Millennium Actress

For my final movie review of Kon Month I watched Satoshi Kon’s second movie, Millennium Actress. Released in 2001 by Madhouse Studios, Millennium Actress is a surreal journey of love which covers, as the name suggests a millennium. Of all of Satoshi Kon’s work, I must say that this movie is easily my least favorite of his, which is a good thing and a bad thing: the good is that I now finally have something to criticize in one of his movies; the bad is that Millennium Actress simply isn’t on the same par as the rest of his work. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this movie, but it was really lacking in some important elements. I suppose the best way to tell you is to just explain it all, so here’s why:

Studio Gin’ei  is celebrating it’s 70th anniversary and tearing down it’s original movie studio. Genya Tachibana is putting together a documentary in commemoration of the studio’s anniversary, and is set on getting an interview with an idol from his youth, Chiyoko Fujiwara, whom had been a recluse for the last several years. She agrees to the interview, and one of the first thing Genya does is give her a gift, an old key, which sparks memories from Chiyoko’s childhood. She begins telling the story of her life, the key, her acting career and of a enigmatic man she’s been searching for all her life. In the 1930’s, Chiyoko was a teenager in Japan, and she harbored a thought criminal, a painter, from the police. But one day the police found him and he was forced to escape, leaving behind a key and the mention that he was heading to Manchuria to protest the war. With this information, Chiyoko takes up an offer by a talent agent to act the lead in a movie, which is set to shoot in Manchuria. This begins her travels to find the man and return the key.

The story is presented to us, the audience, through her life events, and through her movies, which seem to parallel her journey, her goals, and each of the characters. This is a very clever tool, and shows us the brilliance that is Satoshi Kon. Each of her movies takes place in a different time period, and as she grows older, the movies get closer to a modern period until they reach the space age. The gap from movie to movie, or movie to reality is nearly seamless and sometimes comedic, as eventually Genya begins portraying characters that help Chiyoko’s character achieve her goal. This visual and narrative element is probably my favorite thing about this movie, and it really makes the entire thing an enjoyable experience.

That is, until we start looking at everything else. My first and foremost complaint is the utter flatness of the characters, which you think wouldn’t happen with a story covering one girl’s entire life. Throughout the entire movie, Chiyoko, and even her characters, are driven by one thing, which is to find their long lost love interest. There is absolutely no character growth or development, and the entire time it seems like she’s chasing a goal but never getting to it, thus making her a static character. The same happens to our other characters: Genya is Chiyoko’s fanatic, and always does everything to help her; he never changes. This lack of character dynamics is really a crippling setback to the entire movie, which has a character driven plot.

Since the characters go nowhere, the plot doesn’t either. For nearly the entire ninety minutes of this movie the same thing happens, but in a different movie. Chiyoko’s character is searching for her long lost love, Genya’s character somehow sacrifices himself out of love to help her, and nothing happens; we just move on to the next movie. While it was neat to see how each movie relates to Chiyoko’s predicament, it got old, and would have been much better had each movie given us a little bit more to push the plot. At one point, during the cliche climax of Chiyoko being so close to her goal and running towards it, we’ve got the fast pace music playing, and everything seems exciting because we think that something is finally going to happen, but then it keeps going. It lasts a good ten minutes, only for nothing to come out of it. Boo.

Thanks to the characters and the plot development being a let down, the ending had absolutely no effect on me. I liked it, and I thought it was a nice thing to put at the end, I could not be there emotionally and I really just wanted to the movie to be over. Of course, this isn’t the endings fault, because the ending by itself was pretty decent, it was simply because I could not feel for the plot and the characters, and that is ultimately what makes up a drama such as this.

So all-in-all, this was a decent movie. The narrative style was carefully thought out and the visual elements were fantastic, but the characters and the plot simply weren’t there, which is surprising considering how much Satoshi Kon usually excels at handling those two things. While I might have just criticized the hell out of it, I still really liked this movie; it was interesting to watch, and I do admit I wanted to see Chiyoko find that man. Overall, I think I’m going to give this movie a 6/10. It was good, but it could have been a lot better. I recommend this to fans of Satoshi Kon, and those who like eccentric narrative styles, and a nice little love tragedy. Until next time, this has been Sachi bringing you another movie review!

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