Perfect Blue is a 1997 anime film by Satoshi Kon, a director known for his mind-bending thrillers. The film follows Mima, a pop idol turned actress, who struggles with fan backlash and her own psychological deterioration. Much like the film itself, its soundtrack takes listeners through a manic-depressive journey, ranging from euphoric pop songs to dreary mood pieces seeping of head-splitting anxieties.
Perfect Blue’s soundtrack is as much a criticism of J-pop’s frequent overproduction and excess as it is a commendation of it. Two of the album’s pop songs are by film composers (Masahiro Ikumi and Makoto Mitsui), while the others are by frequent pop songwriters. Misia, the vocalist for “Angel of Love” and “Cherish These Memories,” was a rising J-pop star during the film’s production. The year after Perfect Blue’s release, her debut album sold over 10 million copies. Ironically, the film denounces the very notion of J-pop stardom and success by deconstructing its artificial nature.
Massive J-pop groups such as AKB48 and Western acts such as NSYNC, One Direction and Britney Spears are often plagued by their possessive fandom. In Japan, this unhealthy fan-performer relationship stems partially from record producers, who contractually prohibit J-pop idols from dating. According to rocketnews24, a Japanese pop culture publication, there’s an “unspoken implication that openly dating someone will destroy the fantasies of individual fans that would like to date the singer themselves.”
Perfect Blue’s opener, “Angel of Love,” hints at this concept. When translated to English, the lyrics can be interpreted as the singer telling her (mostly male) fans she is a possession of theirs: “And then you come and listen to the sweet little voice/Singing there for you and only for you/She is protecting you right now.” The key phrase here is for you and only you. This is syrupy pop with sinister, hard-hitting meanings.
Other vocal tracks “Alone, But at Ease” and “Cherish These Memories” lack “Angel of Love’s” lyrical depth. Instead, they contain obvious life lessons, such as finding self-confidence and discovering new interests. The closing track, “Seasons,” makes up for its poetic shortcomings by being a seriously good pop song. It’s a feel good track (played over the credits of a truly terrifying film) with melodies on par with peak form Princess Princess tracks.
Spliced between Perfect Blue’s pop songs are unsettling instrumental pieces. The balance of these two genres define the album’s distinct sound. On the instrumental tracks, there’s a foreboding sense of tension, as if there’s a Xenomorph creeping behind a corridor, ready to pounce. Speaking of Alien, “Mima’s Theme” has a spacey quality that would fit snugly within that film.
The song “Nightmare” is exactly that; a nightmare. Listening to this track is akin to wandering in the dark with a hunch that something is gradually closing in, refusing to reveal itself. The track’s occasional muted screeches and industrial sounds do not help calm the situation. This is probably the most memorable theme of the film due to its unnerving melody and sinister build.
“Uchida’s Theme” is an intoxicating club song with murderous intent. It presents a party so immersive and alluring that it’s simple– and dangerous– to get lost in. The atmosphere of “Uchida’s Theme” is similar to “Nightmare,” but more imminent. Instead of wandering alone in the dark, you’re alone in a crowded bar, unaware of your assailant. But this time, your mind is not playing tricks on you.
The Perfect Blue soundtrack is a well-executed balancing act between the happy and the harrowing. Both dimensions would work well as stand-alone pieces, but when combined, they exist as a unique film score.
When a pop song ends, something lurks in the corner, ready to terrorize and corrupt; you escape that danger because of the comforting peppiness and protection awaiting on the next track. The Angel of Love is there for you and only you. Suddenly, I understand the allure of it all.