DVD Review: Millennium Actress
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Written by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai
I have never in my life seen a film quite like Millenium Actress, and I doubt that I will ever again find one. Although the core of its tale is a simple story, the film plays out in an astonishing way that comes close to revolutionizing the art of storytelling. By juxtaposing different times and events, the movie tells the story without the viewer ever knowing for sure what is real and what is not. Each time you peel away one layer of the plot, another pops up to explain both everything and nothing at the same time. The film has much to offer on many different levels, with a myriad of styles that will please audiences of all kinds.
Millennium Actress is about the unusual life of a Japanese actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. The majority of the film takes place through flashbacks as Chiyoko relates her life for a documentary. She began acting in films while she was a teenager and goes on to star in many films ranging from period pieces to science-fiction. The focal point of her life, however, is not her career, but the love that she lost.
Though it sounds like a simple setup and story, its implementation is astonishingly well-done, and breathes fresh new life into film itself. The flashbacks are not a true telling of Chiyoko’s life. Instead, they combine elements of her life, elements of her movies, and interactions from people of the present to form an surprisingly coherent story. Many paradoxes and anomalies occur in the narration, but this film has nothing to do with time travel. Real events suddenly shift to film, people are sometimes juxtaposed with counterparts from Chiyoko’s films, and people from the present sometimes talk to versions of themselves from the past. As confusing as it sounds, though, through masterful writing, it is not often that you will find yourself confused as to the events that are transpiring.
The characters in the film are just as well thought as movie’s method of exposition. The realism of their personalities serve to pull you into the film even further. Everyone has complex motivations that are masterfully displayed through their actions. The progression of time further evinces the wonderfully created characters. People grow old, emotions about them change from the events of their life, but you can always see how they become who they are. Though Chiyoko is rather aged as she recants her life, you can still see the hints of the shy young girl she was at the start of her film career.
The advancement of time is displayed well both in the characters’ personalities and their looks. The drawing for aging process is done exceptionally well done. It is always easy to see the progression of people as they age throughout the film. In fact, the visuals as a whole for this film are exceptionally done. The drawings and animation are stunningly realistic, even in action scenes. People are very distinctive, and the movie does not suffer from the frequent “same face, different hairstyle” as can often be seen in Japanese animation. There are a few scenes with drastically experimental art-styles, but they are never overwhelming to the point where they distract you from the film.
The music is a rather eclectic mix of traditional Japanese, techno, and modern cinema. Much of the time it fit well, but there were a few instances where the music pushed out of the film with its oddness to distract me from the events of the screen. This did not happen too often so it does not greatly harm the film.
With all its complexities, one would think that you have to be a master film connoisseur to appreciate the film, but this could not be further from the truth. The phenomenal script boils down to a simple love story that can be followed by anyone, but is significant enough to stand on its own. There is one major flaw, however, with the film revolving around the script. Clocking in at a scant 87 minutes, the film is too short to completely explore all it wishes to cover. I am not complaining that the movie was “so good it should be longer.” The truth is that not everything that should’ve have been covered in the film was touched on. There were a few parts of Chiyoko’s character that I wish had been explained a bit more, and the ending is a tad sudden and could’ve used a bit more foreshadowing. Still, the length is only a small complaint, and still leaves Millennium actress as a work of art.
The movie seems to offer a challenge to the viewers; since the audience is often unaware of the actual events that have transpired, it tries to convince people that what really happened does not matter. It is challenging you to question the importance of actual events over memories, and it does a wonderful job of presenting it. The ultimate goal of the film may very well be to leave the audience doubting the importance and truth of reality itself.
The audio for Millennium Actress on DVD is only in Japanese, but comes in 2.0 or 5.1 dolby digital. Subtitles are available in English or French. The DVD includes an impressive video on the making of Millennium Actress which offers profound insight into Satoshi Kon and this film. Although parts of it are mired in Japanese quirks, you come out with a much greater understanding of the film and Satoshi Kon’s other works. Considering the short length of the film, this extra is surprisingly long. This release also contains the American trailer for Millennium Actress. Although unimportant compared to the rest of the DVD, the trailer bears mention merely because of its poor quality. Dreamworks may have made the trailer on a shoestring budget, as it is horrifically confusing, littered with poor grammar and incomplete phrases, and really tells the viewer nothing about the film. Though this doesn’t impact the DVD in any way, I think it serves to demonstrate the general lack of interest by American companies in allocating the necessary resources to promote foreign films in this country
I am giving Millennium Actress a resounding Buy rating. It is a powerful film with a revolutionary style of storytelling that anyone can enjoy. The numerous layers of this film warrant multiple viewings to fully understand everything it has to offer. It has many ideas that will make you think long after the film is over, and dares to ask the difficult question “Is reality more important than one’s memories.” The script, characters and visuals are a masterpiece of modern Japanese animation. The movie has so much to offer that no one should pass up watching this work of art.
Millennium Actress gets 42 thumbs up, my highest rating ever!