Perfect BLEH: Why Perfect Blue's Ending Fails

A while back, I reviewed the late-Satoshi Kon’s directorial debut, Perfect Blue, on ScrewAttack. I didn’t like it, going so far as to give it a 2.5/5 star rating (half a star shy of a recommendation.) However, because discussing that movie is like feeding a cocaine addiction, my thoughts and disdain lingered. More-specifically, one of my critiques about the film, namely its third-act twist feeling tacked on, stood out most. Since that’s a pretty damning flaw, I guess the only way to excise it from my mind is to elaborate…as if doing so on Twitter plenty wasn’t enough. I’m creature of habit, so I guess I’ll reiterate in hopes that it’ll finally, FINALLY, leave me alone.

Now, be warned, I’m about ruin the movie’s ending, as well as several details from its narrative. If you haven’t seen Perfect Blue and were trying to avoid it being spoiled, I suggest clicking on a different Infinite Rainy Day article. This is your last chance. For everyone else, strap yourselves in, because here I go.



To give context, Perfect Blue is the story of young, idealistic, former pop idol Mima Kirigoe, who turns to TV acting in an attempt to be taken seriously. While most of her fans and close friends are supportive of her decision, she quickly begins having second-thoughts when the pressures of television take a toll on her. She sees flashes of her past self everywhere, and her new associates start dying in a series of murders orchestrated by a shady-yet-obsessed fan of her former career. Ultimately, we’re meant to assume that Mima is going insane, and that this crazy fanboy is working for her in secret.

Unfortunately, everything the movie, which was pretty sloppy and disjointed prior, tries to establish is ruined in the third-act by a last-minute twist. After confronting and killing her fan/stalker in a struggle for her life, Mima, distraught and emotional, decides to spend the night at her manager’s house so as to regain her composure. But then the movie pulls the rug out from under us with a 180-reveal that Mima’s manager was the brains behind everything, using the justification that she was really Mima. So the two get into a rooftop chase, eventually ending with Mima’s manager getting impaled on broken glass, running in front of a car to commit suicide and being saved at the last-second by Mima. The movie ends with Mima, now a full-fledged movie star, visiting her former manager in a mental ward before muttering that “there can only be one Mima” and leaving in her car. Cue the credits.

Time to explain why this ending doesn’t work:

Let’s begin with its placement. Perfect Blue isn’t long, but its third-act twist occurs near roughly the last 20 or so minutes. That’s a pretty late inclusion for a twist, no? Most movies with plot twists usually throw them in at the halfway or two-thirds mark, allowing a chance for it to sink in. Even when it’s a last-minute twist, there’s a build-up of sorts to, again, let it sink in. That’s not accidental, since film is a medium of time and budget constraints. If you’re gonna add a twist, it needs time to develop.

Perfect Blue doesn’t have that time for development. Instead of placing the twist appropriately, it shoves it in at the last second in hopes that it’ll, somehow, work to the film’s advantage. This creates the opposite effect of feeling rushed and clumsy. I’ve seen the movie twice, and both times I felt the twist occurred way too late. That’s not a good sign for a movie that already had serious pacing issues.

Next, it’s contradictory. Every good twist has to, in my opinion, fulfill two criteria to be effective. The first is context, i.e. fitting into the grander picture. For instance, the Kayzer Soze twist at the end of The Usual Suspects? It works because it subverts and contradicts the information given by the protagonist. The twist at the end of Memento? Again, because of how the movie is edited, it subverts and contradicts everything we knew prior about the protagonist. These twists have context, so they work.

Perfect Blue’s twist has zero context behind it. It turns out that Mima’s manager, Rumi, was the real mastermind behind all the murders. Okay, was there any indication of this prior? When did Rumi ever imply that she thought she was Mima in the first two acts? Why would she even want to be like Mima? These are all valid questions, but the movie doesn’t think of that prior to pulling out the rug. We’re left as confused as Mima, instead of thinking, “Yeah, that was brilliant!”, hence it fails the criteria.

Then there’s progressing the story effectively, which is my second criteria for a good twist. To that, the answer is also “no”. Say all you will about the twist in The Dark Knight Rises, but it at least progressed its story. Conversely, say all you will about the twist in Iron Man 3, but it at least progressed its story. The twist here, however, doesn’t do anything to progress this story; in fact, it could’ve worked without it.

I’m not kidding: Rumi being infatuated with Mima was unnecessary. You could’ve cut that, kept the ending to Mima killing her obsessed fan and nothing would’ve been ruined. At all. You still could’ve gotten your message out about the dangers of a false image, and it would’ve worked fine. That the twist was added anyway completely derails the film’s message, but I’ll cover why shortly.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of execution. Ignoring how dumb the reveal was, and let’s not pretend it wasn’t, and how out-of-character Rumi’s motives were, and let’s not pretend that wasn’t dumb either, the entire finale is a rooftop chase with Mima and her psychotic manager. My problem is two-fold, and it has nothing to do with Mima’s cries for help (because, y’know, she’s not a martial arts master.) On one hand, why does no one in the streets respond? Perhaps it’s a cultural difference, but I’d expect that, even if no one came to her aid, her cries would at least attract some onlookers and spectators, no? And while you could argue that it’s all in her head, I don’t buy that because the movie makes it clear that Mima’s being chased by a real person.

On the other hand, the conclusion of said chase is ridiculous. Rum accidentally gets impaled on a broken window pane, and we see her bleeding fatally. In other, better-written versions of this sort of scenario, Rumi would cough up blood and die on the spot. But Perfect Blue decides to have Rumi get up off the broken glass, adjust her wig and proceed to stand in front of a moving truck to commit suicide. True, Mima shoving her out of the way at the last second makes sense. But that Rumi would have the energy to attempt such a death doesn’t.

This leads to anger with the hospital scene in the end, as Mima is perfectly fine and Rumi is recovering from her insanity. You’re meant to be relieved that this is over, but instead I’m angry that it ended this way. You’re meant to feel bad for Rumi, but I don’t. You’re meant to shout “BRILLIANT!” once the credits roll, but each time I shout “REALLY?!” instead. Because it’s a dumb way to end a dumb climax that stems from a painfully dumb twist.

The twist even ruins the message of the film. What’s Perfect Blue about? The harsh expectations of fame on celebrities, and how it can drive them crazy. Wouldn’t it have been kinda cool if Mima turned out to be the orchestrator of this whole murder spree? Better yet, what if the twist climax was her running from herself, akin to Episode 3 of Paranoia Agent, getting impaled accidentally during the chase scene and dying? Wouldn’t that have made more sense than-I’m being too clever for this film.

Ultimately, this twist makes me question why Perfect Blue is frequently considered one of Satoshi Kon’s best. It’s not, it’s a crappy movie directed by a man who’d go on to greater works in the future. Besides, acknowledging that not everything a director you love has made is great respects his or her humanity. I love Hayao Miyazaki, for example, but I’m not afraid to criticize Howl’s Moving Castle’s flaws. I do it all the time, and I like that film! I simply recognize that it’s not perfect and move on.

So yeah, that’s all I have to say. Perfect Blue isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s no masterpiece. It’s a bad movie with a bad twist ending, period. And it’s still deserving of its 2.5/5 star rating. Now, if it’d only purge itself from my mind forever, but I guess I can’t have that too…

Comments

  1. I think the point of the film was that rumi was mima and she had a psychotic break and her manager took advantage of that so she could be an actress,that's why she says I'm the real mima and smiles,to give away that she isn't.

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    1. That's...interesting, I guess, but I still don't think the movie made that clear if it were the case...

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  2. Nice watching. You completely failed to understand the film from bottom to top, impressive. Early on Rumi is mentioned as a former pop idol herself, hence why she wants to be Mima. And also the remarks on the dangers of fame from both sides, as a fan and a star.
    Of course it's all in Mimas head, that's half the point, the only reason the plot against her works is because she's having a mental breakdown, which arguably extends into the final sequence considering how reminiscent of double bind it is, and how we only see Mima in the mirror properly.
    Glass in the gut wouldn't necessarily be fatal. You're nitpicking, which I get since you misunderstood the film and and need reasons to bash it.
    And the film is 77 minutes long yet the twist coming with 20 minutes left is too late for you? Yeesh.

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    1. You sure owned someone who wrote about a cartoon movie on the internet, anonymous commentor.

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    2. Besides, it's not like I haven't seen the movie three times already, have considered everything that was presented in the above defence and still think its ending doesn't work, right?

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  3. "You’re meant to be relieved that this is over, but instead I’m angry that it ended this way. You’re meant to feel bad for Rumi, but I don’t."

    I disagree entirely. It's established repeatedly that we can only see the "real" individual in their reflections, most obviously during the chase sequence in which we see the contrast between the idealized and graceful Doppel-Mima and the grotesque and lumbering Rumi. When Mima visits Rumi in the hospital/psychiatric ward, we see her with Mima's reflection; the obvious question here is: is that reflection showing us who Rumi believes herself to be, or, as has been previously established, who this "Rumi" actually is? The original actually makes this a bit more clear with the final line (something like "I'm the real one!") being delivered by Rumi's voice actress and not Mima's. You aren't supposed to be "relieved that this is over," you're supposed to wonder whether it actually is or not (and really, mental illness is generally something that only truly ends at death). You aren't supposed to "feel bad for Rumi," you're supposed to wonder if she finally got the only thing she wanted.

    I think you're looking at it as a film with clear and concrete answers to the questions it asks, when that's really not what it is.

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    1. While I can respect that interpretation, I'm still not fully convinced that the movie really was going the route you suggest. And even then, the way in which it wraps up is still a little too clean given that Mima just went through a physically and mentally traumatizing event. You don't get over that so easily.

      By the way, I've seen both the dub and sub of the film. The sub version might clear up the odd detail, but it still doesn't rectify my issue with the ending...

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    2. Eh, I don't know that I'd call it "clean," whether the Mima we see in the end is Mima or Rumi. If it's Rumi and Mima is in the psych-ward, then we have Mima losing her identity entirely, with Rumi completely losing herself in Mima; they both end the film with severe mental issues. If it's the opposite way around and we are seeing things the way the are at the end, Mima betrays her insecurity in her own identity with her final line. The fact that she feels it necessary to confirm (to no one but herself) that she's the "real" Mima is a pretty clear indication that she either doesn't believe that or is at least uncertain. This ties back in to the main theme of the film (I disagree with your assertion that it's about the pressures of fame and celebrity, as I think Kon was going for something broader) which is the concept of "identity" in its subjective and objective forms.

      without trying to get too deep into here

      we see the objective when we see characters' reflections (rumi at the end, mima repeatedly through the film)

      we see the subjective both tangibly on-screen (mima-rumi at the end) and through the characters' interactions with each other

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  4. I agree entirely with this post. I watched Perfect Blue for the first time tonight and, while I thought the first two acts were brilliant, the ending twist kinda ruined it for me (so much so, in fact, that as soon as the film ended I scoured the web to see if anyone felt the same way).

    Personally, I think it would have made the most sense for the fanboy to be both the one responsible for the murders and the one pretending to be Mima online. He could have justified his role as her imposter as an attempt to keep her stage persona - "the real" Mima in his eyes - alive. Likewise, his murders could have been justified as a means of taking revenge on those who destroyed her idolized public image. This could have summated to a climax where he attempts to murder Mima herself since, the way he sees it, she is just as responsible for killing "the real" Mima. The film could have concluded by giving viewers time to reflect while Mima recovers from the incident. It could pose the question of whether Mima's psychotic episodes stemmed from an external fear that her identity was no longer in her control or from internal regret of everything she endured to launch her acting career. I feel that this would help focus the ideas touched upon in the film while still leaving the plot open for interpretation.

    It's a shame Perfect Blue ended the way it did. I really feel that it had major potential and a few easy changes would have made it flawless.

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    1. Interesting. I never thought about suggesting that Me-Mania should attempt to be the final killer himself. That'd have even been better than what I'd suggested...

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