a.k.a. Sennen Joyu
Fujiwara Chiyoko was one of the great actresses of years gone by. Now, decades later, she agrees to meet with an interviewer and a cameraman to share the story of her life after many long years of silence. Her interviewer, Tachibana, is a long-time fan and brings her an item she left behind at the studio many years before: a single, aged key, which unlocks the memories and tales of her past. Watch the story of Chiyoko’s life unfold as her experiences and her films meld together to recount a lifelong search for her love.
summary by Madoka
Highs: Beautiful, emotional drama; timeless story
Lows: Non-linear story may be confusing
Millennium Actress skillfully places the audience inside Chiyoko’s memories, much like the interviewer and the cameraman characters in the story. By blending fantasy and reality, this movie takes the viewer through a moving, non-linear journey of one woman’s search for love.
Although this is a recently produced feature, the animation is dark and realistic, creating a gritty, historic feel and a style reminiscent of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen. Recurring themes and metaphors strongly reinforce the plot and tie it together. Because the movie takes place in recollection rather than reality, time periods and settings shift as Chiyoko relates the account of her life through the characters she played. As Chiyoko seamlessly transitions from character to character (geisha, noblewoman, astronaut, and more), this anime emphasizes the timeless nature of the story.
Those shifts in time are so natural that often the audience may be confused if the current scene is taking place in Chiyoko’s life or in one of her movies. The film purposely creates this blurring of fantasy and reality because, in her memories, the two mirror each other exactly. If you are willing to have an open mind for a non-traditional telling of a story and can accept the ambiguity, the confusion will be replaced with true awe.
Millennium Actress is a film from the creators of Perfect Blue; although the two are similar in style, there is none of the gore or action in this movie. Poignant and dramatic, Chiyoko’s tale will no doubt strike an emotional chord with any viewer.
Highs: A delicacy for the eyes, ears and mind; rich in history
Lows: Occasional misplaced emphasis
And to think this movie premiered at a film festival in my own backyard with many cast members, including director Kon Satoshi as special guests. Had I known how innovative and refreshing this anime was, I would have done anything to attend. Millennium Actress is so many things at once. Behind a simple love story is strong imagery, character portraits and a thousand years of history.
Many of Kon Satoshi‘s hands in Perfect Blue joined him for the creation of this major production, so similar artwork and character design can be observed. But aside from both being a wild mind trip that may require a bit of concentration because of the volatile timeline and unorthodox narration style, that’s where the similarities end. At first, my rational side tried to sort out which scenes were real and which were fabricated… until I realized that every scene is real in its own way. I believe this is how Millennium Actress should be viewed; each sequence has two or more facets that all need to be taken into consideration, even if it means watching it a few times.
Some of these facets needed more attention, however. Since the main character spends a thousand years chasing one man, it would have been nice to include more scenes of them together and hints on where this laborious love stemmed from. It is successful in showing that this love is enigmatic and puzzling, even to the heroine, but since it is the heart of the storyline, mystery could have left its place to clarity.
That does not stop this movie from being a must-see for fans of experimental films, love stories or Japanese history. And if you are interested in all of those things, Millennium Actress will be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.
Highs: Beautifully intricate storytelling; lush visuals; frenetic pace never lags
Lows: Music at times strange and misplaced; tries a little too hard to interject humor
Kon Satoshi has quickly established himself as the one anime director who never bows to convention. His ability to skillfully manipulate a story in a creative, nonlinear way rightfully drew praise for Perfect Blue. Millennium Actress proves to his fans that lightning can indeed strike twice.
The life of Fujiwara Chiyoko seems pretty much standard for any B-list movie star who faded into obscurity. Nothing about her past is particularly memorable from an outsider’s perspective. How is it then that the audience is so immediately drawn into a movie that solely centers on her life? Magnificent storytelling that jumps from event to event with hardly a hiccup in pacing. The way Chiyoko’s real life and her movie career seamlessly meld together is credit to Kon’s masterful direction and a captivating script. Excellent art and animation with plenty of well-choreographed action scenes helped to keep my interest level high from beginning to end.
But with any great work of art there are always several details that pick at my senses, and Millennium Actress is no exception. The music is often times very uneven; several pieces are easy on the ears, but others are just a screeching cacophony of chimes and drumbeats. On top of this, one running joke of Genya to repeatedly place himself into Chiyoko’s memories and Kyoji to roll his eyes in mock astonishment was funny the first couple of times but quickly became tedious and unnecessary.
Folks, if you like your entertainment straightforward and spoon-fed to you, then this movie will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Millennium Actress requires participation from the audience, like selecting from different recipes a la carte and creating your own tasty concoction.
Highs: Artistic storytelling; a visual masterpiece; incredibly detailed visuals and sound effects
Lows: Music that occasionally tries too hard to force the mood; unnecessary and excessive comic relief
Director Kon Satoshi‘s work never fails to leave a lasting impression on me, but not for the obvious reasons. His characters are neither particularly deep, nor realistic, nor easy to connect with. His stories are often stretched so far beyond belief for the sake of reinforcing a theme that I am forced to accept the inconsistencies to enjoy the movie (something I am not thrilled about doing). Yet, when it comes to creative storytelling, I am must commend him for holding nothing back, cutting no corners and never underestimating his audience. Never mind the fact that the plot itself is no more complicated than a children’s fairy tale; with such audacious and artistic execution, this otherwise simple story is nothing short of extraordinary.
It is easy for viewers to make comparisons to another one of his psychological thrillers, Perfect Blue, but in actuality it was because I was trying so hard to make these comparisons that I was nearly unable to see how different the two really are. And while Perfect Blue begs to be picked apart and reconstructed as something coherent, Millennium Actress requires a much more abstract mindset. If you watch each scene trying to guess what is “real” and what is fantasy, then the entire point of the movie has been lost. This story is about themes, symbols and, most importantly of all, feelings.
However, now and then I found myself distracted from the big picture by some unnecessary and obtrusive characters. Comic relief is interjected at every occasion possible. Genya and Kyoji are not funny, but they are forced center-stage so often that they occasionally distract the viewer from a scene’s big idea. In addition, the music, while for the most part is fabulous, seems to from time to time try too hard to force the mood. But make no mistake about it; this movie is a visual masterpiece, down to the smallest detail.
To really get the most out of this phenomenal drama, watch it twice. The first time you will be so immersed in the atmosphere and ambiance that you will miss the subtle yet brilliant devices Kon Satoshi uses to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
Millennium Actress can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.