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Chiyoko Fujiwara: even her names evokes 1,000 years of Japanese history
beginning with the Fujiwara clan who dominated Japan a millennium ago as
dominated Japanese movies. The story begins with an elderly actress who
recounts her life and career to a Quixotically worshipful producer and his
Sancho Panza-like cameraman. Film juxtaposes with reality; and the
and tragedies of one actress meld into those of Japan itself; objectivity
and fantasy mock each other and dance with one another. At one moment the
cameraman is making a pungent comment about cornball emotions, and the
moment he is dodging burning arrows from one of her movies. Perhaps,
really is a woman cursed or perhaps blessed to endure 1,000 years of
unrequited love. Perhaps the mysterious "human-rights activist" that she
pursues through the centuries, and through one movie after another,
represents an ever-receding ideal of love, truth, and human dignity that
yearned for by individuals and nations alike. They met just briefly, he
her the key to "the most important thing in the world," and Chiyoko and
film characters she plays spend the next 1,000 years and the rest of her
film career and the rest of her life trying to return it.
"Millennium Actress" and the techniques of animation were made for each other. Live-action could not possibly have created this stunning plunge though the centuries nearly as well, nor have depicted the transformation of a beautiful young women into a beautiful old woman. So-called live-action movies would have buried a live actress under layers of Yoda-like plastic to achieve the same effect.
Presumably you will be watching this on DVD; after you have watched this movie through once or twice, go back and select scene 12 and just watch that: it begins with an apprentice Geisha, (as played by Chiyoko), risking everything to pursue the human-rights activist (in this generation he is a rebel Samurai.) A merciless Javert-like pursuer barges in to ruin everything, but a Quixotic stranger rescues her for sake of idealistic love and sets her free to ride through the land of Japan to continue her search. She rides through Hokusai landscapes and through the battles of 19th-Century Japan. She continues undaunted even though the wheel of her curse keeps turning and is symbolized by increasingly modern modes of transportation: carriages, trains, bicycles; the splendor and tragedy of Japanese history whizzes by and still her journey continues. Her eternal quest for freedom turns into a freedom in itself, and -- by the way -- the medium of animation gives a mighty leap from the Saturday-morning ghetto to which American imaginations has confined it and shows off freedoms that live-action could never do as well.
This movie is action-filled but never manic; emotional but never overwrought; thought-provoking but never airy. The unpleasant little word Surrealism comes to mind -- it's unpleasant because it often evokes elitism, self-indulgence, and confusion. But "Millennium Actress" is never neurotic, never smug, and always invites the audience to join in the fun of mixing up film, memory, history, and desire, in surprising ways. There are enough delightful coincidences and plot twists to entrance an admirer of Shakespeare or Dickens. The musical score is excellent. The quality of animation is excellent, and these characters have more originality, life, individuality, and heart than in many movies being made in Hollywood.
After you have checked this out, look into Satoshi Kon's most recent movie "Tokyo Godfathers." Then investigate the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, who is the world's greatest maker of animated films, and also Miyazaki's fellow geniuses of Studio Ghibli. 9/10
Satoshi Kon is the extremely talented director who brought us the memorable
Perfect Blue (1997) and perhaps changed the face of Japanimation forever.
Here at his second feature film, ripe after a four years hiatus, he makes
the wait well-worthed with a cunning cinematographic experience that
literally plunges the viewer into the wonderful world of
Using the animation medium to push storytelling in film to new levels of effectiveness, Kon tells the story of a legendary actress who's life and career sparks the interest of documentary director Genya Tachibana. Along with his trusted cameraman, he undertakes to interview the now very old Chiyoko Fujiwara, spotlight actress in her hay days, and together they delve into her past.
This session blooms into a captivating narrative, blending elements of her life with roles in some of her films, and exploring her great search for love. The movie thus explores the personal challenges and self-realization that one undergoes through the different stages of life. It does so with the help of probing questions from Genya and is not shy of being epic in scale, passing seamlessly through fictional eras and time periods, superimposing characters, persons and life teachings. The fusion of reality and fiction is truly remarkable, and Satoshi Kon distinguishes himself from conventional dogmas in that aspect. For him, sky is the limit. He is only limited by his boundless imagination. The result is something fresh and spectacular. From the beauty of the vibrant images to the backdrop of lyricism and poetry, the movie explores life with us... and comes up with interesting conclusions. You will have to see and judge for yourself, but I promise that, if nothing else, it will have made you think.
I was privileged to attend the world premiere at the Montreal FantAsia Festival and was greatly honored to be blessed with the incarnation of the director himself, in flesh and bone. He strikes me as a very intelligent, very mature and wise man. There is an old woman in the film who says to Chiyoko: "I love you and I hate you more than you can imagine." I asked him the significance of that and he simply answered: "I do not really know what it means. I know that I understand many things that I did not 15 years ago. I just tried to project myself in the future, and thought of what I might be able to bestow to a younger inexperienced person like myself, with this increased wisdom that comes with life's trials and tribulations." I admit I am paraphrasing just a little (my japanese is not that good in any case), but that's essentially what he said, and this confirmed my belief, based on the artistic genius and masterful integration of complex thoughts into a simple, flowing, living piece, that this man is gifted. He has an incredible depth and is able to conjure it up to the surface and present it to us. One cannot but delight in his work and wait again for more enlightenment...
In some films, the dividing line between subjective and objective reality is
very tenuous. In Satoshi Kon's poetic Japanese animé film Millennium
Actress, it is almost non-existent. When the Ginei studio is about to be
razed, documentarian Genya Tachibana decides to make a documentary about the
studio and its greatest star, legendary actress Fujiwara Chiyoko who
disappeared from public life more than thirty years ago. After finding an
old key that belonged to the aging actress, he travels to her secluded
mountain retreat with his assistant Kyogi Ida to interview her for the
documentary. When Genya gives her the key, it unlocks a stream of memories
that transports us (along with the cameraman and interviewer) to a different
reality that allows us to relive one thousand years of Japanese history
using the medium of cinema.
As she tells her story, Chiyoko recounts her birth at the time of the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and how she was discovered as a child actress despite her mother's objection that she is too timid. She reveals how a strange young painter, a political outcast whose name she never discovers, gives her a key and then disappears, telling her that the key is "the most important thing there is". Chiyoko's dream of reuniting with her lover keeps her alive and becomes what her life is about. Unfolding more as emotion and mood than narrative, Kon takes us on a surreal journey through a series of films within films in which Chiyoko attempts to find her lost love, playing a princess, a ninja, a geisha, and even an astronaut. In the process, we witness a seamless tableau of Japan's history: the medieval period in the 15th and 16th centuries, the era when the Shogunate was in power, the Meiji period when the Emperor was restored, the Showa period before World War II, and the post-war occupation and recovery.
The line between events of Chiyoko's real life and scenes from her films is blurred and the film is difficult to follow on first viewing. To complicate matters even further, the interviewer, Genya, is cast in many roles in which he becomes almost a comic figure as Chiyoko's rescuer. Though the film is often puzzling, the search to recapture the defining moment in Chiyoko's life strikes a universal chord and we identify with her desperate quest. Though I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, Millennium Actress is a complex and beautiful film and Susumu Hirasawa's hypnotic musical score adds to the blend of warmth, emotional power, and magical realism. Kon sees life as a big romantic movie full of melodrama, humor, and longing and seems to be saying that while there is often confusion between who we really are and the shifting roles we play in life, what remains constant is our longing for love.
The life story of an actress told to reporters that blurs the line
between reality and fantasy as the movies she made become he life and
A wonderful continuation of of the ideas in the brilliant thriller Perfect Blue, we once again have our perceptions turned upside down and sideways. Who is telling the truth, or more importantly is it even possible to know when all we are anyway is a half remembered collection of memories, are notions thrown at us and left for us to determine on our own. This is a film that probably could never have worked as a live action film simply because the changes between reality, memory and movie could never be as seamless as they are here.
This is a movie for grown ups and very clearly shows why those who think animated films are only for kids is missing out.
Without a doubt, Millennium Actress is a masterpiece. Fluid scene
transitions, vibrant colors, and gorgeous pieces of music not only
allow, but forces the viewer to feel empathy for the character. I
admit, I was teary eyed for several scenes in the movie, it's cinema at
The story, like Kon's Perfect Blue, is told in a way where reality and fantasy are blurred and joined. Unlike Perfect Blue, the truth and fiction are not important matters in Millennium Actress. Perfect Blue was a movie about an event. Millennium Actress is a movie about an emotion: Love. That search for the long lost love is the only thing that keeps one young. Chiyoko, the main character, travels through centuries and millenniums to find it, but always fails. Yet her zealous passion for this quest is what ultimately keeps her young, even at death.
Watching this film, we will all be reminded of that one passion we've had during our youthful days and be reminded about our quest to fulfill that passion. Maybe that feeling will return after you've viewed this movie. Maybe you'll regret certain actions and decisions that you've made in the past. But that's of no importance. Because at that point, the film has done its job and you'll feel a little warmer inside.
Satoshi Kon shows his skill at drawing you into another world. Millennium
Actress has a great story, really great characters, and keeps you fixated
from start to finish. Watching this one made me forget this was an anime as
I became fascinated by the life moving before me. Chiyoko is amazing at any
age or time; her determination, spirit, and energy are infectiously
admirable. Note the interviewer and our skeptical camera guy are third
party observers in the dark, just like ourselves. Someone watching this
mentioned how great the soundtrack is which adds a whole other level and
really establishes pace, mood, and atmosphere throughout. A key reminding
us of the value of a dream and how far would you go to fulfill
This one asks questions, has fun moments, and really touching ones. It's all done so creatively that you come along for the journey and find out it's all worth it.
A key reward for writing IMDb comments is that readers send you
recommendations. This is one that I had a hard time tracking down. I'm
glad I did.
This seems to be viewed only by fans of anime, and that's a shame. I'm not knowledgeable enough in anime to note how it fits. It seems to be in the more "realistic" spectrum, with fewer edges and less posturing.
Japanese writing has gravity. In traditional mode, the eye falls down as it gathers a phrase. The characters are derived from ink on paper instead of the western fonts shaped by chisel on stone. And where the characters I use in English have no inherent semiotic association, Kanji is inherently pictographic. A Japanese reader will literally harvest phases by falling through images, images in a static situation with dynamic sweeps therein.
So when I come to anime, I look for this. Being nonJapanese, I can see it and appreciate it more than a native can I believe.
That's why I'm excited about this, because the visual phrases are imposed on some folds I know.
First about the folds. The way this is structured is as a double documentary of an aged film star, "Sunset Blvd"-wise. Its double because we have a camera and we are seeing the two documentarians: one the interviewer and the other with a camera. (We never get a view through that camera, I think.)
The interview blends with the actress's flashbacks. Now this is very clever, how this is done.
It isn't memory: the documentarians are physically there when a "past" episode occurs. The cameraman constantly asks "what next?" and the interviewer takes on the role of certain characters in the films. These really are films, we see, when sometimes the "camera" rolls back and we see the crew. This is a third camera.
But more: all of the films over many decades conflate and merge, interweaving back and forth through history, forming a single quest for a love. That love is for a painter, who clearly is the animator of this cartoon, "Duck Amuck"-wise. These films not only merge with each other, and the quest, and the "interview," but with her life proper.
As with "8 1/2 Women," earthquakes figure in the shifts and overlays of stories. The thing that binds it all is a "key" which we learn early is to a paintbox, the source of all the paintings we see. Its wonderful organic oneiric origama. oneiroticama.
And that's just the story. Watch how the phrases are constructed though. We fall through them, soft layer after cloudy image.
Its like relaxing into love with perfect trust. You really should see this.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Genya Tachibana is a TV documentary maker and has tracked down his
favourite actress; Chiyoko Fujiwara. On interviewing her Genya presents
her with an object she had lost long ago; a key. From there we are
transported through time and see Chyoko story about lost love and her
struggle to find it. The key belonged to a man she meet when she was
young. He was a rebel on the run and Chiyoko gave him shelter. He gave
her the key as a thank-you. When he disappears she sets out to find
this man. Still young, Chiyoko is approached by a film maker to star in
his new film; she accepts and sees this as a chance to find mysterious
man. She become a huge success, but she is always empty, never finding
the man she loves.
Satoshi Kon has created a wonderful film about the lose of love and the extraordinary lengths one woman will go to find it. What makes this an interesting watch is that when we go into Chiyoko's past, Genya and his camera man also walk around in her past; interacting with people. But its just not a trek through her past, her memories meld with the movies she has made; as the movies parallel her life on her journey of finding her love, but also time in history. The scenes we see are from the movies she has made, but the story is her own life; her reality and her imagination have just crashed into one another.
The animation here is just visually amazing. Satoshi Kon's character designs are so unique they set themselves apart from another animations. All the backgrounds are so detailed and textured. What i find great is that Satoshi Kon adds that tiny bit of surrealism; adding more dimension and thought, here its how Chiyoko's memories meld into the movies she's starred in. Satoshi's script is so deep and full of angst. Its hard to watch this woman on her quest for love always failing; yet she blindly keeps going no matter what.
At great movie about the journey of love and how its never ending; in this world and the next.
If you have seen any other movies by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo
Godfathers), you get the idea that he knows how to tell a story. The
stories are told in a dramatic, yet unconventional way. The story is
about a Japanese movie studio that is torn down. The current executive
in charge gets an interview with the studio's star actress, whom has
been living in seclusion for years and does not give interviews. The
movie seamlessly integrates dramatic moments, with light humor and
stunning visuals. The visuals are breathtakingly imaginative not in
that they are exotic and surreal, but rather stunningly realistic.
Where Perfect Blue is more about the dark side of human nature, this
movie is about the resilience of the human spirit and hope. What is
similar, is that the reality of the story is in question. What is real,
and what is perceived, is based on the perspective of the viewer.
Definitely a must see movie.
Reprising roles that span a millennium, an actress who longs for her first
love re-enacts the drama of affirming her love for him. 'Millennium Actress'
puts the theme of unrequited love in a light that is universally
encompassing. It is ultimately a story of a pure-hearted character whose
loving devotion to one person, innocently conceived and passionately
guarded, lends itself sentience and weaves fiction with stark reality of
often longing and despair. There is no doubt that this film has left me
'Millennium Actress' adopts an esoteric 'film within film' form that is disclosed in flashbacks by the actress, Chiyoko. Her highlights of her cinematography is interwoven with real events of her life, and both fiction and non-fiction aspects of her life adhere to the context of concise Japanese history. Some of these flashbacks at least in their thematic references recur more than once, and variations between them become clever plot devices that lend meaningful depth of time and space to the film.
The recurring and consistently relevant symbols in the flashbacks not only pique the viewer's interest, but also anchor a means to explain the psyche of Chiyoko. Her reaction in each flashback and present to one particular entity is another indication of her perspective on her love, one of many signs of deep implication that enhances the film.
The animation in the film tends to be minimalist except for a few instances where it is cast in significant passage of film (for example running), but the art direction and technique which realize various era of Japanese history and provides a fluid transition between fictional flashbacks to accounts rooted in reality is most elegantly and superbly executed. Character design is accordingly appealing, especially the depiction of Chiyoko through various stages of her life that delineates the same dignity and purity. So much so that it seems almost as if Chiyoko itself transcends to some abstract form of ideal love, only unrequited, and therefore something of great potential but not wasted; since it essentially defies time and space, as allegorically portrayed in her various film roles.
The director Satoshi Kon commented in his interview on his pleasure with the music, which seems to be electronically assembled with a lot of repetition. It sometimes stands out as a bit overbearing and idiosyncratic, yet considering the nature of theme from the film it does not detract from the overall viewing experience.
Only note of letdown, if there is any point to it at all, comes from my personal disdain for a rather melancholy sequence at the end. Yet, a conventional Hollywood resolution would not apply here. As a footnote to my rambling, and for which I must apologize, I should add that 'till death do us part' could not be more opposite of what this film professes.
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