Well, this took longer than expected.
Damn you video games for being so addicting -_-
I knew I shouldn't have started Dragon's Dogma. I just can't stop!
Here's part two, now excuse me while I go catch up on anime (and then probably play some more Dragon's Dogma).
Part II: New Computer and Dead Fish
Welcome to the second part of this superbly written look at Perfect Blue. What can you look forward to in this installment? Rape! Yay! Well, alright, it's not actual rape; but really, it might as well have been. The ironic thing is that for all the series that use rape as a plot device, it's the one with fake rape that uses it best. And because it uses it so well, I get the honor of talking about it at length.... OK, I admit it; I might have been putting this off.
That aside, this part (covering the next thirty minutes of the movie or so) focuses on the buildup that takes place before Mima's brain snaps in half. The scenes are longer and more drawn out than in the opening, builds up the external threat, and makes the internal struggle more obvious (and then blunt as all hell). Kon's patented directorial style a more linear approach during this portion of the movie as well, which you'll see shortly.
She smiles while admitting stupidity? Definitely a former idol.
Carrying over from where we left off, Mima's “Who are you?” question has nicely translated from a very legitimate inquiry to a single line of dialog in need of rehearsal. While she perfects the delivery of this complex sentence, Rumi is busy deciphering the piece of fan mail that bothered the young actress. She explains to her that the fan must be referring to a website called “Mima's Room,” and not implying that he's been getting his stalker on with a pair of military-grade binoculars. Though she seems to understand that there's nothing to worry about, Mima proudly proclaims that she has no clue what her manager is going on about.
Not much of a scene (more like a scene within a scene, to be honest), but it does have one piece of information that the viewers weren't formally told of before now: The fact that Mima is a total noob. Of course, this movie was released in 1997, so computer illiterate people were a bit more common back then than now. Still, from a narrative perspective, this lack of internet knowledge does offer the plot a convenient reason for why Mima didn't know about the site until now. Her having found it while transitioning is important to her struggle, which I'll talk about when it becomes a bit more prominent.
Just put some ice on it, you damn pansy.
That little snippet taken care of, it's time to introduce the actual “actress” variable in the equation. We get good, long scene featuring the two lead characters in the drama series being filmed. We see them acting casually before the camera rolls, then playing out their parts, followed by some more time away from the lens and chatting it up with both the director and the writer of the project, showing us their personalities in the process
Mima gets called onto the set while they prepare for the next take, and she's feeling nervous over the one line of dialog that's been allotted to her. The audience is treated to a surreal moment where she notices the bright lights above her, along with the large collection of faces around her, some idly looking at her, others preoccupied with whatever it is they were supposed to be working on. Our friendly idol stalker even makes a cameo appearance, though Mima doesn't recognize him at all.
But enough of our lead, let's watch the others for a spell. After some fan letters are distributed, Tadokoro and Rumi talk to the director and writer regarding Mima's miniscule role in the play. The writer isn't sure what to do with a pop idol, but Tadokoro tries to convince him that she's a full-time actress.
And now the scene is finally ready to get shot. All the cast gets into positions, and just as they are about to start, a loud bang fills the air off-camera. They all turn to see Tadokoro falling to the floor, hand bloody, and pieces of paper gently gliding down. Part of the message was intact and read: “The next one will be real.” From the progression, it's easy to figure out that what exploded was Mima's fan letter, and that certain fans aren't exactly happy with her transition.
Let's see what we have here. First, the shot being filmed for the drama series. It opens up with the two laughing before the shoot, which is a nice way to distinguish the characters from their career (this movie just loves doing that). This leads into the actual recording, as the two straighten their faces and discuss the possible motive behind a serial killer's modus operandi (cutting off their faces, lovely). This obviously sets it up as a murder mystery, but it's relevancy to Perfect Blue's story won't be seen until a bit later.
Next, Mima's awe at the sight of the film crew. Surely she's familiar with large throngs of people in the audience, but probably less used to having all these people together working on the product. These people aren't here to fawn over her as the audience would, they're here doing their jobs. The side-long glances and indifferent stares only increased how uncomfortable she was in her new role.
Then we come to Tadokoro and the fan letter. When he's talking to the writer to give her a more prominent role, he pleads with the man (like any manager would). This exchange will eventually lead to one of (if not the) most important scenes in the entire film. Now, regarding the letter: Given Uchida's presence, it's safe to assume that the fan letter is meant to be from him. If you don't think he's the dangerous kind of fan yet (for whatever reason), don't worry, you'll see it clear as day later in this post. A light explosive was hidden in it (probably a firecracker of some sort) and exploded, though the message shows us that it's just a scare tactic that isn't meant to cause her actual harm. So yeah, danger levels have definitely taken another step up from threatening faxes.
I'm more surprised that she can already use the mouse to scroll.
The movie cuts to sometime later, with Rumi helping Mima with a brand new computer that she bought recently. Not only does this further support her status as a total noob, but it also helps differentiate Rumi and Tadokoro even more. Rumi is always portrayed as the “parental” manager, whereas Tadokoro is much more down-to-business. Granted, I don't know the typical manager/idol relationship, but I imagine that taking time out of your day to set up one of your employee's computers is a bit more personal than usual.
During all this, Mima asks her what she thinks about the incident the other day, referring to the rigged letter. She pushes the question away with a few basic answers, telling her not to worry about it. Her cold disposition towards what transpired could indicate that she resents Tadokoro for pushing the “actress” issue. It certainly won't be the last time we see these two's differences come into play; and, considering Rumi's emotional attachment to the issue, it's easy to believe that she might hold a grudge.
That's all we get out of that scene, however, since Rumi leaves once everything's up and running. Mima takes the time to try the address written in the fan letter. The website in question actually covers multiple pop idols, “Mima's Room” being one of the many pages therein. It reads like a diary, detailing her days from her point of view. At first, the former idol is amused by how well the person knows her, but as the writer begins listing more and more details (such as the brands of the milk and fish food that she buys, as well which foot she leads with as she departs the train), she becomes more and more frightened as she wonders how they could know all of this. Obviously, the general fear of being stalked plays a role, but “Mima's Room” will slowly begin to carry deeper meaning as we progress through the movie.
Censor bars for your viewing pleasure.
Now here's a scene that doesn't have a whole lot of purpose outside of setup and pacing. It's a scene from the drama series, covering Mima's initial part, along with showing us what happens afterwords: Another murder scene. Not a lot of impact by itself, to be sure; however, this is just Kon slowly feeding us the “other” plot and getting us comfortable with it.
Using the shot from before, the viewers can easily make the connection that this is part of the television series, not the real world. It helps get us used to the fact that scenes from the drama will pop up every now and then. The plot of the show will only be important to the movie towards the end, but naturally, it's just as important that we see that plot line alongside the movie's.
For heaven's sake, man, seek a plastic surgeon asap.
And here we have a hodgepodge of tiny moments orbiting Mima's transition from idol to actress. Starting with the two managers, they are in the middle of an argument regarding whether or not the switch was actually worth it. Tadokoro insists that, even if the amount of work is small, it's still better for her career than continuing as an idol. This also subtly gives us one more piece of information that will be of use later: Rumi used to be a pop idol herself.
The discussion is cut short when the now two-piece idol group CHAM walks in to announce their big success, having finally been able to climb their way into the charts with their latest single. This won't actually be brought up until a little bit later, but I thought I'd mention it here, since this is when it's introduced.
Finally, we have a scene where some of Mima's fans are lamenting over their idol's lackluster acting career. One of them even rhetorically asks if there was anyone who could save Mima from her new field of work. Unfortunately, Uchida also happens to be in the same location as these fans; and as we'll find out, this guy doesn't need any extra motivation.
All of this, again, is just setup for what's to come. The scene with the two managers helps get us ready for the sudden boost in the importance of Mima's character, the scene with CHAM helps solidify the internal conflict in preparation for what happens as a result of said boost in importance, and the scene with the fans sets the stage for Uchida to do his thing. It's about what you would expect at this stage of the movie, and the way everything is incorporated succinctly is one of the movie's major strengths.
And to think, I can buy an HDTV for half that price today.
Time for the paranoia to commence. Mima's traveling to the office, just like she always does; only this time, she's conscious of the foot she uses to step off the train. Reminding her that the stalker seems to know every little thing about her, she panics and runs out of the station, gasping for breath. We get a quick shot of her seeing herself in all of the television displays to make the knowledge of her stalker's presence concrete.
It's a nice little scene that does exactly what it looks like it should. It gets our main character actively thinking about her situation, putting a steady and lingering fear in the back of her head. This is just one part in a list that all transpires at once in order to drive her into a corner and create what we will eventually see towards the end of the movie.
Following that, as she arrives at the station, a particular cutout from the newspaper was taped to the elevator's interior. It reports that Doi, the person who threw cans on stage, was in critical condition after a vehicle ran him down and sped away. Clearly confused and rightfully unnerved by this news, Mima takes a look outside the elevator doors and sees Uchida smiling back at her from the entrance to the building. The elevator doors close, cutting short their staring contest.
The obvious implication is that Uchida is the one responsible for injuring Doi, considering the timing (this took place immediately after the scene asking for Mima's “rescue,” after all). If nothing else, the audience now knows that this character is willing to go to any lengths necessary for the sake of his own, obsessive love. However, this also leads to the one real flaw that bugged me for the former half of the film.
Why are the police never called about this stalking matter? Now, this isn't a huge issue, all things considered, since there isn't any solid evidence to pin on Uchida; but you would think that they would at least try to do something about the problem. Mima just represses it, never bringing up what is definitely a dangerous person. Hell, I wouldn't have minded it if they showed a tiny scene where the police say that they can't do anything about it. At least that would have been something. But, given how well this buildup is executed, I find it hard to get mad at the movie for this peculiarity.
What the hell is wrong with his face?!
Anyway, back to Mima. She walks in (like nothing even happened), and immediately notices her former group members celebrating in the other room. Rumi shows her the charts, and she's thrilled that CHAM managed to make the charts this time. This goes to a short flashback scene with all three of them celebrating a gig that they landed (probably their first). The point of all this is to show us that Mima does, in fact, miss being an idol, despite all that's been going on lately.
Rumi also hands her the latest script, pointing out that there were more lines this time. Just subtle indicator that Mima's character is getting used more and more in the series. The scene shifts to Mima walking down the street, getting solicited by some sort of modeling agency. Just moments after, we hear a loud “Cut!” and realize that it was just another shoot for the drama (Kon is such a trickster). Of course, Uchida is there watching the take as well. Said shoot also sets up the next scene for the television show.
We never do see her parents' reaction. Unfortunate.
A rape scene! Isn't that just great? OK, so the writer plans to break the character's personality through the scene for the sake of the story. Naturally, Rumi has a heart attack over the issue, wondering how Tadokoro could even consider going through with something like that. After arguing, Mima finally tells them that she's willing to do it, since she's not actually getting raped. Though, in spite of her jokes, a few overt visual cues let the audience know that she's not exactly up for the idea. Of course, I'm willing to bet that most actresses would have grievances about those sorts of scenes.
Now, I'm going back to the strength of Mima's prior career. Idols are popular. It only make sense, given that crowds all over the world seem to love pretty girls singing poppy songs. So when someone comes along and creates a story revolving around pop idols (not Kon, by the way; this movie is based on a novel), it wouldn't be surprising for some to just pass it off as catering to the public. However, in this movie, that specific job actually has its own role to play in all of this.
Japanese pop idols are sold to their audiences as innocent, pure, and young women. They haven't been touched by men, are never to be touched by men, and are never to be portrayed in “overly” sexual ways (the definition of “overly” may vary). They are like showy entertainment nuns, in a sense. Therefore, the idea of a pop idol involved in a staged rape for a television show was simply out of the question. Rumi, being a former pop idol herself, understands this at a deeper level than Tadokoro. This one shoot effectively burns the last bridge back to being a pop idol, making it as official as anything else that she will never be an idol again.
Speaking of which, this little segment gives us our first look at Mima hallucinating about her old self. As she's riding the train home, her inner pop idol reflects in the window, bluntly expressing her hatred for this idea. This visual battle inside Mima's head will play a progressively involved role until the very end. We'll also be seeing it again in a little bit.
I... I can't even write a stupid caption for this.
And so we arrive at the scene that most people who've seen this movie probably remember first. You know what, I'm not going to do a play-by-play of this scene. I mean, do I really need to? It's a fake rape scene. It's about as obvious as it gets. Not to mention the fact that I totally don't want to describe this particular scene in any more detail than I absolutely have to. So instead, I'm just going to talk about the importance of this scene and bring up specific details.
To start with, I'd like to draw your attention to the actor who will be playing the part of the rapist. More specifically, I want to point out what he says to Mima before hand: “I'm so sorry.” I like this line. I really, really like this line. It's the perfect way to make us, as viewers, not want to reach through the screen and strangle him, and the perfect way to remind us that this is for a series. Of course, Mima's response is great as well. Her telling him that it's fine only adds to the matter-of-fact nature of this scene, and how professionally she handles it.
Next, we hear the director shout for a second take. Though this was the result of an error beforehand, it still tells the audience that, being a shoot, this process could take numerous takes. Even if it isn't real, going through that pretend scenario over and over again has to suck pretty hard. So yeah, more mental stress during something that was already pretty damn stressful to begin with. They're making it pretty easy for us to believe how Mima's psyche gets to its eventual state during the climax.
Looking at the managers now, we see their reaction to this recording. They aren't exactly thrilled. Rumi bursts into tears and has to leave the booth. Even Tadokoro has a hard time watching his client going through something like this. It's natural that Rumi would have this connection, given her love for both Mima and the idol industry, but it's a really good move to show us Tadokoro in this state. It lets us know that he's not just some douchebag who only cares business, but someone who understands the reality of the field and acts accordingly (no matter how tough it may be).
Lastly, let's talk about the end of this scene. As Mima's eyes become vacant and expressionless (man, this scene is not easy to watch), staring into the set's ever bright stage lights, she imagines herself as an idol and waving to bunch of fans chanting her name. As I mentioned before, this marks the end of her ability to go back to being an idol. It's over. It's finished. She has to give that up forever now. This brief clip embodies that.
"You're tearing me apart, corporate television!"
Time for the final segment in this second part. Tadokoro treats her to dinner and is taken home, tired from an exhausting day of shooting and pretty chipper. Fish food in hand, she moves to the tank, only to find her little friends immobile in the water. It doesn't take her long to realize that they died while she was away, and this fact breaks down the shell she put around herself for the sake of her work. Mima goes into a violent meltdown, acting out her discontent upon whatever pitiable object happened to get in her way. Truly, Tommy Wiseau would have been proud. In this desolation, she shouts out just how much she didn't want to go through with it, but also didn't want to cause trouble for everyone. This is followed by the second appearance of pop idol Mima, showing up in the reflection on the computer screen and laughing about how terrible it was.
Honestly, this is just a really nice touch. Instead of simply breaking down once she got home, Mima needed to be pushed into it. I really like how this character tries to act as professionally as possible, even when she wants to scream. Not only does it make the character more sympathetic, but it makes her a stronger and more human character overall. The fish were already shown before, so it isn't portrayed as a device simply thrown in when it was necessary; and the second appearance of Mima's inner idol further brings the internal struggle to the surface.
At the very end of this section, we see Uchida tending to Mima's Room, identifying him as the person behind it (well, that and the fact that he constantly stalks her). As you can see, this part of the movie was mostly buildup. The relative lack of Kon's tricks are representative of that. In part three, we'll see the speed ramp up as Mima's psyche is tossed further and further into jeopardy, while the external conflict gets some much needed advancement.