Millennium Actress Anime Review
US Release By
Legendary Actress Chiyoko Fujiwara has been the darling star of Genei Studios for years. But one day, at the peak of her career, she quits the movie business and goes into hiding, without giving any explanation to her adoring public. Many years later, while the old Genei Studios buildings are being demolished, an old fan of Chiyoko (now in her 70s) named Tachibana has been able to track her down and get her agreement to appear in the documentary he is filming about her career. He also comes bearing a gift. A long lost key that Chiyoko had been known to wear around her neck all the time. The unexpected gift launches a unique narrative of Chiyoko's life and the significance of the key that blends the present with the past, and reality with cinematic fantasy.
Millennium Actress is the long awaited second movie by Perfect Blue director Satoshi Kon (who also collaborated with Katsuhiro Otomo in Memories: Magnetic Rose) and the pedigree shows. Like Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon takes us on a wild ride where he mixes reality with fantasy. Being a romance movie rather than a suspense thriller it's not as confusing as Perfect Blue, and is more reminiscent of Magnetic Rose where memories take hold of the narrative. We start seeing Chikyoko's life, traditionally enough, through her eyes. Then things get interesting as the modern day Chiyoko and her interviewers are dragged into the memory stream as well. And to make it even more fun, the story gets intertwined with the many roles that Chiyoko has played throughout her career, and the movie takes us through everything from samurai flicks to science fiction and even a giant monster movie!
Basically, we follow Chiyoko while she searches for the man she loves. The mysterious painter, hunted by the world war 2 era government, who gave her the equally mysterious key and a promise of reunion. The story takes us through Chiyoko's career and how her seemingly futile search shapes it. The storytelling can be a bit disjointed since Chiyoko and the others change roles as the story progresses. In one instance she can be the classic lovelorn romance heroine, chasing a train. Then she becomes a ninja princess out to rescue her lover. Jump to a lunar landscape as she prepares to launch one more effort to find her dream man. It can get a bit confusing at first, when you're not sure what to expect, but everything flows logically and you'll soon find yourself following the narrative without much trouble.
Unlike many romance anime, Millennium Actress' romance is very low key. While there are a few dramatic moments, the movie doesn't dwell on them. And just when you think the movie is getting a bit too serious, in comes Tachibana and his camera man with a little bit of humor, as Tachibana plays Chiyoko's brave saviour and the camera man plays the confused link to reality with a one liner here and there. No giant mecha, no villain threatening the galaxy, no ten thousand girls chasing after one hapless guy. Just a nice romantic drama with a very unique presentation. Quite a breath of fresh air in today's cliche-filled anime market.
The animation style is, as expected, quite similar to Prefect Blue, which is a great compliment in itself. But where the movie shines is in the artistic direction. Very unique scenes abound as we switch between eras, color schemes, and movies. A sequence that stood out for me was Chiyoko running towards the last place her lover was seen. The sequence becomes a montage of running scenes from her earlier life and movie roles, seamlessly blended into one. The music fits the chase motif perfectly with an upbeat score that goes into a mellow lull as the story dictates, mixing traditional Japanese music with techno elements as time progresses.
Although it won many awards (including Grand Prize Award winner of the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival) Millennium Actress didn't get nearly as much attention as it should, since DreamWorks (the US distributer) was too busy marketing Sinbad, which is a great shame since this is definitely one of the best anime movies to ever grace the silver screen.
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Notes and Trivia
The movie has been distributed by DreamWorks subtitled only, and there seem to be no plans for a dub.
US DVD Review
The DVD transfer was good, although a few visual artifacts remain. Subtitles were in both English and French, and while the dialogue was Japanese only it came in two flavors; 2.0 Dolby Surround and 5.1 Surround. Extras include the theatrical trailer, and more importantly a making-of documentary featuring Satoshi Kon and other staff members talking about the creation of Millennium Actress.
It's almost Ghibli like in its family-friendliness.
Violence: 1 - A few fights in the samurai era sequences, and people apparently die, but its not graphic at all.
Nudity: 0 - Nothing at all.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Very low key romance here.
Language: 0 - Nothing that I can remember.
Staff & Cast
Chiyoko Fujiwara (70's): Miyoko Shouji
Chiyoko Fujiwara (20-40's): Mami Koyama
Chiyoko Fujiwara (10-20's): Fumiko Orikasa
Genya Tachibana: Shouzou Iizuka
Kyoji Ida: Masaya Onosaka
Eiko Shimao: Shouko Tsuda
The Man with the Scar: Masatane Tsukayama
The Man of the Key: Kouichi Yamadera
Junichi Ootaki: Hirotaka Suzuoki
Mother: Hisako Kyouda
Producer: Taro Maki
Director: Satoshi Kon
Writer: Satoshi Kon, Sadayuki Murai
Music: Susumu Hirasawa
Art Director: Nobutaka Ike
Sound Director: Masafumi Mima