Millennium Actress: Thoughts After My Second Viewing

Originally, I was going to talk about something like Good Omens or Super Robot Wars T that I finished a month or so ago, but no. There is something else that needs to be talked about here. Millennium Actress is making a small theater run in the United States right now. Just like Perfect Blue did late last year, which I also wrote a post about. The subbed version appeared on Tuesday which I was lucky enough to go to and see and the brand new dub is premiering tomorrow. The sad thing is that it’s been barely advertised. What did that mean to me? Five other people in the movie theater with me of which two are people that I personally invited. I couldn’t see the new dub this time around, which was sad because I want to hear what it sounds like, but I’m still glad that I got to see this time in theaters anyway. It’s just such a wonderful and beautiful piece of art. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite Satoshi Kon thing, but I do think it deserves every piece of praise that it gets.

Before I move anywhere else, Millennium Actress has such a simple premise wrapped in Satoshi Kon’s trickery art and transitions. We have a young actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara who once helped a revolutionary or trouble maker in the early moments of World War 2. A person that she just fell in love with on first sight and was left with a key to take care of. The guy managed to escape to Manchuria and since that’s where a studio was going to make a film, Chiyoko decided to go. Millennium Actress itself is supposed to be a documentary of Chiyoko’s career leading to where she went big, but it turns into something else pretty quickly. What happens is an absolutely wonderful blending of film elements and her life at the same time. Unless you’ve seen this film a fair number of times, you will never expect where the film takes you next.

Shhhhhh, you can’t just say things like that.

When I mean never knowing where the film takes you, I mean that on a visual level. The story always focuses on the through line of “Chiyoko wants to find guy and makes movies through out her career in different places to hopefully find that guy again.” There are always lines dedicated to that aspect to keep you involved. At the same time, a train attacked by bandits could turn into a samurai fim involving an attacking army with bows and fire arrows. That’s just where it starts. There are trace elements of Godzilla films, space films, and it all fits thematically with what the film is working with. Everything that happens is a film reference of some sort because this is how Satoshi Kon celebrates some of his favorite films. Whatever Chiyoko jumps to next, it’s going to be a thematically strong scene played with extra bits of drama to make each moment more powerful. Those Satoshi Kon transitions where all of these things happen are always going to be the best transitions in film history.

Don’t worry about being confused by them though. The film itself will give you some guides to let you know what is going on and keep you on track. Since this is a documentary and an older Chiyoko is being filmed, it wouldn’t do to be without the people that are interviewing her. Genya, a person who works in film and has been obsessed with Chiyoko’s work for a long time, and the young camera man who doesn’t seem to care about any of this, are your guides for the film. Genya wears a bunch of silly costumes in theme with what is going on in this film to save Chiyoko time and time again when she needs it and the camera guy will always comment on what is going on like “when did we jump into a movie?” or “where did the bandits come from?” Along that sort of attribute, there are enough moments where the film goes back to current day in Chiyoko’s house to give it more of a sense of grounding. This director has a very delicate touch in what he’s doing and he wants to make sure you can follow along with the film in full context.

Keep an eye on these two dorks and you will be alright.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed from Satoshi Kon’s films is how progressive they. A lot people are scoff at me for saying that (which I don’t mind honestly), but prove that to me that’s not the case. Satoshi Kon has his characters break away from traditional roles. Perfect Blue featured an idol breaking away from that life to become an actress where she needs to take some harder and more mature roles to move forward. Tokyo Godfathers features a trans woman, and Paprica focuses on the life of a female office worker where she can be completely uninhibited and free in her dreams. In Millennium Actress, Chiyoko wants to break away from a traditional sort of family life where she would be the bride that bares children. She takes that step to become an actress to chase after a love interest that she doesn’t know. She grows older and older, sometimes being forced into traditional family like situations, until she breaks out of it again. Maybe she did end up alone, but that’s because she choose that path. She’s an adult after all. Chiyoko can do whatever she wants

So what else is there left to say now? Millennium Actress is just an absolutely fantastic movie. Visually, emotionally, and whatever way that could be thought of. Satoshi Kon is a genius director and I wish cancer didn’t take him away from us earlier. We’ve only got 4 films and a television series to remember him from and it’s just not enough. Everything he’s done is ground breaking in some way, because Satoshi Kon doesn’t like repeating himself except how he tells a story and to look at everything he made in a completely different light. There is always going to be some connection with character’s live and a medium to see it on in his films. Maybe Tokyo Godfathers doesn’t, but there is another reference frame at play anyway that keeps it going.

To the final frontier!

You can say that Millenium Actress is the light side of Perfect Blue’s sadness and horror. Here we see obsession and fandom in a much more positive light. Genya, her admirer, saves Chiyoko multiple times through out the film and doesn’t try to lock her in a box based on how he thinks she should be. There is some sense of white knighting there, but it’s mostly harmless. Man, how do I get out of topic on my last paragraph? I had to spread it out into two paragraphs. This is what happens when I talk about something I like. Just watch the film tomorrow if you can, alright? If not, there is going to be a release soon enough. I can keep going and going, so I think I am just going to stop now. Maybe this is my favorite Satoshi Kon work after all. Who knows? Not like there is a bad choice out there.

Ending question: If you have watched any of Satoshi Kon’s work, which one is your favorite?


  1. I haven’t seen this movie in ages, but I’m glad the license got rescued. I remember enjoying it back then. Millennium Actress is definitely a creative movie. Very good point about how Kon’s characters destroy stereotypes.

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  2. Haha…no worries about going off topic: I tend to do that way too many times myself. I love reviews that are full of enthusiasm, and this one certainly was full of that. Another movie that I unfortunately haven’t seen (yet) but your review certainly makes me move it up on the list of priority watches. That said…I’m going to be starting with something in a few hours that I never knew I would be able to watch: the original Gundam series from 1979. So…slight change in plans lol. Jeez…talking about going off topic. Sorry! 😅😅

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      1. It’s crazy…I was just browsing some videos on Youtube, and someone uploaded the entire original series there, in good quality and in subbed version 😊 Talking about a fun find 😃

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  3. I had never seen this one before going to the subbed showing on Tuesday and I absolutely loved it. Unlike your showing, my theater was probably half sold out (and there were 4 theaters in my area showing it). I knew that had to be a good sign (I didn’t look up anything before going just in case so I wasn’t sure what to expect). I haven’t actually seen any of Satoshi’s other work, but now I definitely plan to.

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  4. We had ten people (or thereabouts) out here in the wilds of the Kitsap Peninsula… But yeah, no advertisement at all that I saw. If I hadn’t dropped by the Fathom Events page to double check the Ghibli Fest schedule I’d have missed it entirely.

    That being said, we loved the heck out of Millenium Actress. Even once we figured out what was going on, it still kept surprising us in the details. The ending (when the detective confessed his sins) shocked the heck out of me.

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  5. I’m watching the dub tomorrow evening. I get emails from Fandango and G-Kids and such about anime about to be shown.

    When Perfect Blue was screened locally, it was part of the G-Kids series. G-Kids is an anime series for children which was originally just Studio Ghibli productions. My wife was not amused. She was even upset that I thought it was a good psychological thriller. It would have made Hitchcock proud. I’m wondering how many traumatized kids there were that night.

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  6. Scott, just wanted to let you know they did a great job with the dub. There was a bit at the start where things didn’t sync up well, but after that it was spot-on (and really, it doesn’t matter if flaps match 100% anyway). As I said on Twitter, I’m not sure this is my favorite work of his, Paranoia Agent is really good, but I can’t think of a better film to conclude my journey with. This was the last of his works I needed to see, and it just felt so thematically perfect. What better way to send off a legendary creator than with a love letter to the very media in which he heavily influenced? When Chiyoko has her final scene, it was like having Kon say his farewells at the same time. It just really worked well.

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    1. Yay, I’m glad the dub was good. I need to watch it too at some point so I guess I need to buy the new release when it appears not that that is a hard thing to think about honestly. Oh, I need Perfect Blue too.

      Yeah, that sounds like a great moment to end your watch. I just loved it so much too.

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      1. I will be picking it up for sure, I have the old DVD set, but the dub makes the upgrade worthwhile. I have all his other stuff on DVD, but maybe I’ll do the same for Perfect Blue sometime as well (though with The Great Passage also getting a release soonish, it may be awhile, I am still pretty poor lol).

        It really was a great way to top off Kon’s career in how I went about watching things. If you were wondering, my watch order was: Paprika -> Paranoia Agent -> Perfect Blue (only half) -> Tokyo Godfathers -> Perfect Blue (all of it) -> Millennium Actress.

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  7. I loved every second of this film! And how Kon can delicately play with your mind. Assuming there is a basic truth to the story of her life one is left with the question of where that truth and the movie roles she has play blend and separate.

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