I take a look at a movie that has aged unbelievably well.
SUMMARY (Warning: This movie has a decent mystery that should be watched if possible)
Mima Kirigoe (Ruby Marlowe/Junko Iwao) is a member of “CHAM!” a mid-level J-pop group. Desiring to change her career up, she leaves to become an actress on a television drama called “Double Bind.” Her manager, Rumi (Wendee Lee/Rica Matsumoto), is hesitant about the change, but her agent, Tadokoro (Gil Starberry/Shinpachi Tsuji), believes this will jump-start her acting career. Unfortunately, her role in “Double Bind” is very minor, only getting a few lines each episode. Many of her former CHAM! fans are upset about the move, including Me-Mania (Bob Marx/Masaaki Ōkura), an obsessive stalker. Mima soon receives angry messages and even a letter bomb. She also discovers a fan-site called “Mima’s Room” which purports to be written by Mima herself, containing diary entries that are so accurate that they frighten Mima. Rumi tells her to just ignore it.
Mima eventually manages to get a bigger part in “Double Bind,” but it involves her character being raped violently during an episode. Mima is not comfortable with the role, but ends up going through with the scene, completely destroying her former “good girl,” image. Additionally, despite the fact that everyone in the scene was trying to be professional, the experience of the rape scene is extremely traumatic. Between the stalker, the trauma, a nude photoshoot, and the increasing insanity of the author of “Mima’s Room,” Mima starts to lose her mind. She sees a reflection of her former “CHAM!” persona start talking with her and she becomes unable to distinguish between reality and her work on the show.
Meanwhile, several people associated with damaging Mima’s reputation are murdered. Mima’s J-Pop persona starts talking to her again and Mima discovers evidence that she committed the crimes while under the influence of her other side. Mima finishes the final episode of “Double Bind,” in which she is revealed to be a character who killed her twin sister and stole her identity, with the new identity being strikingly similar to Mima. After everyone else leaves the studio, Me-Mania attacks her, claiming he was told to kill her by the “real” Mima. Mima knocks him out and escapes. Someone else soon kills both Me-Mania and Tadokoro. Rumi finds Mima and takes her to Rumi’s apartment.
Waking up at Rumi’s place, Mima quickly discovers that Rumi is obsessed with her. A former J-Pop Idol herself, Rumi resented Mima leaving the group and started “Mima’s Room,” as well as killing all of the people who damaged Mima’s pure image. She finally attempted to kill Mima using Me-Mania, then killed him for failing. It turns out that Rumi now has a split personality and believes herself to be the real Mima, the one who was the innocent good girl in CHAM! Rumi, now claiming to be Mima and envisioned by Mima herself as her double, attempts to murder Mima, but after a long chase Mima ultimately stops her, even saving Rumi’s life from a car. Later, Mima, now a successful actress, visits Rumi in a psych ward, but Rumi is completely overtaken by her “Mima” persona. Nurses see Mima and wonder if she’s a lookalike, but Mima says she’s the real thing. However, in the Japanese version, she says it in Rumi’s voice.
I honestly have no idea why this was the movie that immediately came to mind when the prompt was “Anime Film You Love,” because I think I’d only seen this movie twice before last month. It’s definitely not the anime film I’ve watched the most, which is probably Akira or Princess Mononoke. However, this was the movie that I thought of first, probably because I rewatched it in 2010 in order to demonstrate to someone that it was clearly the inspiration for Black Swan. So, maybe it’s because I associate this movie with being right. Ultimately, though, this is a movie I love, because it is a movie that completely changed meanings between my first and second viewing.
The first time I saw this movie, I was in high school, probably in 2002, and it was on a (poorly-subbed) ripped-dvd that someone else from my school had brought in. Naturally, I was deeply uncomfortable at the thought of getting caught watching it during certain scenes. At the end of the movie, I thought that it was a really good psychological horror film, but in a way that reflects the price of fame. When I rewatched it in 2010, though, this movie felt completely different, because in the interim Facebook, Reddit, and other social media had started becoming widely used, to the point that even my late-adopting self was on it by then. Suddenly, this story had changed to be about the nature of public persona versus the individual. With the advent of Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest and TikTok, this film has only grown more relevant.
Mima’s primary conflict in the film comes from the growing gap between her old public persona, her new public persona, and her true self. Because of her being pulled or forced into different directions, she starts to lose a sense of where each one ends, resulting in her literally seeing her previous self in the mirror. The more you watch it in the modern day, the more it seems to speak about the gap between who we represent ourselves as online and who we really are. Our online selves are often curated or only show a facet of our real selves, but those are increasingly becoming the face by which we present ourselves to the world at large. Similar to Mima’s conflict between her personas, the pull between who we say we are and who we really are and even between who people say they are and who they really are, is an ever-present issue nowadays. Moreover, Mima finds out that someone out there is presenting a “true” version of her that isn’t really her. As that is the most public version of her, someone is changing her public image against her will. It’s identity theft writ large.
The stalker, Me-Mania, is one of the most disturbing parts of the film. Early in the movie, his obsession is visually represented by the great shot of him holding his hand in front of his face so that it appears that Mima is dancing on the palm of his hand. Throughout the film, we see him being driven mad by people talking about Mima’s slow descent into an actress that destroys his perception of her as a pure and innocent singer. Similarly, we discover that Rumi’s breakdown is related to her inability to keep projecting herself onto the image of Mima from CHAM! As Mima started to drift further away from her J-Pop image, Rumi became so obsessed with maintaining the innocent Mima that she started to envision herself as the true version. This refusal to accept that people aren’t their public image, and the desire to “eliminate” or cancel them for not living up to it, has been a big issue over the last few years.
The film itself is a great work of psychological horror as we watch the slow descent into madness of our main character. The murder mystery aspect of it is compelling because we really only get a look at Me-Mania and Mima as the film goes on, and it becomes increasingly possible that either of them was behind this. The film starts to blur the lines between reality and imagination to reflect their declining sanity. It sometimes feels like it might go a little overboard, but I honestly think it’s a great use of the medium, particularly when we see the imagined version of what’s happening but also see a mirror reflecting the reality.
Overall, it’s a great movie and I recommend it to everyone, because it’s one of the few movies that seems to have become more relevant since it was made.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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