Japanese Title: Sennen Joyuu
Similar: Paprika (same director)
Perfect Blue (same director)
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 1 hr. 27 min. movie
- Varied settings.
- Unique storytelling method.
- Gorgeous art to fit the many film types they visit.
- Touching story.
- The romance element is deceiving.
Millennium Actress was the last of Satoshi Kon’s movies I watched, and once more he brings something unique to anime, yet still marked by his signature. Kon always had interesting stories to share and through equally interesting ways. In Millennium Actress, he tells of a once famous actress and her past shaped by a single fateful event.
With the closure of an old film studio, documentary filmmaker Genya seeks to interview their most famous actress, Chiyoko, long since retired and living in seclusion. He is a huge fan. He manages to secure a rare interview with her and gives her a key, an object she once considered the most precious thing in the world. This key triggers her memories and she retells her past, her story of how she became the actress of many iconic films.
Rather than simply have her recount history, Millennium Actress takes us into the past alongside Genya and his cameraman like ghosts time travelling to document her life. Filmmaker and cameraman act in the scenes as though a part of history. In fact, Genya’s inner fanboy cannot remain dormant for long, much to the cameraman’s dismay, and he starts to insert himself into her films, always as the character that helps her. I found this technique hilarious, making the narrative far more engaging than if he hadn’t interacted.
Being a famous actress, Chiyoko has partaken in many films and Genya, us alongside, gets the opportunity to relive her varied roles. She plays anything from a World War 2 nurse to a geisha to an astronaut. It is a pleasure to flow seamlessly from one film to the next. Her films share a common theme about her chasing a dream, a lost love for the mysterious painter who gave her the key all those years ago.
This mysterious painter creates my greatest complaint against Millennium Actress, for he isn’t as relevant to the plot as initially presented. Her career, her life, wasn’t about this man, but rather the subsequent events to which he acted as catalyst. The plot is about her passion and the love that drives her, not the romance. I wish I had known this going in, as I kept waiting for him to enter the plot again and I missed several key details as a result. I had to watch the film a second time with this information in mind to find full enjoyment. His resolution is rather weak; however, hers is great, though I would have liked to know more about her post-retirement.
Even with Genya’s touching humour, I felt a sense of forlorn tragedy throughout Millennium Actress – an ‘In Memoriam’ video looking back on a great artist’s life, both sad and celebratory, is the closest I can describe it. This examination of a character’s psychology is what I love most about Satoshi Kon’s work. I will miss his skill at creating characters, peeling back the layers of psyche as he transports us into their minds. Millennium Actress was the perfect last film from his collection for me to watch.
Art – Very High
Second in visual creativity and quality to Paprika. Portraying several different settings from Chiyoko’s films brings a good deal of variety to the art, all animated to greatness. I particularly liked how the further back her film, the more desaturated the colour, only Genya and cameraman in full colour. Fantastic editing, as always from Kon, but where Perfect Blue yanked our emotions, Millennium Actress is about blending the different stages of her life with minimal hard cuts. Opening a door in one scene leads to another film.
Sound – High
Frantic piano during the chase scenes and weird techno for action (a glimpse of Paprika’s soundtrack); almost no music elsewhere – a common technique for Kon. Great acting in Japanese with an average English dub by comparison – the industry wasn’t as consistent back in 2001 for dubs.
Story – High
A touching journey through an actress’s life and the passion that sparked it all. A few weak moments, but great nonetheless. Creative storytelling method too.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must watch as long as you go in knowing not to focus on the romance angle presented early.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)