Spoiler Alert, please move forward with that knowledge in mind. This is my Millennium Actress review, which I wrote immediately after watching this incredible film.
If someone were to tell me of Millenium Actress and that it includes drama, history, folktales, interplanetary travel, Sci-Fi, documentary, and a lot more things in a 1.5 hour film, I’d think it’s a joke. Even if it’s serious, then it must be a total mash of nonsense. But hearing it was directed by none other than the legendary filmmaker Satoshi Kon himself, I just had to see this madness for myself. This Millennium Actress review will dive into this madness to hopefully understand Satoshi Kon a tiny bit more.
Millennium Actress is a beautiful film which pushes the boundaries of what is possible for storytelling through animation. A mixture of something that feels so grounded and real with the fantastic world of 2D animation. Where the cuts and transitions seamlessness is so good, you’re left thinking if the entire film was just one take.
Being a film student myself, I can’t help but be amazed at the thought process he puts on each cut. How each scene connects to the next and how each shot pushes the story forward. Done in ways which are simply impossible with real life cinema. Calling Satoshi Kon as simply a genius would be the greatest understatement and an insult to cinema, period.
Introduction to Millennium Actress review
Anyway, enough with the praises of Satoshi Kon’s work… for now. Let’s dive back into what makes Millennium Actress such a work of art. Even today, still astounds people with all our high-tech special effects and designs. The story begins with Tachibana Genya and his videographer hiking up a mountain to meet the legendary actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. They did so to do a highly sought after interview with her. She doesn’t appear in any interviews, so this was a very special occasion. Genya wanted to make the most out of it. Apparently, Genya got to do the interview with the promise of a certain key. This key is the most important thing to Chiyoko which was the reason for the triumphs and failures of her life.
As a student of film, I’m always reminded that the art of filmmaking is simply an imitation of reality. Even the biggest films with the biggest strongest villains will always have a human element which will ground the film to reality. Just like how they humanized Thanos with the sacrifice of Gamora on Vormir, they will always have something to make us love the film.
In Millennium Actress, Satoshi Kon gave a nod to Japan’s cinema history. He did so by brilliantly showing the main-character in her different roles. All while narrating her own story about her past. It is also a way to better emphasize that no matter what film, what genre, which era it is from, and many other things, it still ties us down to reality where the motivation remains human. The motivation here being Chiyoko’s love for this rebel and the extent she’d go to find this lover of his.
Chiyoko and the Curse
The film shows how the films Chiyoko acted in are intertwined with her actual life as she stated that the only reason she went for being an actress is to find that man she wanted. The curse of the thousand year tea which burns her with eternal love feels almost true to her actual life as well, considering no matter what she does, she just can’t reach that one person her entire existence is based upon.
Through all these confusions that she faces with her mother telling her to forget the man, the director who is making advances to get her to marry him, and confusion of life, the key is the one thing that holds her in place. The one thing that keeps her from straying from her path to finding the one she actually loves.
When the director notices this, he quickly hatches a plan to steal the key which was successful. After Chiyoko loses this key, it shatters her entire existence in front of her eyes. She realizes she couldn’t even remember the face of the rebel painter. And in this daze without the key, she finally goes with the flow of life. Eventually ends up marrying the director and almost forgets about this rebel painter from the past.
Until she comes across the key again in the possession of her husband. This, along with the letter she received from the Officer from the past regime. It brought her back to reality and reminded her of the chase for the rebel painter she loves so much. This part of the film shows the living hell she went through after hearing the news about the lover. The scene where she’s on the moon looking at the painting showed her literally standing in the heavens and still can’t find him.
The rocket scene which came right after the scene where she stated that she’d go to him shows her commitment to her lover. Even though it will be harder and harder for her to find a good husband and settle in to make a family, considering her age. She still goes inside the rocket to the dismay of the other person who loves her as well, being left behind while telling her she’ll never be able to go back.
Then the realization of how she has aged shows us that the old ghost who cursed her was but her own reflection. It is nothing but a metaphor for her sadness and fear of growing old without ever finding that lover. She hates herself for going through so much for a person she barely even knows, and yet she can’t stop herself. This infatuation with this rebel painter was her entire existence, and yet it was the source of her sadness.
Realizing that she is not that child who fell for this painter anymore and has aged over the decades. She finally decided that her quest to find the rebel painter from the films she acts is a lost cause. That was her reason for her quitting the film industry and living a quiet life. Away from the prying eyes of the press somewhere in the mountains.
But Genya appearing out of nowhere with the key, revitalised her memories about her long gone lover. This gave her that drive to find him again. Maybe to her, it wasn’t really the man that she loved, but the thrill of chasing this man. And this time, with the key, she is confident that she will keep on continuing to chase this man, even beyond the grave.
Millennium Actress is the only film from Satoshi Kon that speaks about the past. Rather than the present or the future in his other films. But I think these sentiments of being infatuated with someone or something, will always be relatable to anyone regardless of which era or time the person watches and enjoys the show.
So what do you guys think? Did I miss some really crucial detail in this brilliant film? Do leave a comment below. And do follow NEOtakus and our different media handles for more articles.
Also, check out our article The Feeling of Helplessness by the same author.
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