Insights & Art

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Tag: Feminism

Perfect Blue: Blurring the Worlds & Sexuality

“My father used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”
– Evey Hammond

I once heard one of my university lectures argue that a painting was infinitely better than a photograph, because the latter captures reality, whilst the former creates reality. In the hands of a master, a portrait can evoke, emphasis and whisper unspoken truths to an audience; painting is a medium where the artist can indulge and lavish in subjectivity; photography is always somewhat limited by the physical.

Satoshi Kon wholeheartedly embodies this principle and runs with it, Perfect Blue (1997) is a film to be experienced and not understood, because its priority isn’t to convey facts but rather to create a filter of insanity, loneliness and fear. Perfect Blue follows the protagonist Mima Kirigoe, a beautiful pop idol working as the lead singer in CHAM!, who after recognising the instability of the industry, attempts to become an actress, forcing her to actively ditch her ‘spotless virgin image’. Her decision angers a psychopathic fan known only by his online alias; ‘Me-Mania’, a man who has dedicated his life to punishing Mima for betraying his perceptions of her. Kon doesn’t attempt to craft a realistic villain, instead Me-Mania is hideously ugly, terrifying distorted. Just like Picasso’s postmodern works, Kon’s focus isn’t so much on an accurate depiction of life, but rather in creating a narrative through manipulating emotions.

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Kon’s works often features the concept of duality; and this is most evidently seen in the intertwining of the real and the ‘unreal’ worlds. The ‘real’ world contains all the physical matter around us, it is governed by logic, infrastructure and scientific facts. The ‘unreal’ world is one of chaos, ruled by emotion and built to metaphorically subvert the ‘real world’ through its contrast and intervention.

And the two worlds are set on a path of collision.

The one skill which separates Kon from his contemporaries is his complete mastery of editing. Kon is a film director who lets his edits dictate the tone of the film, instead of letting the plot guide the atmosphere of the film. As Mima starts losing track of reality, the editing mirrors this with the scenes bleeding into each other; where the linear progression of time is disrupted, reversed and dissected. The opening of Perfect Blue is so effective since it skilfully blends Mima’s idol dance routine into the ordinary task of purchasing goods; conveying that the two worlds she inhabits are inherently linked through her memory and consciousness. Kon’s art is one which thrives by discarding the generic restrictions imposed upon the directors and audience within the anime community.

Perfect Blue is terrifying because it refuses to follow the conventions of a linear narrative, the traditional labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t exist when the very fabric of reality is uncertain. As Mima slowly becomes more consumed with the fear of leaving behind her her pop idol past and the creeping dangers of her stalker, her grip on reality completely vanishes as the last act of the film becomes a dizzying blend of life, alternate realities and fears. As Mima loses control of her public persona, she finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two worlds and slowly begins to fall into a repetitive, monotonous pattern where time is subject to the passions of the heart and the terrors of the mind.

The truly terrifying aspect of this loss of reality is the inability to concretely understand what is happening around her as Mima’s mental fears and insecurities start to physically manifest. She get stabbed by a mirage of her pop idol past and later she kills Me-Mania only to find out that his body has disappeared; the audience is forced to ponder whether or not such actions actually occurred in reality. This overlapping of the two realities is also reflected in Me-Mania’s life as the pictures of Mima around his bedroom start physically interacting with him, whispering their support of his sexually preversed desire to kill Mima. What this creates is a sense of constant apprehension, where threats can materialise out of anywhere since they are not bounded to the same limitations found in the physical world. Mima’s only worse enemy is her mind, since it seems intent on conjuring up her own destruction.

Perfect Blue provides us a frightening insight into the chaotic world of Mima, a girl who has allowed the culivation of an external pop persona of sex appeal and charisma; wildly different to her calmer and more humble self she displays in the company of these she loves and trusts. Yet her public avatar has now become such an entity that it now thrives independently, riding the momentum of her fame.

Perfect Blue tackles the issue of technology and how easy it is to create, maintain and ultimately lose control of one’s public avatar. Mima stumbles onto an internet diary dedicated to recording her life and feelings through the lens of her idol persona, a website created by Me-Mania. Whilst initially finding it humourous, Mima’s naive appreciation soon turns to fear as she realises that she is being stalked and also that this website is now publishing statements which do not reflect her own feelings.

Throughout the entire film, Kon suspends the audience in a state of constant fear by alluding to the imminent sense of danger without revealing it. In the beginning, Mima’s home phone rings and she hears the slow breathing of Me-Mania, but naively hangs up, thinking it was an accidental call. Slowly this escalates to him poisoning the fishes, sending her a small explosive, killing those around her and finally even confronting her in person.

The audience is fully aware of the danger that now threatens her life but is completely unable to affect or warn her about it. The result is a nail biting ninety minutes, there were many moments where I genuinely considered pausing the film because my heart was stuck in my throat; I was terrified at what would happen to Mima.

Another one of the central themes of Perfect Blue is the objectification of a women’s body for profit, something which Kon strongly voices against. Kon portrays this relationship between Mima and the media companies who greedily consume and distribute her image as rape; the exploitation of the human body for financial benefits. The cameras (which are always held by male photographers) are phallic instruments, which pierce and unveil, ignorant to the consequences of their lust. This voyeurism peaks when Mima accepts a role where she pretends to be raped within a nightclub; we see her body through the lens of a camera and not her point of view; she is an object to be acted upon.

The power dynamic of sex is also reflected in Me-Mania’s final confrontation with Mima, where he confesses that he attempts to destroy this new ‘reincarnation’ of Mima through raping her and eventually killing her. Symbolically he attempts to commit this crime on the same film set previously mentioned, where Mima was ‘raped’ whilst acting; further blurring the lines between the two worlds. For a character who only has a few lines of dialogue throughout this film; Me-Mania’s shadow taints every interaction, every scene and location, he is truly terrifying, in an illogical manner which cannot be reasoned with.

Whilst, one certainly feels sorry that Mima gets type casted into these ‘traditionally’ female roles where are built upon her sexuality and youthful looks. Though one has to ask whether or not this depiction is ‘fair’ as Mima herself willingly enters into this relationship and she also ‘exploits’ the media to garner social capital and publicity: Regardless, Kon’s criticisms about female objectification is still a fresh breath of air in an industry universally famous for the disproportionate sizes and the overt sexualisation of their female characters.

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Me-Mania holding the public perception of Mima.

Whilst Me-Mania is unquestionably an evil, twisted rapist with little redeeming qualities, it is unsettling to be reminded that his vendetta against Mima arose out of his complete consumption and obsession with her idol persona. Financially, he was arguably everything that the media companies wanted; a fan who brought into the cultivation of this idol as a form of escapism.

At the core of Perfect Blue is the tension between a carefully crafted image and the noticeably less shiny exterior of reality and the dangers of intertwining the two. Fundamentally, all the troubles and negative consequences arise out of an inability to distinguish between these two realms; Mima cannot separate herself from her past as an idol and Me-Mania cannot see Mima as anything but a perfect little doll. Released in 1997, Kon’s work feels more relevant than ever as the internet and social media has become increasingly infused into the audience’s lives.

Perfect Blue features the traditional interpretation of fame; a person elevated to a profiting brand by the powerful media companies; reflective of stardom in the 1990s. Yet today, the internet has connected people in a way which has revolutionised our society; today, everyone has an avatar, everyone has an audience and everyone is a performer. And the concerns of Perfect Blue are more disturbing than ever.

The Yellow Wallpaper Anaylsis

The Yellow Wallpaper

This piece was a literary analysis of the first two pages of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published in 1892.

This piece of fiction from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman contains aspects of the mystery and horror genre. Narrated in first person, the writing style allows the audience into the most intimate areas of the persona’s mind. Deliberately using language which is disjointed and jumbled, Gilman paints a picture of someone who is trapped within an old house and a one sided marriage. As the passage progresses, the menacing nature of the house is brought to the forefront of the story, particularly seen in the persona’s reaction to the yellow wallpaper.

The passage starts with an informal and a conversational tone, it is clear that the persona either sees the audience as non-threatening or is unaware of their presence. The abundance of rhetorical question implies that the persona is in conversation with the audience; “Else, why should it be let so cheaply?” and “… Why have [it] stood so long untenanted?” The diction used in this passage is deliberately casual, with no words added which might challenge the reading capabilities of the average person. Bubbly quotes like “The most beautiful place!… It makes me think of English places that you read about…” builds the relationship between the audience and the housewife as they are hearing the innermost personal thoughts of the housewife and thus empathise with her.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

– Jeremy Bentham

The conversational tone is reflected in the general sentence structure of the piece. The constant thought interruptions from the hyphens and short sentences break the glossy flow of logic and delivery which is to be expected from most fiction. Instead Gilman’s breaking of the traditional paragraph structure mimics the bumpy rhythm of a face to face conversation. This unusual structure is a visual metaphor alluding to the confused state of the mind of the persona; as sentences seem to be sporadic thoughts instead of contributing to a linear narrative plot progression.

This unexpected transition from the innocent recordings of an annoyed housewife to a tale much darker in tone is accentuated in the disarming and personable nature of Gilman’s writing at the beginning. Humour especially is used to endear her to the audience, “So I take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is…” her clumsiness allows the audiences to relate to her situation of powerlessness. Likewise the persona is able to subtly chip away at the authority of the husband through the repetition of exaggerated ‘resignations to his advice’; “Personally, I believe that work… would do me good. But what is one to do?” These small moments of sarcasm are used to defang John, but also paints him as a stiff and joyless individual. During a moment where she is convinced this house has a “ghostliness” to it, “[John] said [what] I felt was a draught, and shut the window.” The humourous tone in addition to the light hearted subject matter of relocating to a new holiday house portrays the persona as someone who is preserving against small inconveniences. This changes in the final sentences of the passage, the morbid and sickly descriptions of the room heralds the unexpected emergence of the Gothic in a domestic environment.

Apart from using humour in order to convey the persona’s dissatisfaction with her husband, Gilman uses the hyphen to represent her two sided thoughts about him. On one hand, John is her husband and social expectations combined with John’s delicate care for her is appreciated; on the other hand being stuck in the top floor of this building evokes comparisons to Rapunzel. Out of a total of fourteen hyphens in Gilman’s passage, eight of them are used when discussing the topic of John and his dominating influence in her life. By intertwining John’s name with a physical break in writing, the persona conveys how ‘disruptive’ his presence is, but also hints at the possibility that she is suppressing a secondary opinion of her husband. Similarly John is mentioned in a lot of short sentence; “John is practical in the extreme.” And “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes.” These short sentences echo a tone of finality as if John’s character can simply be summed up by a single word or adjective.

Throughout the passage, John is portrayed as the stark contrast of his wife, whereas she likes to indulge in fascinations of the mind, John is (cruelly) scientific and “scoffs openly at any talk of [such] things.” Gilmore’s linguistic choices reflecst the division between the couple; John and his wife are never spoken about as a single unit. The closest the audience gets to this is in the word “marriage” to describe their relationship (it appears once). Yet this word lacks the warmth that “family” or “lovers” carry, it’s simply used to signify their type of relationship and not the feelings attached with it. There are also no inclusive pronouns in this passage, instead the audience is constantly reminded that John and “I” are two different parties with two separate outlooks on life, “John laughs at me…” and “John says the very worst thing I can do is…”

This passage from The Yellow Wallpaper is very personal as the story is not filtered through the lens of an omnipresent narrator. Instead the audience is receiving her thoughts directly; thus firmly placing us on her ‘side’ regardless of her biases. It is only near the end of the passage, when this jumbled mess of thoughts is combined with the darker descriptions of the wallpaper that elements of horror and mental instability steep out from what seemed to be an ordinary tale of family tension.

Whilst the very start of the passage foreshadows the mysterious and Gothic nature of this house; “There is something strange about the house – I can feel it.” And “… I would say a haunted house…” The final lines of this passage are drastically different and really dispel away the tone of innocence from her previous ‘trivial’ ramblings. There is a very noticeable contrast between the room the persona wants with “… roses all over the window…” compared to the wallpaper which is “… repellent, almost revolting.” The words chosen to describe the room depict it as almost a living flesh wound on the building; “… a smoulder unclean yellow [wallpaper]…” and “It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.” This sense of the room being alive is also reflected in the personification of the ‘artistically sinful’ wallpaper that “… suddenly commit suicide.” The connotations of the words “sin” and “suicide” convey that the room is not just uncomfortable to look at but that there is something inherently evil or malicious about its nature.

The literary techniques used in this passage from The Yellow Wallpaper are effectively in accomplishing the goals it sets out to meet. The use of first person, simple and familiar diction combined with the plight of a mistreated wife charms the audience into allying themselves with the persona. However, only near the end of this passage, do the audience start to peer behind the veil of banter and good faith. The combination of imagery and personification presents the room as an animate object with its own frightening agency causes the audience to suspect the terror hidden within this building, but also the possible seeds of mental instability within the persona.