The Scoop: 2001 PG, directed by Satoshi Kon and voiced by Miyoko Shôji, Mami Koyama and Fumiko Orikasa
Summary Capsule: A documentary director tracks down an actress that went into hiding 30 years ago and relives her life through movies and memories.
Eunice’s Rating: Visuals without sacrificing the plot? Can it be?
Eunice’s Review: This is a review that’s been eating away at me since August. See Millennium Actress is one of my favorite movies. I mean we’re talking top ten here. And, as someone who has been watching anime for… fourteen years now (fourteen years?! I’m getting old!), it is my favorite anime feature ever.
So there’s some pressure.
Director Genya is doing a documentary on a defunct movie studio that has just been torn down. He decides to make the focus Chiyoko Fujiwara, the studio’s star actress who carried it during its golden years. With his camera man in tow, he manages to get an interview with the reclusive Chiyoko by saying he has something that belongs to her.
It turns out to be a key, both literally and symbolically, from her past. Millennium Actress is about Chiyoko’s life as it goes through history, always tied to earthquakes and her movies that usually reflected her life. When she talks about both her past and her movies Genya and Kyoji are transported to the time and place.
But even more it’s a bitter sweet romance. It turns out that at the start of WWII, Chiyoko met an artist/human rights activist who was on the run from the government. When they’re separated she decides to go into movies so that if he ever sees her, he’ll know where to find her. I suppose you could say Actress is an example of romance and love at its purest form. Well two examples. Genya is in love with Chiyoko, obsessing over her movies and having a secret connection to her.
I almost never saw Actress. My first exposure to director Satoshi Kon was with the thriller Perfect Blue. I won’t go into details, but while that movie has stuck with me for years, I didn’t really it like it and don’t ever want to see it again. But one of the things that I love is movies within movies. Singin’ in the Rain, Moulin Rouge!, Perhaps Love, etc. I love ’em. So I gave this one a chance. Chiyoko’s story spans from the war propaganda films of the late ’30s to the kaiju flicks and space operas of the ’60. Being in the studio system, the plots and characters are always similar, and manage to mirror what’s going on in Chiyoko’s life. While the young and cynical Kyoji remains an observer for the whole movie, Genya, who has more of an emotional connection both to the actress and history, is drawn into the role of Chiyoko’s protector with the unrequited love (not as creepy as it sounds).
Beautifully animated and scored, it’s also a movie about the details. As we go from genre to genre, the filming techniques change so that any fan of those movies will pick up the subtleties of camera movements and conventions. And on the technical side, the sound is amazing. There’s this one part, I always rewind it a couple of times just to appreciate it, where she’s running and slips in snow. There’s this satisfying *squelch* sound that is perfectly timed and dead-on. Everything is pitch perfect. And -Gah!- I don’t want to say more, because there’s no way that, if you’ve never seen it, I won’t be ruining it for you either by giving away too much or talking it up so much that I over do it.
Millennium Actress isn’t just a great animated movie. It’s a great movie. Period. And I can’t put it any better than that.
- Millennium Actress is available in Japanese audio only. So subtitles warning.
- Both Chiyoko and Genya have multiple voice actors, three and two respectively, to convey aging.
- Satoshi Kon passed away from cancer August 24, 2010 (another reason this was a hard review). Pretty much owing his start to Katsuhiro Otomo, Kon made his bones on projects like Roujin Z and Magnetic Rose (the first short in Memories). His first turn as director for a feature would be Perfect Blue, followed by Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers (a version of Three Godfathers), the series Paranoia Agent, and Paprika. Animation studio MADHOUSE has announced that his last film, Yume-Miru Kikai (The Dream Machine), will finish with Yoshimi Itazu as acting director and Toshiyuki Inoue as joint animation director.
- The key! Gotta love a good McGuffin.
- Best death symbolism ever?
Kyoji: Let’s not expect too much, eh? We don’t even know what she looks like now.
Genya: She’ll never grow old!
Kyoji: You’re not dressed for this era.
Kyoji: Old people these days!
Ghost: I hate you more than I can bear. And I love you more than I can bear.
The Man: “It bothers me that I was not able to thank you. I want to see you, but this war grows more intense by the day. When the war is over and real peace has come, I will go home to Hokkaido and finish that painting. Some day I’d like to show you that starry, starry sky as I promised I would.”
Chiyoko: You’re always there to help me…
Chiyoko: After all… After all it’s the chasing after him I really love.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Tokyo Godfathers
- Porco Rosso