Millennium Actress (2001)

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Cast: Mami Koyama, Shōzō Iizuka, Masaya Onosaka

Synopsis: A couple of documentary filmmakers get a rare chance to interview the reclusive Japanese version of Meryl Streep. They use the interview as a chance to delve into her past which reveals her motivation for acting and a heartbreaking love story that spans her entire career.

Millennium Actress is something of a mishmash of other works by Satoshi Kon. It contains a lot of the visual techniques and tricks featured in movies like Perfect Blue and Paprika (which I reviewed earlier) but a softer story like the one featured in Tokyo Godfathers. As such, it feels a bit like an in between film, one that experiments with two different genres. That should not, however, suggest that it is not an excellent piece of cinema. The hodgepodge of genres creates quite a drawn out narrative which mirrors the main character’s struggle to be reunited with the man she helped and fell in love with at the start of her career, which spans many decades. Although the movie may create feelings of discombobulation at times (this should be expected in most of Satoshi Kon’s films) it ultimately pays off in the end.

As far as the progression is concerned, the movie essentially plays out like a much more sophisticated version of A Muppet Christmas Carol in the sense that you have two characters that are drawn into another person’s story; it’s a film within a film and sometimes it’s a film within a film within a film. I even thought at one point it became a film within a film within a film WITHIN A FILM, but I was high and articulating that particular brainwave now is proving to be rather difficult. Still, the story is very engaging and highly cinematic, focusing on a unique and touching love story between a young girl and a political dissident on the run from the authorities. As she regales the film crew with her life story, the audience is drawn further and further into her dramatic history which is just as compelling as the roles she plays on the screen.

This film is highly emotive, but it’s that type of emotional rollercoaster that is distinctly Japanese. Happiness through sadness and struggle. Satisfaction in the knowledge that you felt the whole spectrum of emotion and lived through it. It made me cry. It’s shameful and emasculating but it is what it is. When I watch Satoshi Kon’s movies it makes me sad to think that they go largely unrecognized by international audiences. If this movie were American and filmed with real actors it would have been blessed with a number of award nominations, including the 1000th Academy Award nomination for Meryl Streep who is the only actress who could have realistically taken on a role like this. The same goes for Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers which would have been clear Oscar-bait. Instead we get Natalie Portman winning best actress (undeservedly in my honest opinion) in a highly watered down American rehash. It’s almost as if animated movies and foreign movies have to be twice as good in order to get the same kind of recognition as non-animated domestic movies. It’s a crying shame and I hope that someday soon animated movies will have just as much gravitas as non-animated movies. Until that time though, I will be content to act like a hipster and lecture people about why they have to watch these unheard of animated movies, much to their annoyance.

High-lights:

  • Fantastic story with a realistic plot and relatable characters.
  • The overlapping of the actress’ movie scenes with her personal history was inspired. It challenges you and keeps you on your toes.
  • The movie will make you feel all the feels and provides a meaningful message.

Downers:

  • The soundtrack feels a little disjointed in places: it doesn’t always suit the feel of the particular scene.
  • The animation isn’t as vivid as some of Kon’s other work.

Summary:

A great movie, simple as. Millennium Actress would work well with all kinds of strains but sativa strains might give you a more detailed understanding of the movie. This is a film you should watch when you’re by yourself and willing to get emotionally involved. Don’t watch it when you’re sad or depressed though as it might push you over the edge.

8.5/10

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Filed under Animation, Drama, Great, Romance

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