by the public and has a very loyal fan base. A few of her fans are obsessive and downright creepy, as they’re always looking for her erotic photos. Infamously, idols are incessantly and criminally stalked by obsessive fans.

Due to financial reasons, SHAM has to disband as a group. Mima conveys to her manager and her agent that she wants to pursue an acting career. The manager is not happy with that, but the agent respects her decision, encouraging her to go through with it.

The television deal she secures is different from her idol image. It requires her to do ‘adult’ scenes, and a lot of her fans are not pleased. She starts to receive threatening fan letters and faxes, and one of the faxes ultimately guide her to an internet blog called “Mima’s room” in which her private life is described in intimate, accurate detail. This terrifies her, but her manager asks her to ignore it.

This is where Carl Roger’s unconditional positive regard comes into my mind. For integrated growth and learning, an individual needs to be fully accepted, no matter what decisions they make. It’s the conditional nature of acceptance by the loved ones and society at large which causes incongruence; discrepancy between the real self and the ideal self.

For Mima, the positive regard she received as an idol was of conditional nature. As long as she presented an innocent image to the public, she was adored. But as soon as she decided to break that image by doing something different, her social environment expressed intolerance. She was stalked, threatened, and her privacy was invaded. There were consequences to being an evolving person. There was, for the first time, a conflict between who she was (real self), and who she was supposed to be (ideal self). Interestingly, this conflict was not just external to her, but also internal.

This is highlighted in the movie by showing sequences of her carrying out mundane tasks of daily life; laundry, shopping, cleaning, cooking etc, in comparison to her idol life which was sensational and happening.

The point of ultimate tension in the movie comes when she has to participate in a rape scene in the strip club. She tries to do it in a really professional way, but ends up being traumatized by the whole experience. Her manager warns her against doing this scene, as this would change her public image irreversibly.

Thus begins Mima’s psychosis. This is the most horrifying segment of the movie. When Mima stares at her reflection in the window of the metro, she ends up seeing a smiling, perfect face staring back at her. It’s her face. From this point onwards, she witnesses this beautiful, perfect phantom figure prancing around her all the time. It wears skirts, heels, makeup, and headband. This figure eventually starts to chase her around as her paranoia increases. It haunts her in every waking moment, to the point where she is no longer able to distinguish between dream and alertness. She has no idea when she’s asleep, awake, and what’s going on.

This ghost image which is haunting her is her own idol persona. As her external conditions become more and more harsh, critical, and consequential due to her new decision, her internal mental state is also deeply disturbed by this conflict, to the point that her prior self-image compartmentalizes itself starts to haunt her.

Her being haunted by her own self-image is the age old conflict between the real & the ideal. The ideal becomes intolerant and predatory. The real is alienating, lonely, and criticized. The way of being real is not easy. It’s full of hardships and difficult decisions. It’s not as happening and adored. When one decides to be real, it’s the opposite of a happy and easy life. For Mima, the extreme discrepancy between her 2 selves causes extreme grief, stress, and paranoia. Considering the fact that she was just a teenager when she gave all her energy to being an idol, the trauma of identity lost is profound.

This is where an understanding of idol culture is imperative. People spend years of time, energy, and resources to build a persona of perfection. Even when someone becomes a successful idol, one is not allowed to date, and is not given the full salary because the profit goes to the management. Being an idol is grueling mentally, emotionally, and socially. Yet, people desire it still as an escape from poverty. Hopes & dreams go into creating this image, and it being destroyed is a nightmare for many. The expected standards of perfection both internally and externally are towering.

When we relate to something, anything, a shift happens within us. Our thoughts are altered; they move in a new direction. Ideas bubble up, enveloping self and the other in a sense of familiarity. Feelings are nurtured to a point where specific emotions exist solely for that entity. This is preceded by us behaving a certain way; we smile differently for our partner, friends, and parents respectively. Similarly, we wear different clothes for gym, class, or club. All of this is a happy process! Falling in love is akin to this, enjoying intimate friendships is akin to this, and devoting time to our craft happens exactly like this. This is how a new identity is fostered. Cognition, emotions, and behaviors integrate.

The sweet tragedy of human life lies not in doing, but undoing. A time comes when we have to let go of roles which no longer serve us. The reason could be any, but the entity, the process which received our sensitive commitment; time, attention, and whole being, no longer exists in the same form. This is where we lose not just that entity, but our entire identity. We lose who we were, how we behaved, and the depth of our feelings. A profound grief, loss, horror, or stress is felt. There is no linear way to deal with it. It’s inevitable; if we’re living, if we’re loving, we have signed up for this loss. It can be something as small as a TV series ending, or something as intense as losing a family member. It can be as bittersweet as the farewell day, or as ambiguous as losing a job. There are no roadmaps in the face of this loss; the world will seem like a stranger for a while as we try to process the loss; of familiarity, of our identity, of ourselves.

Mima’s identity loss turns her world into an ambiguous, harrowing place. The horror of the day as she’s chased by her compartmentalized dancing self does not leave her alone in her nightmares. While her psychosis diffuses the gap between the real and the imaginary, things take a turn for the worse.

The blog where her private details were leaked is updated with the order of killing the ‘fake’ Mima. Fake, because she’s no longer the innocent idol. A dangerous, obsessed stalker goes on a chase to kill her reading that, recreating the infamous rape scene. He’s disappointed that she’s no longer the old Mima, and deluded that she must be fake after reading that blog. She knocks him unconscious in self-defence and flees to her manager’s house. Soon after, reports come that her stalker and her agent were murdered.

By the end, this time when she’s haunted by her self – image, it’s not a part of psychosis. She’s horrified to see that her manager has dressed up like her prior idol self & is boasting to murder all those people who have tried to tarnish Mima’s reputation. The manager was the one who murdered people; the stalker, the agent which got her the TV deal, and all those actors who had to rape her for a scene. She was also the one who updated “Mima’s room” with her confidential details. This is the biggest twist of the entire movie. She (the manager) is also incapacitated by Mima in self-defence and later admitted to the psychiatric ward. The end of the movie sees Mima visiting her manager in the ward where she still believes that she’s the idol.

Mima is now famous for her role in that TV series and is no longer suffering from psychosis. Her sky is perfect blue, and she’s the “real one”.

Conditional Positive Regard
Not only are we recipients of a kind of affection which comes with conditions, we’re also the source of it. We create standards and conditions for other people that they can always fall short of. In little ways, if a daughter doesn’t behave like a daughter, if a boyfriend fails to behave like a boyfriend, if a mother is not the epitome of motherhood, then there is a lack of acceptance. In our day to day communication, we’re thoroughly disappointed by other people when they are not consistent with our image of them. In this movie, the manager & the stalker are enraged and intolerant by Mima’s decision to let go of her prior role.


(1) Mima is suffering through identity loss, ambiguity, strangeness, and consequences for opting to be real and breaking her prior self-image.

(2) The manager and the stalker have an attachment towards her old self – image. They’re enraged by the new changes & want things to go back the way they were at any cost.

According to Carl Roger’s theory, incongruence in our life happens through relationships. This movie aptly presents the human weakness & stress in any relationship. It portrays the insanity of expecting the people whom you love to never change, to remain static, to always please you. It portrays the hardship of wanting to be real.

Being real is not a happy – go – lucky process. It’s full of ambiguity and alienation. My real sorrows may be accepted by my close ones, but my authentic irritation, annoyance, and other idiosyncrasies may not be accepted. I myself may not accept the other person unless they behave in a certain way. The price of being real is to find oneself in a confused, conflicted place.

Unconditional positive regards is crucial for growth and learning. Rogers highlights acceptance as being the key elements in self-actualization. Mima has the virtue of being flexible, open to change. While this puts her through tremendous confusion and conflict of psyche, this also makes her look at the perfect blue sky, and feel self-actualized. At the end of the day, despite all odds, she was real. The people who loved her had the folly that they expected her to never change. They’ll forever be the victims of their own neurotic demands.

“Love is accepting the person as they are, allowing them room to change.” ~ Susan Cottrell


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