Millennium Actress (2001)

A stunning achievement, Kon’s second feature-length anime is both a tribute to the history of Japanese cinema and the relentless pursuit of love to the ends of the world.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,399

Dir. Satoshi Kon
2001 | Japan | Animation/Drama/Fantasy | 87 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese & English
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements, violence and brief mild language

Cast: Miyoko Shoji, Shozo Izuka, Mami Koyama
Plot: A TV interviewer and his cameraman meet a former actress and travel through her memories and career.
Distributor: The Klockworx

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Japanese Cinema; Memories, Eternal Love
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Fast/Tight
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: The Projector – NUS Arts Festival
Spoilers: No

There is a growing chorus of anime fans who feel that Millennium Actress might just be Satoshi Kon’s finest work.  Despite a short-lived career of only four features, Kon’s great legacy is stronger than ever before. 

Millennium Actress is the last of his quartet of films that I managed to see, and blessedly, all on the big screen.  It’s a stunning achievement, to say the least. 

Apart from the hyper-kinetic, at times hilarious if exceedingly dramatic, visual storytelling style that he was known for, Millennium Actress is most memorable, at least to me as a cinephile, as a tribute to the glorious history of Japanese cinema. 

We see references to Kurosawa (Ran and Throne of Blood in particular), Gojira, Mizoguchi, Ozu, and more, and also how Japanese cinema triumphed post-war through the studio and star system. 

This is via Kon’s deceptively simple narrative concept of an aged, reclusive actress who grants a rare interview to someone who used to work in the same movie studio during those golden days. 

“Do you cry in all her movies?”

With a cheeky and inventive meta-filmic sleight-of-hand, Kon draws us into her memories in an approach that may even be described as psychotherapy.  It can get very intense and surreal one moment and utterly side-splitting the next. 

Stripped to its core, Millennium Actress can be appreciated as an eternal love story as Chiyoko, the actress, seeks her lover, a political fugitive whose path she crossed one wintry night. 

Her relentless pursuit of love to the ends of the world is ultimately made admirable by Kon, whose entire career consisted of works that explored the chase for—and confrontation with—the elusive, be it the conflation of dreams, nightmares, ambition and fears as in the case of Perfect Blue (1997) and Paprika (2006), or unlikely friends attempting to locate the parents of a newborn baby in the underrated tragicomedy Tokyo Godfathers (2003).

Grade: A




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