MILLENIUM ACTRESS (2003)

 

Format: 86-minute feature

 

Rating: PG (AC)

 

Type: Historical Drama

 

American Production: DreamWorks Home Entertainment

 

Japanese Production: Go Fish Pictures

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A

Story:

A

Writing:

A

Character Design:

A-

Animation:

A-

Artistic Merits:

A-

English Dub:

none

Japanese Vocals:

A

Musical Score:

A-

 

 

Humor Content:

C+

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

A

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B

DVD Extras:

C+

 

 

OVERALL:

A

 

Synopsis

      A film producer and his cameraman to interview a once-prominent but now long-retired actress in commemoration of the tearing down of an old movie studio. They are treated to an exploration of both 1,000 years of Japanese history and the mysteries of the actress’s own story through a series of first-person perspectives on how things in both her life and movies really happened. In the process they discover the actress’s truth behind her key to the “most important thing in the world.”

 

The Long View

      Despite its rating, Millennium Actress is a mature story intended for mature audiences. It displays impressive depth and symbolism in creating the engrossing story of Chiyoko, who draws lifelong love and inspiration from a brief encounter with a painter/political activist in pre-WWII Japan. The key he gives her as a teenager – supposedly to “the most important thing in the world” – takes on powerful symbolic meaning as it becomes her most precious memento, a key in figurative as well as literal terms. Her pursuit of her love defines her both personally and professionally; everything she puts into her performances is merely a reflection of her own feelings toward the painter she hopes to one day see again, the movie suggests. Even her choice of profession stems from the impetus of that hope, for when she finally abandons all hope of seeing him again she also abandons her career for hermit-like solitude. It is a telling moment.

      Director Satoshi Kon was previously best-known for Perfect Blue (which, perhaps not coincidentally, also focused on an actress), and the influence of that movie on this one is clear in the way Actress melds Chiyoko’s story with those of the roles she plays. At times it is difficult to determine where Chiyoko stops and her characters start – but that is, of course, the point. Kon also uses a wonderfully clever new gimmick by having both the film producer (who is a decades-long devotee of Chiyoko) and his young cameraman seem to be actually present during the mix of flashbacks to Chiyoko’s movies and earlier life. At 86 minutes the story is just the right length, and it wraps up exactly the way it should; the last line is not only memorable but also the defining moment of the entire movie.

      The technical merits for Actress are among the best in every category, and the soundtrack sets exactly the right mood. In a rare departure from the norm, the movie was not dubbed into English. It can only be viewed in subtitled form, but after seeing it you’ll fully understand why. I can’t imagine an English dub being done that would be as effective or capture the same nuances. The dialogue is written for Japanese performers and in places wouldn’t sound right with any other accent.

      Millennium Actress is one of the best animated movies of 2003. It joins the like of Akira, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Grave of the Fireflies as one of the best anime movies to date. I highly recommend it.

 

DVD Extras

      The only extras are an English trailer and a very insightful 40-minute “making of” featurette, but the latter is good enough to justify a bump in rating. French subtitles are also included.

 

 

 

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