Anime Film Review: Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress is a film directed by Satoshi Kon and animated by Studio Madhouse. The film was released to Japanese theaters on September 14, 2002. Millennium Actress also received a limited theatrical release in the United States on September 12, 2003. In the United States, the film was released by Dreamworks.

Millennium Actress
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
Written by: Sadayuki Murai and Satoshi Kon
Starring: Miyoko Shōji, Mami Koyama, Fumiko Orikasa, Shōzō Iizuka, Shōko Tsuda, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Hisako Kyōda, Kōichi Yamadera, and Masane Tsukayama
Run Time: 87 minutes
Rated: PG

The story of the film is done in the style of a “play within a play.” Genya Tachibana is working on a documentary about a famous actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara, an elderly actress who has withdrawn from public life. As Genya talks with Chiyoko, we see the story of her life from her teenage years to being a middle aged superstar; the flashbacks that appear are interspersed with segments from Chiyoko’s films. While Chiyoko’s life takes place surrounding World War II, the characters in her films span from the Sengoku period to a futuristic space age.

One of the big elements of the story has to do with a dissident artist that Chiyoko helped to escape from the military; she became attracted to him, but he had to flee. However, he left behind a key to his suitcase, and Chiyoko wants to find him. She initially became an actress in order to have the opportunities to travel and to try to find him. Over the course of the story, we learn that Genya was actually part of Chiyoko’s past, although she doesn’t realize it right at first.

The execution of the story is very well-done, although there are a lot of layers to the storytelling, and you really have to watch it more than once in order to pick up on details that you may have missed the first time you watch it. There’s a very fascinating story being told in Millennium Actress, and as a viewer, I found myself wishing that Chiyoko would be able to find the dissident artist.

While there is some blurring with reality in this film, it’s not so much the blurring of fantasy and reality that was seen in Perfect Blue and Paprika. In Millennium Actress, the blurring happens between reality and memory. During some of Chiyoko’s flashbacks, she’ll sometimes juxtapose memories of some of her film roles with the reality of what was going on during the time that she’s remembering. Considering Chiyoko’s age in the present time that the film is taking place in, these juxtapositions are realistic thing for her to be doing. These juxtapositions really add to the storytelling of the film.

When it comes to the DVD itself, there are two special features. The first is a 40 minute documentary about the making of Millennium Actress. The documentary is in Japanese with English subtitles; the narration is done by the voice actor for Genya. Over the course of the documentary, interviews are included from Satoshi Kon, several members of the production team, and all three voice actresses for Chiyoko. This was a pretty decent documentary.

The other extra is a trailer for Millennium Actress that is slightly over a minute long; this trailer is in English to promote Dreamworks’ release of the film.

Millennium Actress is a very well-done anime film, and it has become a classic. I would personally recommend that this DVD be added to the anime home video collection of anyone who considers themselves as a fan of Satoshi Kon’s work or as a fan of anime in general.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Millennium Actress that my husband purchased for me as a gift.

Additional reviews of Satoshi Kon films:

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