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Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late Satoshi Kon was a significant anime director whose style [1]changed with every film. As a result fully appreciating a Satoshi Kon film can be something of a challenge.

So it is with Millennium Actress which I selected for inclusion in the Twenty Days of Anime Movies [2] because it is significantly less disturbing than Perfect Blue [3], and more comprehensible than Paprika [4].

The key to appreciating Millennium Actress is to recognise that in Chiyoko Fujiwara’s personal story we also see through a glass, darkly, the changing Japanese national identity and the attempts of Japanese film makers to come to terms with the ever changing Zeitgeist.

The Set Up

Chiyoko Fujiwara is a retired, and reclusive, actress. The studio that she made most of her films is being demolished so Genya Tachibana seeks her out to interview her as part of a documentary. He also seeks to return a memento from her youth.

As the interview proceeds Genya, his cameraman, and the viewer are swept into Chiyoko’s past. The past is both her actual history, and scenes from the films Chiyoko starred in.

The Politics

The 1920s/1930s was a brutal period in Japanese politics. I remember briefly studying the period in high school; there were significant numbers of Japanese politicians assassinated for opposing the increasing militarisation of Japan [5].

Millennium Actress is perhaps the only Japanese film that I’ve seen to openly acknowledge this [6], and it is the defining event in Chiyoko’s life.

As a high school student Chiyoko helps a wounded painter who is running from the police. Chiyoko never loses faith that he is alive somewhere, and that they will meet again.

The Films

Chiyoko’s films cover a wide range of Japanese cinema from her first effort in a propaganda piece set in Manchuria through samurai, ninja, the Bakamatsu [7], the aftermath of World War II, Kaiju, contemporary dramas, and through to a science fiction epic [8]

None of the films directly tackle either the politics of the 1930s [9] or post-war Japan [10]. However many deal with politics by proxy, particularly when Chiyoko’s search for the painter repeatedly manifests within the plots of her films.

Unable to directly address the Zeitgeist, there is nevertheless a sense that these films used earlier historical periods to put the present in context.

The Resolution

On this I’m going to say as little as possible beyond noting that Millennium Actress has a good ending, if not necessarily a happy one.

The Verdict

Overall Millennium Actress is a very strong film, and one that the viewer needs to pay careful attention to. For those that do, Millennium Actress can be a rewarding cinematic experience and one that I’ll no doubt come back to a third time sometime in the future [11].

Day 1 – New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning (1996)
Day 2 – Naruto Shippuden The Movie (2002)
Day 3 – Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
Day 4 – Steamboy (2004)
Day 5 – Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Day 6 – Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Day 7 – Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Day 8 – Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (2000)
Day 9 – Summer Wars (2009)
Day 10 – Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984)
Day 11 – Silent Mobius I (1991) & II (1992)
Day 12 – Space Firebird 2772 (1980)
Day 13 – Junkers Come Here (1994)
Day 14 – Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Day 15 – Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Day 16 – Card Captor Sakura Movie 2: The Sealed Card
Day 17 – Millennium Actress
Day 18 – ???
Day 19 – ???
Day 20 – ???

[1] And as such there was always going to be a film by Satoshi Kon in this series of posts. I’m surprised it took me this long to get there.

[2] The other contender was Tokyo Godfathers but I think my DVD of that is damaged.

[3] Although being less disturbing than Perfect Blue isn’t particularly hard.

[4] Ditto.

[5] It is worth noting that this is the historical context in which the classic Japanese school uniforms were introduced with boys uniforms modelled after the army, and girls uniforms modelled after the navy.

[6] Which I strongly suspect may be more of a comment on my wider ignorance of Japanese film than it is on the actual rarity of the topic being addressed.

[7] The Bakamatsu film(s) come complete with a reference to the Shinsengumi.

[8] The science fiction entry has space suit designs highly suggestive of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

[9] See this post by Grant Watson for a comment on post-war censorship in Japan; the pre-war regime should be obvious.

[10] The Kaiju film (an obvious homage to Godzilla) would have tackled fears of the atomic age via the giant radiated monster trope.

[11] Millennium Actress is also a pig of a film to write an effective review of. I now know why it took me so long to get to a Satoshi Kon film, and please slap me if I try to review another.