This is part 2 of my movie review series about the movies of one of the most acclaimed anime director of this generation, Satoshi Kon. I’ve already reviewed his first anime film work Perfect Blue (1997) over here which serves as part 1 of this movie review series.
For part 2, I’ll be reviewing Millenium Actress (Sennen Joyu). I thought it was such a beautiful film although it’s a bit tragic and like Perfect Blue, it’s one of my favorite anime movies and I just can’t recommend it enough!
Satoshi Kon’s 2001 anime film Millenium Actress (Sennen Joyu) begins during the present day with Genya Tachibana, a documentary filmmaker, who’s hired to make a biography of Chiyoko Fujiwara, a legendary Japanese movie star from the late 1930s to the 1960s. Known as a a recluse since her sudden retirement as an actress in the late 60s, Chiyoko surprisingly allows herself to be personally interviewed by Genya along with his young camera man Kyouji Ida. Chiyoko turns out to be such a vivid conversationalist that Genya and Kyouji are drawn into her memories as she relives her greatest roles as well as her personal life.
The center of Chiyoko’s narrative is revealed to be an interesting story; a tale of unrequited love and a quest for self-discovery. During her teenage years in the 1930s, Chiyoko meets a mysterious painter who is implied to be a revolutionary against the then facist Japanese regime. Chiyoko hides him from the police who are pursuing the man and offers him shelter in their storage house. She finds herself falling in love with the painter however, the next day
he is forced to flee again and leaves Chiyoko with a key. When Chiyoko loses the painter, she vows to travel to return the key to the painter and meet him once again.
I’ll not give anything away but the story takes us from Chiyoko’s meeting with the man and eventually we learn how this meeting triggers a series of experiences for Chiyoko including how she becomes an actress. Definitely not a
simple love story in the surface is what we’re talking about here.
I thought it reminded me of Titanic in a certain way that both movies are nostalgia films; the story of the movie are personal memories of the aged protagonist which she narrates to us. Based from Perfect Blue (and also evident in Kon’s future films), his style is to blend both reality and fantasy in a very interesting way for the viewers. In Millenium Actress‘ case, Kon blends the present reality of an old Chiyoko narrating to her interviewers her personal life with flashbacks of her younger years using scenes from her films throughout her career. Genya also contributes to these fantasy scenes through his own recollections of Chiyoko and how he experienced her films during his younger days and we find out that Genya has a strong admiration for Chiyoko and her work.
Some would find it confusing when reality and film combine together in Millenium Actress’ plot and it becomes a busy web of stories coming together then snapping apart. I thought that Kon’s style for Chiyoko’s story was an effective and creative way of storytelling through these animation sequences. I didn’t have a hard time following the plot until the end and probably because I was just as engrossed as Genya and Kyouji to her colorful recolletions. While
watching, I took note of Chiyoko’s appearance from a young teenage actress to a middle age woman, considering also the costumes she wore for each movie she made reflecting late 30s to 60s Japan.
At the end of the film, I felt a great deal of sadness and in a way I understood Chiyoko’s feelings then. Her narrative for her interview with Genya serves not only as an exposition for her life as an actress but her reflection on her life back when she was young and full of passion. *sigh* It’s true what the caption in this particular still says; we’d all get to this point in life sooner or later. And Millenium Actress, I think, explores and goes in depth to this truth about our lives surprisingly well.
In conclusion, I recommend that you watch this! It’s a polar opposite of Perfect Blue in theme but both are anime films that are done in the right way. Great story, beautiful art style and just great vibes at the end. Everyone should go for this movie 🙂