Millennium Actress is another unique offering from the director of Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon. The film’s narrative explores the memories of a famous Japanese actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, as she recounts her life through an interview with a documentary filmmaker. The audience follows Chiyoko through emotional flashbacks from her personal life and acting career. The story focuses on Chiyoko’s attempts to track a male revolutionary that she helped escape the police, and fell in love with, as a young girl. She stumbles into a successful acting career, where she continues to act out her search in her roles that cross eras and genres. Tachibanna and Kyoji Ida, the documentary maker and his cameraman, get drawn in and become a part of Chiyoko’s memories. Hence, Millennium Actresses’ plot consists of a factual retelling of Chiyoko’s life, an exploration of her roles and a fantasy element that the characters are making up as they go along. Millennium Actress becomes increasingly surreal, as the lines between cinema and Chiyoko’s real life become blurred, in a way reminiscent of Perfect Blue.
At first, Millennium Actress appears to be a humorous and straightforward tale. However, the feelings of regret and sadness that the once great, elderly actress feels comes into focus as the plot progresses. This film becomes a substantive piece about broken dreams and the dangers of living in the past. Millennium Actress continues Satoshi Kon’s exploration of the relationship between reality, fantasy and desire. Each role that Chiyoko plays is a parody of her desperate, and doomed, search for her childhood love. On screen, she constantly puts herself, and those around her, in danger and is reliant on others to pick up the pieces. Chiyoko’s personal life follows a similar pattern, as she continues to pursue an impossible goal to the detriment of her own happiness and those who care about her. However, Chiyoko isn’t a bad person. Millennium Actress is a comment on human tendency to idealise the unobtainable, in our attempt to achieve happiness. In some ways, the film also reflects Chiyoko’s journey away from reality. At first, Chiyoko’s reflections on her childhood are very literal. However, when Chiyoko meets the male revolutionary, with whom she spends the rest of her life trying to reconnect, the narrative becomes more focused on her movie roles and fantasies. Finally, we see an elderly lady, who realises she has spent her life chasing something that she is not longer sure was ever real. Millennium Actress is a warning against allowing our goals for the future and memories of the past to take precedence over present reality.
Millennium Actress has an engaging story that takes place throughout Japanese history. The narrative is made up of a series of miniature story lines from various distinct time periods. This keeps the cyclical themes of the film fresh and interesting. Sotoshi Kon demonstrates his masterful story telling by utilising a relatively simple plot idea to create a deep and layered film. The understated and realistic animation suits the tone and content of the film and, at times, the art style can be stunning. In particular, the depiction of different time periods from Japanese history looks fantastic. These range from quant, rural Japanese villages to the horrific aftermath of World War 2 bombing raids. The soundtrack of Millennium Actress also deserves a mention. The score is as varied and interesting as the film’s plot, switching between classical, orchestral epics and upbeat electronica.
Millennium Actress is a great film with excellent art direction and music. Chiyoko’s life reflections evoke a spectrum of emotion, and Kon’s surrealism effectively makes Chiyoko’s life feel like a whirlwind of experiences. This complex tale contains thought-provoking messages that are open to interpretation, which made it a thoroughly enjoyable watch.