IDOL – The Terrifying Reality of Perfect Blue

IDOL – The Terrifying Reality of Perfect Blue

This is the face of someone realising their career is over. A career that was never in their control to start with. Not really. A career in an industry that commodifies young, vulnerable women and men, chews them up and spits them out, lost, in just a few short years. Despite this ridiculously short shelf life, it’s an industry the young are desperate to get into, an industry the country of Japan thrives upon, cheers for, and pours ludicrous amounts of money into. At the top, it’s an opulent business; singing and dancing and crying on a national stage. These men and women can go on to become lifetime entertainers, TV hosts, and celebrity personalities. But down amongst the thousands of would-be stars, of stars who haven’t quite made it, and probably never will, it’s another world. A life of small gigs on a tiny salary,
only to fade into obscurity. Idols are famous for being famous. Their lives have been commercialised, and they in turn have become a product, to be bought and sold with all the die-hard loyalty, and obsession, these products endear. Much like anything on the market, however, the worm turns surprisingly fast. To be a successful idol is to understand the fickle nature of human emotion. You may be thinking ‘this is no life to aspire to’, that this isn’t really a life at all. and you’re right.
This isn’t life – not as we know it. This… …is IDOL. Idols are an institution in Japan. But the culture surrounding them is difficult to understand from an outside perspective. Especially when you take into consideration the recent boom of the virtual idol – digital avatars that are every bit as popular as their flesh and blood counterparts. Seeing thousands of adults buy expensive tickets to shake glowsticks at a hologram might be a little confusing, but then again, maybe it isn’t. Idol is often mistake for celebrity to non-Japanese audiences, akin to a Hollywood star or a musical icon. But these comparisons wildly miss the mark. Whilst most idols perform in some way, these skills are entirely secondary. In fact, some of the best all-singing, all dancing idols are paradoxically untalented in those fields. To be an idol is to provide an unspoken service to legions of loyal fans. To be a fixed point in their lives, and something to hold onto when times get tough. To professionally fake a relationship with hundreds, even thousands of individuals. To be an idol is to understand that this is all much more than a simple transaction. With the rise of streaming services in the last few years, the West may finally have it’s counterpart to idol culture. To worship an idol, to follow someone on Twitch or to subscribe to a Youtuber, as many of you have to me, we’re engaging in a strange relationship that’s entirely new to our generation. A relationship whose boundaries and ramifications are foggy at best But whilst Western culture seems intent on reminding everyone involved that, for the most part, these relationships begin and end inside the monitor, Japan’s idol phenomenon does the opposite. Through the aggressive marketing and commodification of idols – of people – the industry sidesteps the ugly, fictional nature of these relationships, and instead assures its fans that these stars are part of your lives, or at least, they can be, for the right price. Through premium concerts, meet-and-greets, handshake events, stacks of merchandise and expensive gift-giving, die-hard fans are likely to pour vast amounts of money into an industry that promotes a premium delusion. That, by going to every show and buying every piece of merch available, you’ve essentially bought into a relationship with an idol. That you’ve somehow bought a little piece of them. The idol industry knows the power of this relationship, and does everything it can to protect that fantasy, famously prohibiting idols from dating so as not to spoil the illusion. As archaic as it may seem, an idol’s most valuable selling point may well be their purity. It’s easy for non-Japanese onlookers to view these relationships as unhealthy and strange, even predatory in nature, but make no mistake – it is a relationship. One between two willing participants that, in their healthy forms, are both understanding that this is ultimately a fantasy. Sadly, thanks in part to an industry that is more concerned with a bottom line than it is the safety of its stars or audience, and the nature of the vulnerable people that make up both idol and fan, miscommunications happen. Like any business so intricately, inextricably tied to the mess that is human emotion, to play idol is to walk a tightrope. A tightrope that many tumble from. Perfect Blue is the story of one such fall from grace. Perfect Blue is possibly Satoshi Kon’s most enduring work. An artist who left us with a small but stunning portfolio of knockout films. Indeed, everything that Kon directed truly verged on perfection. Fittingly, Perfect Blue is no exception. A film that can only be described as a trip, a tumble, perhaps, down a rabbit hole of paranoia, self-doubt, fear, and a whole host of other such delectable insecurities. Kon often traded in overt negativity, which is why when his works end on an uplifting or spiritual note, they ring true and feel earned. Kon isn’t interested in the saccharin. He’s obsessed with humanity, as dirty and as twisted as it may be. It takes a master to balance these feelings and not end up with a movie that feels like a complete bummer. Kon does so deftly as he explores duality. In each film, he mines a different dichotomy: dreams and reality, the past and present, the family you’re given, and the family you choose. In Perfect Blue it’s the self, and the alter-ego. Not in a trite, comic-book way, mind you, but in the stark difference of who we are, and the often vastly different person we present ourselves to be. With the explosion of the internet, we’ve all been afforded an opportunity to play with this dichotomy ourselves, And there’s likely few amongst us where these alternate personas don’t diverge significantly from who we truly are. But, in 1997, in the year of Perfect Blue’s release, and at a time when the web was still a novelty, rather than a lifestyle, Kon found this battle raging at the heart of the idol industry instead. Exploring the pastel-hues and endless frills of a young, Japanese idol, and the perfectly average life she lives once she removes that costume. Based off a novel called ‘Complete Metamorphosis’ by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Perfect Blue follows the up-and-coming idol Mima, as she discovers a darker underbelly to the industry she was so desperate to become a part of, and explores the tenuous relationship between idol and fan. Originally planned to be a live-action adaptation, the destructive Kobe earthquake of ’95 tore apart the studio, and the choice was made to slash the films budget and instead release it as an animated feature. A young, fairly inexperienced Kon was saddled with the title, making his theatrical debut as a director on a project he didn’t really believe in. Diverging from the source material dramatically, Kon twisted the original work into something almost unrecognisable, and in doing so kick-started his career in a fantastic fashion. In a film full of abrupt, jarring edits, stunningly eerie transitions and a creepy soundtrack that effortlessly gets under your skin, Satoshi Kon delivers gut-punch after gut-punch, for the brief, eighty minute run-time, leaving even mundane scenes feeling pregnant with dread. The reel feels a little haunted by its end, and like Mima you’re straining to see things in the shadows that were perhaps never there. When the film finally descends fully into the madness it holds in store, it doesn’t pull any punches. As events transpire to cause Mima to second-guess everything she sees, Kon too sweeps the rug out from under the audience, and asks them to parse the erratic, barely fathomable parade of bluffs and double-bluffs. Much like Alice, Mima falls head over heels down a rabbit hole, and her world turns upside down, and we’re right there next to her, tumbling, trying to catch some narrative truth to hold on to. It’s a disconcerting feeling as a viewer, one that few filmmakers would ever be willing to put their audience through, and it’s terrifying, and spectacular, all at once. With Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon delivered an anime film closer to horror than I’ve seen achieved anywhere else in the medium, with a film that explores the duality of not just the idol, but of humanity as a whole, we’re shown the repercussions of this front, and the violent ways people who feel manipulated can react when it finally drops. But, perhaps more damning than that, Satoshi Kon went toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful industries in Japan, and showed an ugly, exploitative side to it, behind all the bubblegum-pop and starry-eyed smiles. Much like the countless times Mima slips, and her cheery expression falls for a second, to reveal a scared, haunted woman, Kon helps loosen that industry wide façade just a little, and shows us something a little more ugly, a little more artificial, but a lot more human. Thank you for watching, and for sticking with an opening five minutes that was almost completely devoid of anime. but I felt it was necessary to give Perfect Blue the context it deserves. Idol Culture is often a subject that is
difficult to approach with tact and objectivity, I hope I did the phenomenon some sort of justice. A big thank you to Patrick, who once again created a killer track for this video, paying homage to the original score by Masahiro Ikumi If you’d like to support Beyond Ghibli, you can do so by pledging a buck on Patreon, and join the lively conversation over at the Discord, where you can find out just how unpopular I am in my own community. The guys over there really helped shape this video, and rein in some of my more impassioned opinions about the idol industry. If you dig the work I do here, you can subscribe or follow me on Twitter to keep abreast of future projects. If, instead, you think my true calling might be in Idoldom, hit the Like button, and I’ll purchase a tutu, and a tiara.

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  1. As well produced as this video is, I think it really doesn't have the depth that sets it apart from any other talking about the Japanese idol industry or Perfect Blue itself, which I guess is the fault of it trying to do both things at once. An increased focus on either the real life context or the movie itself, which would be more fitting for this channel, would have enabled some more depth in the ideas you skimmed across.

    And looking through the comments I see similarly shallow (as in, lacking depth, not derogatorily) responses to the idol phenomenon, probably due to them not knowing much about it. I wish to challenge the viewers or even the maker of this video to see idol as a more complex phenomenon. How about looking at it not through the lens of duality, but something a bit more nuanced and multi-faceted? Think about it, do you really think of idol as this pure, perfect concept anymore? Even before watching this video, I think most people know about the problems of idol culture. In fact, I would say that it's the most famous aspect of idol culture, with massive press coverage, and likely a person's first encounter with the concept of idol. And I'm not sure if this was the case when Perfect Blue was made, but I think idol culture has become quite self-aware, and in the process not quite as extreme as most documentaries try to make it out to be. Of course, outliers exist in any community. Perfect Blue is an outlier. It can shock you into seeing reality, but just take note that it is an exaggerated form of a singular case, not to be used to paint the whole of an industry.

    In recent years, there has been the emergence of idol groups that, while taking the title and format of idol, do not share the illusion of purity and often displays the opposite. This movement has gained much momentum, to the point where even mainstream idol producers are trying to be more edgy. In comparison, the traditionally pure and sweet idols start to look gaudy and outdated, with their draconian rules and overly artificial facades. Idols themselves have become more outspoken, sometimes against the rules. So I think there is a shift, with idols becoming more of entertainers than the emotional crutches they used to be, and with that, more freedom.

    I think another part that isn't really talked about is the fans. This weird culture is as much about the idols as it is the fans. The rules that bind the idols are made to appease the idol fans, so they do hold some responsibility for their suffering. But while there are fans who hold their idols to ridiculous standards, especially in the traditional idol groups, I think it really isn't all bad. It isn't all suffering. If it was, the industry wouldn't exist. Most of the time, the fans can and do support their idols, just as their idols them. And while money is involved, it doesn't make it all artificial. Sometimes, the camaraderie and sense of community is real. You see that in most artists and creators, especially here on YouTube. It's a similar concept. Seeing it this way can help make it seem less alien, and helps us to understand it better.

    Another way to look at the idol phenomenon is to consider the wider Japanese society. This concept of a commodified emotional connection isn't limited to idols. It's found in host and hostess clubs, and various other services. This opens up the wider question of why such services are so prominent in Japan but seldom seen elsewhere. But perhaps that's opening another whole can of worms.

    I don't know why I ended up typing so much, but yeah. I guess I'm just a little tired of every mention of idol culture trying to be an exposé, trying to paint it as a fake light covering a real darkness. Because it isn't. Sometimes behind the stage lights, it isn't just darkness; it's people working hard, doing what they love for the people who love what they're doing. And I think that's pretty human.

  2. coming from your bebop retrospective, this was yet another excellent vid… its fascinating to see how Kon (like Watanabe) were relatively new when they made these masterpieces.

  3. That first 5 minutes completely recontextualized this movie for me. This is truly a hidden gem on YouTube. Have you ever considered branching out to other media analysis?

  4. Bullshit. ALL workers are commoditized, chewed up, used, and spat out without a second thought. Coal miners with black lung, auto workers fired when their jobs are outsourced- their last work packing up the factory, McDonalds workers automated, etc. Just because this example is on television doesn't make it worse or in any way unique. But tax cuts for the rich so yea….

  5. Idle is the perfect name for this. As we pull farther and farther away from God we turn to the worship of each other. It will always end tragically.

  6. Perfect Blue was way ahead of its time. Kon may not have shown in the movie all the abuses and manipulations made by the studios unto the aspirants in J-Pop industry, but it would seem that he was already aware about these.

  7. I saw this movie for the first time when I was 14, i was staying the night at a family friends and she had taken me to a movie rental place. I picked it because it was anime, she set me up to watch movies (she is my moms age) and went to bed leaving me to myself. I loved the movie and a few months later tricked my mom into buying it for me on vhs (tricked because I knew I shouldn’t have been watching such a movie at that age). When I was 16 a friend and I tried out for a duet part in our choir concert and the song we sang was angel of love, we even danced to it. Our choir teacher liked that we picked a song in another language and had put in enough time and practice to get not only the lyrics but the dance right. I’m 34 now and that choir teacher is my mother in law and to this day has no idea of the origin of that song. The song Cherish these memories always makes me burst into tears. Thank you so much for this vid ?.

  8. This was… weird, normally when I see any media made in japan I take a few seconds to process it, but this time I think that it will take way longer, I mean I think that I know at least how idol culture works but… they can't even sing, they settle a sentimental relationship with thousand of people who are willing to waste lots of money on them, that is both cruel and creepy, men I don't know whether criticize them, congratulate them or call them a cult, but in any case, that fills me with sadness and gives me the creeps. I don't know, I guess is one of those things that you can't fix and its better to ignore, but its like they tamed human nature.

  9. that intro was killer, I remember seeing perfect blue when I was a little kid and didn't really understand its implications and wasn't into it But, now when I revisit it I can see it was brilliant and had so much more depth than buff dudes yelling at each other.

  10. Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers are two of my go-to examples of why Animation is not simply a children's medium, and why it should be given the same respect as live-action entertainment.

    (then, when people still scoff, I point them to Grave of the Fireflies.)

  11. Wow, I loved this movie as a young teen just cuz it was scary. I had no idea it was a mirror to life thing.

  12. I only will state out, that the usage of a footage-snippet from the band BABYMETAL in the introduction sequence is kind of inappropriate. Despite the fact, the girls emerged from the idol-scene, they were a subunit of Sakura Gakuin until 2013, they aren't part of it ever since. They do no meet and greets, have no social media accounts and do not even give autographs. Everything about them aside from the actual gigs they do ist completely secretive!

  13. It's so sad that Satoshi Kon is no longer with us. When he passed away, I feel that was the end of an era of great classic Seinen anime that starts with Akira, through Ghost in the Shell. I love Paprika, Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress, but never liked Tokyo Godfathers for its rather patronising and unrealistic view of homelessness. Paranoia Agent had flashes of excellence but I thought it seemed rather derivative of the movie Flatliners. Perfect Blue was the masterpiece, but Paprika was my favourite. I could never get into the Moe style, with the best will in the world.

  14. Its twitch evolved… though i dig the innocence and purity thing. Odd that they cant have relationships, really sad, actual innocent love is a beautiful thing. Guess it gets odd when you have many fans all ooogling the image of your character.

  15. That's a pretty interesting dynamic, japan is permeated with these sort of overtly capitalistic dysfunctional social entities that replace genuine interaction on the downtrodden, lonely, and weak-minded population in the country, there is no other way to put it, these are not relationships, its a bandaid over a population that is hotly avoiding romantic relationships as the population both crashes in growth and skyrockets in age.

  16. I wonder if Epigenetically Japanese people are more prone to indentured servitude to the late dismantling of the feudal system?

  17. Good call for using the Claire Danes clips from her Vapors cover song. As trash as that original band may have been, the sardonic message about disposable celebrities is poignant. Good call!!

  18. But what is an idol, but an image that is worshipped? Japan has done nothing new. They have simply turned one of humanity's oldest practices into blatant industry – which, I suppose, makes it only slightly more honest than most actual religions. Unfortunately, rather than wood or metal or clay, they have fashioned their images our of skin and flesh and blood.

    The real problem with an idol is that it is a god who serves its worshippers – not really the other way around. An idol has a mouth, but it doesn't speak; ears, but no hearing; eyes, but no seeing; hands, but no agency or ability to take action. And this is what sets the idol singer apart from her graven counterparts – she is a human, possessed of a free will and the ability to carry it out. Yet, being an idol, she is ultimately beholden to her worshippers; she must hear and answer their prayers, she must maintain whatever image her audience has built up for her in both their individual and collective consciousnesses. And while smashing a stone statue of a wood carving when it proves to be powerless has few if any repercussions, when an idol singer fails to meet her throng's expectations, things can get very ugly very fast.

    I feel Kon was ultimately trying to warn his culture, and the world, what this mentality leads to. And perhaps, that's me projecting my own presuppositions onto an admired icon. How hypocritical of me! But seriously, at the end of the day, we must realize that the images so many of us choose to bow down to are but empty vessels. They have only as much power over us as we ascribe to them. If we truly wish to exercise control over our own situation, it starts by taking that control back from the empty things we give it up to.

  19. Fun film fact, the bathtub scene in requiem for a dream was pinched from perfect blue. (conjecture ensues)

  20. The brief scene of that poor young girl crying at the beginning is soul crushing, it's horrible how cruel the industry and media can be on vulnerable young people who have so much ahead of them, only to tare them down and make them feel worthless… Idols, famous people; they're all just human like everyone else. Flawed and imperfect, but the industries force them to appear the opposite and put them on a high pedestal that will inevitably crumble once they do one or two things wrong. Once they show how flawed they are, the world seems to automatically toss them aside for the next "idol prodigy". They are stripped of their private lives, their integrities, their sense of self worth and identities, etc.

  21. watching this, I'm REALLY curious what your take on Suicide Club is. It's like Perfect Blue: The Movie, similar themes, but more twisted, and ambiguous. If you ever see it, please let me know XD

  22. Although I'm commenting this nearly a year later, I have to say that I never really realized the terrace house scene where riko is exposed is career ending for her. I guess the hosts of the show write it off as simple, comedic drama and not something deeper than that. It also makes me realized that the other members of the house really didn't put into consideration how much they would be affecting her. Weird.

  23. Same things happens to "Boy Bands" in the states.

    Look up the history of N'sync and Backstreet Boys

    Their Manager payed them Shit and even Sexual Assaulted them. He died in Prison

  24. You should make a video on fandoms on how insane, terrifying, and downright dangerous.
    Seriously this video was really amazing on how you showed what idol obsession and it’s dark side of it is.

  25. I would've liked more, as in, this video could've been expanded even more. I would love to see a longer video with your point of view. Additionally, I truly appreciate your integrity and willingness to grow by posting a counter argument comment. Thank you for what you do.

  26. In Terrace House when Hayato and Riko got exposed the way Hayato behaved was scarily similar to how predators on To Catch A Predator behave. I'm not the only person to see this right?

  27. To save everyone 10 mins, this is just hollywood but in japan. Same industry that ruins people, same one thats ran by greedy puppet masters, same one that idolizes underage woman and the same one that controls masses of insecure followers that would kill their neighbor for 15 mins.

  28. Mh… You touched on a lot of interesting subjects, but didn't follow through explaining them, while you spend a lot of time outlining perfect blue, also a bit vaguely. This the video comes out a bit weak brested. What, for instance, happened to the idol that was shown in the very beginning? Talking about 2 to three concrete cases, even just giving them 3 sentences each, would have made this a much stronger talk.

    I'm sure you can up your game. It doesn't seem to be a problem off lack of knowledge but just not enough focus. So the overall gained info from this video is kinda meh.
    It sums up to: idols are not their own masters, which results in questionable practices. Watch perfect blue. Kon is great.


  30. KPop and JPop, are both garbage industries. None of the idols in both the industries can sing for s**t. They have garbage vocals, which is why you will see MORE KPop and JPop idols using playback or just straight up lipsync than most Western artists. Their songs have horrendous lyrics. They are famous because of their looks and their personal lives being advertised to the public. They are famous for the sake of being famous, just like mumble rappers of the west. Don't even get me started with their "purity" nonsense.

    Let's also not forget about the garbage snowflake fandoms that come out of these 2 industries. You criticise a single hair follicle on one of these idols, and all hell breaks lose. Their "fans" will start coming at you and your family with pitchforks. The biggest culprits are the fandoms of Exo, BlackPink, Twice, and BTS. These Fandoms also make a huge deal out of LITERALLY NOTHING. If an idol starts casually looks around and while looking around he/she just happens to glance over a another idol, the fandoms go crazy. They start making nonsensical relationship rumors and videos about those rumors.

    This is all just touching the tippy top of the iceberg. KPop and JPop are both 2 sides of the same coin.

  31. Well as always you're video moved me. You are a real professional at this and it shows, every single time. As for my opinion on that topic, i think idols is in many ways a perfect product of what capitalism can create at worst. Selling everything is the real leit motiv behind capitalism, and idol, even in their western counterpart, try to sell human and souls all the same. Perhaps the art/celebrity making is the worst because we face an industry who cn crush the people in it and in turn can transform even their fall in money grabbing.

  32. In absolute real life of idol culture is disturbing and sad, but- in the context of modern media, I'm sad nobody is talking about the Cham members Mima left behind. They're not shown to be in all that bad of a situation mentally. They aren't hiding anything dark either… They seem genuinely happy and safe. I don't think it's meant to justify idol culture in any way, I just think it's there to show the idea isn't instinctly wrong, and if done with caution can work… but when it goes wrong it is terrible.

  33. So, you are right about idols. There are many market mechanics that make them become like objects, like merch. But I would not say to be an idol is something so dark. For sure there are many negative aspects, but also positive ones. Idols can make a career. They are given a space and time to experience, test themselves, show off to the world, grow up, within the world of entertainment. You wouldn't be able to do this in the outside world, not to that degree, not with that speed and intensity.
    About the money, probably the idols are underpayed, for their work as a standard idol, but almost surely this can change, as soon as they start getting attention from the media and doing something else, like modeling, ads, radio, dramas and so on.
    About the mercification, there is a lot of merch going on, but as an economic phenomenon some form of trade must exist. Surely there is a mechanism that wants to sell and wants you to buy, even unfairly: I'm thinking about supporting a specific idol in a group buying many of her products. It's up to the consumers to be conscious and to behave as a healty consumer. The guy at 1:27 looks pretty extreme, maybe is not the case. A healthy buyer could buy some products in small quantity for his own pleasure, with additional happines due to knowing that he is also supporting his favourite idol or group. He has to know he can't impact the life of the idol, that his role is marginal.

    In conclusion, there are issues with Idols, but also positive aspects. We touched only part of it. I tried to bring idols out of the dark. There are many good things about being an idol and being a spectator: Nogizaka tv shows have taught me that. I think you know that too, even if, for the purpose of this video, some part had to be taken.
    I am willing to watch Perfect Blue, and to see how idols will be welcomed in the West in the next years.

  34. The whole idol culture gives me some pedophilic vibes. What will the purity, the school uniforms, how young they are and how they are no longer desirable after a certain age. It's creepy.

  35. Just watched Perfect Blue recently and it is definitely something different upon the genre. It is the first anime film that scared and scarred me psychologically. Although the movie seems pretty old, the truth it tells seems to hold true until today. Definitely one the best anime movie of all time.

  36. Listen man I love kpop but I know these idols are people trying to make a living and survive but Its a awful business sometimes

  37. Jpop and Kpop cultures never got me, now that I'm older I can start to see why… it's so disturbing. As a kid you don't really see it but I remember getting an unpleasant feeling watching it and it reminded me of the crazy events my mom would drag me to on Easter…taking the light I think it's called. I think it has something to do with Jesus' death or something. People sometimes caught fire from the candles… at least idol fans use glow sticks, don't wanna get sued. I don't think it's legal to sue a church in my country.

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