At the turn of the millennium, Ginei Studio's dilapidated buildings are set to be demolished. Ex-employee and filmmaker Genya Tachibana decides to honor this occasion with a commemorative documentary about the company's star actress: Chiyoko Fujiwara, the reclusive sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema. Having finally obtained permission to interview the retired starlet, an enamored Genya drags along cynical cameraman Kyouji Ida to meet her, ready to put his lifelong idol back in the spotlight once more.
Hidden in this secluded mountain retreat is a thousand years of history condensed into one lifetime, waiting to be narrated. Chiyoko's recollections take them on an illusionary journey through Japanese cinematic history that transcends the boundaries of reality; the saga of her acting career intertwines with her filmography, the actors in her life blend seamlessly with the characters on screen, and the present melds with the past. Though the actress may have retired at the height of her career 30 years ago, the curtain on her life's stage has yet to fall.
The film won the awards of Best Animation Film and Fantasia Ground-Breaker at the 2001 Fantasia Film Festival. It was also awarded the Feature Film Award at the 8th Animation Kobe. In 2002, it won the prestigious Ofuji Noburo Award at the Mainichi Film Awards, and was honored with the Orient Express Award at the 2001 Festival de Cine de Sitges in Spain. The film was nominated for four Annie Awards in 2004, including Outstanding Direction and Writing.
Millennium Actress is a wonderfully crafted story about a fateful encounter of a young girl and how it shaped the rest of her life. Though I am always a little hesitant about awarding such high marks to anything, this movie was one of the most riveting and unique anime experiences I have had.
The story follows a pair of filmmakers who are interviewing a famous actress who has been retired for many years to celebrate the studio's 70th anniversary. Millennium Actress features one of the most original story telling methods I have seen. We see the majority of the movie told through the actresses various movie roles. We shift from feudal Japan, World War 2, and a futuristic moon base, amongst others. You are never actually sure what is real and what is the movie all the time. I also found it interesting that the two filmmakers were always observers during the entire process. Their presence provided an interesting way of narrating the story and kept the viewer from getting confused by the constantly changing scenery.
Though many will perhaps not be able to relate to Chiyoko's devotion to a man that she hardly knew anything about, I still never felt as though it was too farfetched. Whether or not she truly loved him the way one might feel for a lover is beside the point. Her love is what shaped the remainder of her life and allowed her to accomplish the things she had. I think this is summed up best by her last lines from the film when she comments that finding him was not that important, because it was the chase that she loved the most.
The two filmmakers Genya and Kyoji provide a nice anchor for the viewer. Of the two Genya is the most important and as the story unfolds we learn about his past and why he idolizes Chiyoko. As for the object of Chiyoko's devotion we really learn little about him other than has ultimate fate. I think it was a good decision from a storytelling standpoint because his mysterious nature was what kept her looking for him.
The art was really exceptional. There were sometimes that some of the backgrounds looked like actual photographs and perhaps they were but they seamlessly fit in with the rest of the animation. The film as does a wonderful job at portraying many different settings. Everything feels so authentic from the prewar Japan costumes and architecture to the 50s styling and fashions.
Overall I really can’t recommend this movie enough. I don’t think its appeal is limited to just shoujo and romance fans. Give this movie an hour and a half, you will be glad you did! read more
"What does this key open?" "The most important thing in the world."
STORY - Millennium Actress's story is very simplistic and very sweet. I'm not usually a fan of unquestioning, devotional love, especially to such a crazed, obsessive extent, but the way this movie presents things makes it very easy to like. Just the extent of everything, the lengths to which Chiyoko had been willing to go; all of it was incredible. Even better still, was the idea that we in the audience could not know just how much of it was real and just how much of it was fantasy. The lines seem permanently blurred and any one scene might have just as easily been a memory or a dream, especially since all of the recollections are coming at an age where forgetfulness is common, making everything all the more tragic.
The use of movies to convey a fantasy was brilliant, especially considering the story's form as a movie. The way people in the present are thrown into the past (or fantasy) was also a wonderfully creative way to tie the two times together, and there's even a bit of tongue-in-cheek self-commentary on this way of handling things. Really, it's Satoshi Kon's phenomenal storytelling that transforms Millennium Actress's exceedingly simple plotline into a masterpiece.
CHARACTERS - I have mixed feelings about the characters in this movie. I've said before that I'm not a fan of sudden, unquestioning love; thus, I definitely wasn't a fan of the fact that Chiyoko essentially fell into eternal love with a man she'd met once, briefly, for several short hours. At the same time, the extent to which she took this infatuation seemed strangely realistic, despite how incredible it was. Indeed, people obsess over little things all the time, irrelevant people, incidental meetings; there are short moments that they will remember for the rest of their lives, so perhaps it isn't so strange that Chiyoko should cling onto something like that. Besides, it wasn't as if she had thrown her entire life away for the man, even if she did build up everything she had in order for him to see her. Aside from the obsession, I really enjoyed the way the elder Chiyoko was portrayed. It was very believable that she would become a recluse, and the way she told her story, the small revelations that came along with it -- all of it was wonderfully interesting to watch and very touching in the end.
The other characters in the movie are all relatively minor and their characters subsequently less complex. Mostly, their personalities are sculpted so that they contribute directly to moving Chiyoko's story along, whether by acting as antagonists or by wanting to discover more. In the end, I find them more to be tools to help Chiyoko along more than being characters of their own, but in a movie like this, I think that's fine.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - Millennium Actress has some absolutely gorgeous animation. The art style is rather typical of Satoshi Kon, and you'll easily notice that many of his middle-aged and older male characters look startlingly similar across the movies and series he's directed, but the same can be said with a number of other prominant artists and directors. What I loved about the animation itself was how smoothly scene transitions were handled, especially considering that we moved back and forth between present day and past recollection and between reality and movie fantasy constantly. The inclusion of the present day interviewers within flashbacks is one of my favorite touches and really helps weld everything together in the end. It was especially nice too, to see so many different kinds of scenes animated since they were just scenes within Chiyoko's movies.
MUSIC - Maybe I was too wrapped up in the pretty animation and storytelling, but I didn't note very astounding music, though nor did I note anything bad.
VOICE ACTING - I saw this movie subbed. The voices were pretty average for the most part, though I didn't rather enjoy elder Chiyoko's performance for some reason. Her emotion, especially near the end of the movie, was just very touching. :3
OVERALL - I really enjoyed this movie, though if I had just been given a synopsis, I probably wouldn't have been very interested in the first place. Having Satoshi Kon's name attached to it did help though, and I think this is one of the better examples of his works. The way the story was told just changed everything, including the fact that the plot itself was very simple. read more
Satoshi Kon's "Millennium actress" is a breathtakingly brilliant film. It was so breathtaking that I'm still in awe and I feel forced to write my life's first unconditionally positive review.
What primarily needs to be noted here is that it is brilliant as a work of art, and not only as a piece of entertainment. It is clearly a traditional cinema movie, not an "anime" of the type Westerner is accustomed to. As such you shouldn't expect almost any typical elements you learned to adore in the works you treasure in your anime list. It's also not advisable to judge the movie by classical MAL categories, especially in "Story" and "Character" sections. "Sennen Joyuu" doesn't tell any substantial story. Ok, it does, to a degree, it can be potentially described as simplistic yet gripping romance melodrama. And I saw the movie advertised that way by many people. But it is doing the movie a great injustice, because simplistic story is certainly not its main goal.
The movie is rather an unusually skillful meta-narrative, it is the story about stories, tropes and plot devices, about what role they play in each individual's life and how powerful driving force they can be, despite being simplistic. And it focuses on very specific types of stories - on these told using cinema as a medium, thus on numerous different cinema genres at once. As such film "Millennium actress" pays homage to many (mostly Japanese, but not only) movies. While it is not necessary to pick up references to these films, if one is able to pick at least some of them (fortunately some will be rather obvious) it enhances the viewers' enjoyment. On a side note - Japanese cinematic references notwithstanding, it's probably the most culturally Western anime I've ever watched, second being, by peculiar coincidence, Paprika by the same director.
The movie doesn't indulge itself in character portrayal much either - you shouldn't expect captivating protagonists or antagonists or development thereof. Or again, to an extent you should, because, as I noted before, on the surface level it's the story about the journey in search of love. But as a meta-movie it's more about how the character is created (or how she creates herself) in act of being portrayed.
"Millennium actress" is also kind of an ironic proof that anime is sort of ghetto medium. The movie is apparently in love with "cinema" as a whole, even more with "live action cinema" than specifically with "animation", yet it itself is animation. And I'm afraid it's the main reason it's not as notable as it could be.
But what it's so great about "Millenium actress" that it should be so notable? What comes to mind immediately - It is told by using intertwining layers of different narratives coming from different movies thrown together into individual scenes in an exceptionally masterful way. Every passage from scene to scene, from layer to layer and simultaneously from style to style is smooth and barely noticeable, yet with every turn it creates entirely different reality. And through different turns the story remains coherent and never looses itself on anything unneeded. What's interesting, these ever-changing sceneries gave the creators chance to make the movie even casually entertaining - it contains for example genuine action sequences and even comedic reliefs. That combined with all these setting changes practically excludes possibility of boredom.
Art style closely follows every turn of the scenery - it recreates all different movie genres in their own unique style, often adding some distinctive touch. It's creative and pure pleasure to watch. The soundtrack of "Millennium actress" may be not as infinitely exceptional as the whole movie but still it is pretty much perfect. It resonates with the viewer, it fits the mood of the scenes and it stays in the head after ending.
The movie has also the trait of being simple yet complex. My analysis of the movie is not necessarily the single correct one, the movie stays open to many others. The film provokes the viewer to come up with her own interpretation, without forcing anything on her. Yet it's not vaguely about everything and it gives the viewer strong sense of fulfillment.
The only flaw one could find in the movie is that its unrestricted love for cinema results in film being in love with itself and becoming self-absorbed in playing with different settings and references to other famous works. The movie is by no means bombastic in it, so I didn't find it pretentious. But still, someone could complain about it. And one can possibly call such type of film parasitic or even fundamentally empty - it's not great on its own, its greatness manifests when it plays with genres and conventions, when it builds its world, its story and its moral from borrowed pieces.
Although I'd understand such objections I personally don't regard such flaws as diminishing my final reception. I think that they are inevitable consequences of creator's choices, of what this movie intends to be. I find such movies important and I cherish them immensely. I mention these para-flaws as a warning for people who don't particularly like post-modern self-obsessed meta-narratives - they definitely won't find in "Millenium Actress" anything worth special acclaim. For all the others - it's truly magnificent. Check it out ASAP.read more
Love is an act of will, an emotion that can usher individuals to take monumental, illogical actions; be it sacrificing yourself for the person you long for, or the endless chase after your beloved one. In the case of Sennen Joyuu, or Millenium Actress, it made shape the life of a young girl in her quest to find the love of her life. It is a fantastic journey with a fascinating approach in the narrative of the story.
Genya Tachibana reaches out to the enigmatic idol of his youth, Chiyoko Fujiwara, leading actress for nearly three decades, to make a documentary of her. This may seem as something simple at first glance, yet the approach it took on the narrative was truly captivating: both Genya and his companion find themselves spiraling through the life of Chiyoko as she reminisces about her past, blending in with her memories as well as the reality.
The way this was portrayed was very fitting for the story, jumping from one scene to another from the actress's different movies she acted in. These transitions were very smooth, with each scene portraying a distinct reality. The interactions with characters twists the reality, where Genya plays an active role in the movies with the actress. These situations often managed to crack a smile of my face, as viewers could really understand their devotion and how the characters felt, in addition to being quite amusing as well.
The reason on why Chiyoko became an actress in the first place seemed rather weak and not plausible, having only spend a few hours as a child with a man she didn't know anything of - which will probably be what most viewers think at first. While this is certainly a debatable topic, first love can induce people to do reckless things. What however is of importance here, are the events in her life that happen afterwards, in which the anime explores the loss of innocence and youth. In addition, these events are surprisingly realistic, and relatable to the viewer.
The cast of characters in Millenium Actress played an important role to the overall narrative of the story. First of all, the devotion of Chiyoko to the mysterious man seems rather far-fetched, yet as the story progresses, audiences observe how she ages and struggles with finding that man. It is remarkable how she ultimately confesses in enjoying the chase after said individual, rather than meeting him. As a character as a whole she was rather uninteresting, which was nevertheless compensated with her "journey".
The man itself remains a mystery throughout the whole duration of the movie, which from a point of narrative and story is a positive thing. This nevertheless makes it hard for the viewer to understand Chiyoko's devotion to him, as no information is given at all, which can be a drawback for some audiences.
What however struck me as the most interesting character was Genya; he is introduced at first as a simple filmmaker, yet as the story unravels, his past and motives becomes clear, which were introduced subtly, besides of working as an anchor for the viewers to follow the story and be able to distinguish between reality and mere memories. His dedication on why he revers Chiyoko remains however a mystery.
The animation of Millenium Actress was well done, fluid in motions and transitions in scenes: after all, the viewers were shown differnt scenes from the movies the actress played in, which blended well with the narrative of the story. Backgrounds and characters were compelling to look at, audiences recognizing the typical designs of Satoshi Kon's characters. The soundtrack used was overall not that impressive, though certain themes were wonderful to hear.
Overall Millenium Actress was a very enjoyable anime with a fascinating approach on the narrative, which blended reality and memories. The motives of the characters may seem rather lackluster in comparison, yet the fleshing out of those was certainly well done. I would personally recommend this movie to anyone, as it shows the viewer that the chase after something can be an interesting journey full of twists and turns - or rather, life itself.
Whether you prefer one or the other, there's notable differences between what's popular in American animation versus Japanese animation. What caused the art of animation to evolve so differently in these two countries, and how have the different approaches been coming together in recent years?
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