Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress – Satoshi Kon – 2001

Sennen Joyû CoverOriginal title: Sennen Joyû
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Year: 2001
Director: Satoshi Kon
Duration: 87 min.
Genres: Animation, Drama, Romance

Satoshi Kon

It’s difficult to imagine Millennium Actress is only the second of four films director Satoshi Kon would ever be able to complete. Unfortunately he died to cancer in 2010 at age 46. For the record, his other three films are Perfect Blue (1997), Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Paprika (2006), all very much worth watching. However, in my opinion, Millennium Actress is his best work. It is storytelling at its best. In all of his films he manages to tell engaging stories with a lot of depth. The characters he creates and the worlds they live in feel real, despite being animated. Characters are never there for no reason and often have a lot of back story, which makes their actions all the more understandable. Especially in Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers you really care about what happens to everyone involved.

All of his stories are essentially drama’s, but told in such a way that it becomes more than just a drama. For example he uses animation as a way to show us what crazy must be like (Perfect Blue) or the madness of dreams (Paprika). His work often plays with realities, dreams, fantasy and imagination. He even manages to make a story about a bunch of homeless people as main protagonists interesting and deeply moving (Tokyo Godfathers). In Millennium Actress he takes us back through the memories of an actress. It is basically a film about people making a documentary, but instead they appear in flashbacks as if they were actually there. But sometimes you are left to wonder what was real and what wasn’t.

Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress

So one day an old film studio is being torn down. Two people are shooting a documentary about the studio and have managed to get an appointment to interview the biggest star the studio ever knew, Chiyoko Fujiwara. After her retirement from acting, she has been leading a secluded life, denying interviews or appearances in public. So today is a special day for the interviewer and his cameraman. Interviewer Genya knows his stuff, and even seems a little obsessive over the now 75-or-so year old actress. His cameraman is more down to earth, but also just seems to be there to make good shots.

The reason Chiyoko allowed the interview seems to be because of ‘something’ Genya said he would bring. This something turns out to be a little box containing an old key. When he asks if the key unlocks anything special, Chiyoko answers that it is the key to ‘the most important thing there is’. Then there is a small earthquake. Chiyoko says it must be the earth telling them to start the interview. Earthquakes have always played a big role in her life. In fact, she was born during one. And so the interview begins.

It is shown through flashbacks. They are sometimes of the films Chiyoko played in and sometimes of her life. Telling the difference is difficult at first, as scenes jump from one place to another as would happen when telling a story. You leave out the boring bits, but the exciting parts are jumbled together. Where it gets a little surreal is when Genya and his cameraman actually end up in the flashbacks. I guess the story is so engaging, that it is coming alive in some way, and the interviewers find themselves completely submerged in it. Through the flashbacks the story is told of how Chiyoko got the key and how her entire life changed because of it.

Millennium Actress is not just anime. It is intended for adults rather than children. But nevertheless it seems like it is not at all known to the greater public. It is a shame, because if you discard this film as just another anime cartoon you would be missing out on a great romantic drama. It is wonderfully animated and comes with a beautiful musical score. If you’re generally not much into animated films or anime, do try and see this one. You will not be disappointed.

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