This is another movie review and I’m actually overdue for one. I promised myself that I’d do a review for every 10th number I land in. It was a way to cheat in getting to a thousand because a movie requires just one sitting. I did realize that making a review for one is really hard compared to doing a review about a 12 or 24 episode anime. It’s weird, right? Anyways, this is review number seventy so it’s time to keep that promise. I’ll be reviewing a movie.
I reviewed two Satoshi Kon movies already so it’s only right to review another one. I’ll be reviewing Millennium Actress. A movie released in 2001 that has Satoshi’s great touch of combining reality with fantasy. It’s great. Let’s read on.
Genya and his cameraman are out to do a documentary of a popular movie star who has gone into seclusion. Genya wants to return a key to the famous actress and hear her story about her colorful career. As she reminisces about her life and career, Genya and his cameraman is taken to this different places. It’s a place where past and present meets, and where reality and fantasy collides.
Taking the Pants Off
This is another movie by Satoshi Kon. It’s his second directorial piece that came after Perfect Blue. He has a distinct style of combining dream and reality in his storytelling that often comes off as playful but sincere. In Perfect Blue, this actress was going into a mental spiral as her normal life and scenes from her drama series started to meld with fantasy invading reality. In Perfect Blue, it was a prelude to the initial climax of the film and Satoshi Kon seemed to have mastered that kind of approach because Millennium Actress started and finished with that prelude to the climax. It’s also very confusing. Millennium Actress is very confusing and it requires your full attention if you do plan to pick it up. Important bits and pieces of the movie is scattered and hidden in various scenes you need to do a bit of thinking. You don’t have to think that hard though if you want to enjoy the movie. It has a simple premise: Love. Love that can last throughout the years and love that can never vanish. Through Satoshi Kon’s hands though, that premise is presented in subtle doses but with very powerful implications. I really love this guy and his movies are the perfect thing that I always crave for in movies. I want the story to always shine on top of everything else. I don’t care about special effects, dazzling 3D or a cast of legendary actors. I just need a story, a soft spoken yet hard hitting story. I haven’t seen a Satoshi Kon movie that didn’t move me. I hope you see his talent and appreciate it too.
Millennium Actress is about a film maker named Genya Tachibana and his cameraman visiting a famous actress who has been in seclusion for years. Genya hopes to make a documentary about her and she agreed. The actress, named Chiyoko Fujiwara, tells the story of her colorful career and the incident that started it all. Chiyoko is a famous actress from the 1930s to the 1960s and she decided to become an actress because she wanted to give this key a man dropped one fateful day. This man is on the run from the law so he keeps moving to avoid the police. In order to give back the key, Chiyoko decided to become an actress and do a lot of travelling. Why was returning the key so important though? It was because she is in love with the man. Chiyoko tells this story to Genya. As she reminisces, Genya and his cameraman are taken back in time as they see first hand the events that transpires on her career. This simple storytelling started to combine with scenes from Chiyoko’s movies. The past and the present meets, and her memory told through scenes of her movies.
There is one thing you need to remember as you watch this movie. Chiyoko is in love with the man and she wishes to return this key to him. Hang on to that because the movie uses a lot of symbolism, metaphorical scenes and complete exaggeration to tell the story. It starts out normal with Chiyoko telling her story with flashbacks and such. Genya and the cameraman are suddenly in the flashbacks but they were invisible. They’re like ghosts who watches as the scene unfold. Then the two would suddenly speak with the people in the flashbacks. They would help someone who is stuck in a under a pile of rubble but it’s still a flashback. Genya would then assume some roles in the flashbacks that mix in with a scene from Chihiyo’s movies. The movie scenes would also jump. At first, it would be feudal japan then it would suddenly jump to WW2 Japan with no prior notice. It would often be hard to keep up if you forgot the main idea. Chihiyo’s life as she tries to find the guy and return the key. That’s the important part that you mustn’t lose sight of.
There were a lot of metaphorical scenes that comes in the forms of Chihiyo’s movie in place of actual events. One example would be a climactic scene where Chihiyo plays a ninja as she is being chased down by another ninja, an actress named Eiko, in the woods telling her she’ll never meet her “lord” again. That’s a scene to replace Eiko’s hindrance in Chihiyo’s desire to meet the man. At times you just need to get a gist of what the scene is trying to tell and then build your own idea of what actually happens. Satoshi Kon loves to confuse the viewers by using artistic directorial approach instead of telling it straight. There was a lot of exaggeration too especially when Genya would suddenly enter the picture and assume a role in the scene of the movie. He would appear dressed as a samurai when Chihiyo is surrounded by a bunch of bad guys. It’s not clear if there is such a person and Genya just plays the part or if it’s just a playful and comical telling of the events. Of course there is no samurai that surrounded Chihiyo in real life but there were certainly “obstacles” placed in front of her that could represent the samurais. It does no good to think about it anyways and the movie would let your imagination to do the rest. There are some symbolisms too. The one that really stands out is this old woman haunting Chihiyo in her movies but would later reappear in other scenes of the movie. She represents her doubt and uncertainty in finding the man she loves.
The movie has a small cast which helps in understanding the story. All of Satoshi Kon’s movies have a small cast. The characters play their part well but there is very little development. They are mere devices to tell the story. They are very nicely done though. Genya’s admiration for Chihiyo would often be used by the movie to tell the story. At times when Chihiyo is in danger, he would always be the man to jump in and save her. The story often used Genya to play that part instead of someone else to avoid further confusion in the movie. In fact, the authority figures in the movie were often played by one guy dressed in different outfits. The characters just help paint the bigger picture in the anime and they don’t become clutter which is good because as the story progresses, the characters become more involved. The movie pulls strength from the story but the story is mere events played by the characters.
The story of the anime is really strong though. Yeah, it was confusing at first but all of the pieces come together at the end. Like I said before, it was all a prelude to the climax. As the story keeps unfolding, we are treated with a lovely tale of love. A woman that loves a man he only meet once which fueled her to become a great actress. A love that only makes sense in Chihiyo’s eyes told in a grand way with colorful scenes and dazzling animation. You won’t regret picking this anime up because you’re first impression of it will always be toppled with your final image of the story. It’s a very touching story of love. Simple as that.
Sight and Sound
The anime was made in 2001 where digital animation is the innovative way to do movies. All the sceneries, the characters and everything else were made with computer animation. 2001 was an awkward transition though so the quality isn’t as great compared to today’s standard but the smallest of details in the movie is something rarely seen today. The hand drawn appeal of the movie, the paint to canvas feel of the scenes and smooth animation is outstanding. The transition between scenes is especially lovely where you were just in Chihiyo’s living room one moment then you’re in 1930’s Japan the next. The anime did a great job of capturing the era of the scenes to give us an idea that we really are travelling back in time along with Genya and his cameraman.
The character design is something to get used to. All of Satoshi’s movie has the same design that tries to resemble an actual human as close as possible. It tries to be as realistic as it can but still retaining its anime feel. Like Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfather, this anime can be done in live action easily. The animation is great though. The facial expression is really accurate with small muscle details moving as well instead of just the mouth, something anime of today does.
The soundtrack adds to the emotional impact of the movie. The opening montage of Chihiyo’s entire movie was awe inspiring because of the sound that accompanies it. It’s a nice nostalgic music that reflects the reminiscing in the anime. It was very powerful. Some of the scenes in the anime were greatly accentuated because of the music that accompanies in. I especially love the xylophonic music when Chihiyo found the key after losing it all those years. I remember a lot of the scenes in the movie thanks to its lovely soundtrack. The closing song was also nice that tells of the hardships of Chihiyo and her undying love.
9/10 “A great story of love told in a great cinematic masterpiece.”
This is a hard movie to recommend because people prefer being spoon fed information instead of piecing it themselves. Only a handful can truly understand its beauty and that’s alright. This movie is a great treasure you’ll be lucky to find.