Millennium Actress

August 28, 2004 on 10:27 pm | In Millennium Actress | 2 Comments

Millennium Actress is a film that proves that a story is sometimes not as important as the way it is told. This is a great story as it is, but Kon Satoshi’s unique directing style raises it to a true work of genius.

On the event of the destruction of the influential film studio Ginei, an independent documentary maker manages to secure an interview with Fujiwara Chiyoko, their most prominent actress, who had become a recluse some thirty years earlier. The thing is that the director, Genya, is one of Chiyoko’s biggest fans, and he has something very important to give her: the key that she wore around her neck in her youth, which sets her off on the story of her life.
Chiyoko is such a charismatic person, however, that she draws interviewer and camera man into her past. She doesn’t just show them, they start to participate. She takes them from the day when she was sixteen and met the man who gave her the key, until the time she left the business forever, all the while hoping to find that man.

This is not straight flash back storytelling, and very little of it is narrated. Chiyoko tells her story as if it’s just happening, and the lines between fiction and reality blur very finely as her films seemed to be an extension of her journey and ambition.
Chiyoko never intended to go into films, she just saw them as the easiest way to find the Man with the Key. The films blend together seamlessly, with Chiyoko crossing from one period to another and taking the rest of the characters with her. There is even a scene that Genya remembers, despite it being taken from Chiyoko’s real life. Genya has been an expert student on her work for so long that he takes on the role of her protector.
The characters translate into the screen roles really well, even if they weren’t actually in the films and were only vaguely in the timline. There are two ‘natural’ actresses – Chiyoko and Eiko – and the cameraman is one of nature’s observers. This role is probably Onosaka Masaya’s finest. His exasperation and growing interest are palpable.

Sometimes the fantasy wears off, and Genya is just a man playing with an old woman. At first this may seem to jar, but it somehow makes the whole thing seem more real in the long run – that the seventy year old Chiyoko has lived through all this and retained such vivid memories. It becomes both a true encouragement and also makes her story just that little sadder. While it’s a generally joyous work, there are some truly heartrending moments. It’s not tragic, however; Chiyoko was fulfilled by her neverending search. It gave her ambition and drive. The fact that she could not stand the drudgery of a stationary housebound marriage is proof that she’s not just in need of “a man”.
The multiple layers of the film aren’t truly realised until the end – the profundity of Genya’s role can’t be appreciated until it has all been taken in. He is too humble to admit the role that he has played in Chiyoko’s life, and his love for her is more than the simple idolisation that it can be initially taken for. There’s so much energy that it’s impossible not to enjoy.

Kon is a master of storytelling; this may be only his second film, but he worked very diligently on anime throughout the eighties and nineties. He is not just a narrative, but also a visual storyteller. This film is as rich in imagery as it is in plot, the two of them inextricably linked in such a way that there would not be any point in simply transcribing it. This is a film that must have been a true joy to create, to realise, as yet another vindication of the animated form. Anime is really an excellent medium, and Kon is one of the modern generation’s best extollers of this very virtue. Of course, there’s very little point in describing a painting. It simply has to be seen.

Millennium Actress is practically impossible to describe without giving it completely away. It’s a beautiful tribute to Japanese film, and also to life. Quite apart from the blank thirty years, Chiyoko practically built a film studio – figuratively speaking, of course – despite her ultimately selfish goals, she gave a lot. It’s a film too good and delicate to extrapolate on without ruining. Take the cliché to heart and experience this film.
I only use that one when I mean it.


  1. 🙂 Also, what about the soundtrack?
    It’s so in-synch with the events that its just wonderful.
    The music was lent by an artist I highly respect: Susumu Hirasawa(平沢 進).
    I, personally, thought it was amazing.
    Like when Chiyoko takes off her robe and becomes a ninja of sorts and this electronic music with chants start… aah, its hard to describe but its amazing.
    The theme song 「LOTUS Ⅱ」 is perfect too. And up for download in Hirasawa’s . 🙂


    Comment by sailorKa — October 16, 2006 #

  2. *Hirasawa’s official page. 😀

    –k *typos sucks*

    Comment by sailorKa — October 16, 2006 #

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