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.
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.
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.
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?