Yesterday, in reponse to my latest reblog, a few of my friends brought up that Perfect Blue has some scenes that are plain hard to watch. Another said that I should warn people about the nudity, sexual violence, bloody violence, and vulgarity contained therein. That last request I hesitated to meet, but here is my content warning for Perfect Blue: it has bloody and brutal murders, a lingerie/swimsuit photoshoot which turns pornographic, a rather disturbing simulated rape scene, and an infamous masturbation scene. (N. B. The last is non-explicit enough that one might not realize what’s going on–if memory serves me right–in that five second scene.) There you have the worst content in the movie. The question now occurs to me of why was I so loath to write about these details and even angry that they were brought up in regard to Perfect Blue?
Perfect Blue counts as one of the great masterpieces of anime cinema. The story concerns a pop idol turned movie star who gradually trespasses moral boundaries. This and the stress of being in the public eye turns her life into a swirl of confusion where neither she nor the viewer can tell reality from fantasy. The way Satoshi Kon blends fantasy and reality to create the most surreal anime film ever made counts as its greatest triumph. (People might say that The End of Evangelion is more surreal, but it’s a terrible movie.) Almost every anime fan should watch it at some point in their life. The “almost” derives from the drawback of its graphic content. So, it requires a certain tolerance on part of the viewer.
Let me state here that curses, graphic sex, and gory violence are real flaws in the art of storytelling. They tend to distract from the meaning within the story. Often, what a movie was really about sticks less in the viewer’s mind than the shocking images they saw. Fiction has been a standard way of communicating universal truths about the world. (Cf. Aristotle’s Poetics) Curses, graphic sex, and gory violence are particular expressions of man’s fallen nature. Man’s vulgarity, lust, and violence can be conveyed in less unsavory manners. The actors of Elizabethan England in Shakespeare’s plays refused to curse in public; hence, the exclamation “Zounds!” took the place of “God’s Wounds!” Also, one does not need to see sex in order to know it happened or the quality of two characters’ relationship.
Realistic violence might deserve separate treatment. The deadliness and pain of a real sword fight might not have come through in Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal without the sanguine animation. One might have less of an appreciation for what our veterans suffer if not for the gory wounds in Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge. But, does this line of thought merely reveal a particular prejudice of mine? After all, many Europeans have the opposite view: graphic violence is worse than graphic sex. At any rate, either one detracts from the audience’s focus on the universal truths portrayed in fiction.
As Aristotle tells us, history is the proper realm for particular truths. Describing unsavory deeds belongs more to history than to fiction. I’d read a history which mentioned how King Edward II of Britain died, but I’d avoid a novel with such a scene. (Or, did King Edward II really die so horribly after all?) Documentaries and history books tend to less violently affect a person’s psyche than cinema or novels. Excessive zeal for realism, as in certain of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, can turn people off from a story as easily as a graphic anime. Even if it does not delve into the all the horrors of the Hundred Years’ War, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company offers a far better story than Bernard Cornwell’s 1356.
My main contention is that a writer or director needs to weigh carefully whether to add graphic content to an anime. It can detract from the message give the impression of the writer or director of being a show-off rather than an author. (Author derives from the Latin word for authority.) But, my second message is that some stories are worth watching or reading despite the graphic content. Thirdly, you should definitely watch Perfect Blue–as long as you have the proper tolerance.
Yes, I’m avoiding moral questions about graphic content and focusing on the prudential ones. That will be a topic for another article. But, what do my dear readers think about graphic content in anime or fiction in general?