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Score: 8.29/10

Synopsis

At the turn of the millennium, Ginei Studio's dilapidated buildings are set to be demolished. Ex-employee and filmmaker Genya Tachibana decides to honor this occasion with a commemorative documentary about the company's star actress: Chiyoko Fujiwara, the reclusive sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema. Having finally obtained permission to interview the retired starlet, an enamored Genya drags along cynical cameraman Kyouji Ida to meet her, ready to put his lifelong idol back in the spotlight once more. Hidden in this secluded mountain retreat is a thousand years of history condensed into one lifetime, waiting to be narrated. Chiyoko's recollections take them on an illusionary journey through Japanese cinematic history that transcends the boundaries of reality; the saga of her acting career intertwines with her filmography, the actors in her life blend seamlessly with the characters on screen, and the present melds with the past. Though the actress may have retired at the height of her career 30 years ago, the curtain on her life's stage has yet to fall. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Millennium Actress is something that can easily be called great. It is outwardly audacious and seemingly gorgeous in nature.

Though to be frank, Millennium Actress rather comes across as something that would be praised as long as the aesthetics are nice, the plot is a little bit convoluted and that it is directed by Satoshi Kon. By no means do I utter this statement as an insult to sir Kon or an accusation to the movie’s fans. This is just a statement that I genuinely believe after gathering all my experience and coming to the conclusion: its fans generally are completely oblivious of the movie’s criticisms, and their belief that this movie is an animation magnum opus will not change due to the mentioned reasons. Certainly, my aim is not to change people’s mind but be as objective as possible so as to judge this fairly. I will keep this review short.

The story is… okay. It’s just average really, and, if I should be honest, has been recycled quite a lot in Hollywood that I see no point in trying to magnify it. It’s just not special, but it however has a heart. I can clearly see where they were trying to go with, and so the intention is clear and rightfully consistent throughout. This means that the movie is predictable and has virtually nothing to anticipate other than “does the actress meet her love?”, which is kind of a dull story cornered to two sides of a coin; but, it is still a movie that feels complete regardless. And certainly, the intent of paying homage to Japanese cinema is no good excuse for an average story, though it’s still nice and somewhat exciting to witness the genuine affection of Kon towards such rich cinema history.

The execution of the story is arguably poor. As thin and uninspiring as the story is, the execution barely does anything to embrace it (unlike in Tokyo Godfathers). To be fair, all the director does for the movie is dragging this nonexistent storyline for an hour and a half. And for this reason befalls the second problem, the expendable tanglement of narration. For a story with barely any philosophical weight or plot development, the convoluted narrative is just absolutely pretentious. “Oh but it’s gorgeous, and it merges reality and memories…” well reasonably, fair enough. But I would like to ask you, “What’s the point?”. While acknowledging that such emergence goes to show how by the end of the actress’ life, she can recall the events so vividly and can’t differentiate what’s real and what’s not; yet forasmuch as the emergence solely considers her lifetime acting career, it gives the audience no insights or depth other than the actress’ very simplistically discernible state of mind. This would have been so much more thematically powerful if it had included an actual emphasis, and that the acting career emergence didn’t just take up the whole second half for nothing. When an idea is so superficial and yet being told so grandiosely, it will inevitably give the impression of being overly indulgent. Unlike other reviewers, to me, the complexity (or should I even call it like that, because it’s just convoluted, not complex) in this movie has no depth or thematic ideas.

The characters are fine. They are fun and likable enough to lead the audience till the end, but none of them were even remotely profound or memorable. The dialogues are honestly so corny. I could forgive everything these hombres verbalize throughout the movie, but for the last line, I simply couldn’t. It’s just melodramatic and corny and foreseeable. Unforgivable.

The tone is dexterously framed by a clearly talented director. Kon knows when we should have a moment of comedic relief, or when one should expect an emotional impact. And so, thanks to the tone, the story seems much more seamless and smooth while watching. Still, rethinking about it, this doesn’t change the fact that this movie is poorly crafted.

All that aside, we have an absolutely amazing audiovisual piece of art. The animation is simply flawless and the art is not your typical degenerate garbage (not trying to sound disrespectful, my point is it looks mature and visually intriguing). The music is really good and is generally well used. I have nothing to complain about the production value and that I am more than enthusiastic to praise this truly astounding audiovisual spectacle. I can rest assured anyone who watches this movie would concur.

That said, conclusively this movie, albeit aesthetically merited, is subpar in almost every way. Satoshi Kon is definitely not a hax fraud, however refutably overrated, for he has demonstrated his genuine competence in composing his own coups such as Perfect Blue or Tokyo Godfathers, and even glimpses of greatness here and there in Millennium Actress. Nevertheless, with over-indulgence in style and the uncalled-for narrative bafflement, Millennium Actress has become his weakest work that I’ve experienced so far. Mind you, this movie used to hold a 10 on my list for quite some time, so I think I could somewhat discern the mindset of conservatively marveling this movie. Yet have I verily changed to thus give my sincere final verdict upon this movie: How corny.

Millennium Actress is a wonderfully crafted story about a fateful encounter of a young girl and how it shaped the rest of her life. Though I am always a little hesitant about awarding such high marks to anything, this movie was one of the most riveting and unique anime experiences I have had. The story follows a pair of filmmakers who are interviewing a famous actress who has been retired for many years to celebrate the studio's 70th anniversary. Millennium Actress features one of the most original story telling methods I have seen. We see the majority of the movie told through the actresses various movie roles. We shift from feudal Japan, World War 2, and a futuristic moon base, amongst others. You are never actually sure what is real and what is the movie all the time. I also found it interesting that the two filmmakers were always observers during the entire process. Their presence provided an interesting way of narrating the story and kept the viewer from getting confused by the constantly changing scenery. Though many will perhaps not be able to relate to Chiyoko's devotion to a man that she hardly knew anything about, I still never felt as though it was too farfetched. Whether or not she truly loved him the way one might feel for a lover is beside the point. Her love is what shaped the remainder of her life and allowed her to accomplish the things she had. I think this is summed up best by her last lines from the film when she comments that finding him was not that important, because it was the chase that she loved the most. The two filmmakers Genya and Kyoji provide a nice anchor for the viewer. Of the two Genya is the most important and as the story unfolds we learn about his past and why he idolizes Chiyoko. As for the object of Chiyoko's devotion we really learn little about him other than has ultimate fate. I think it was a good decision from a storytelling standpoint because his mysterious nature was what kept her looking for him. The art was really exceptional. There were sometimes that some of the backgrounds looked like actual photographs and perhaps they were but they seamlessly fit in with the rest of the animation. The film as does a wonderful job at portraying many different settings. Everything feels so authentic from the prewar Japan costumes and architecture to the 50s styling and fashions. Overall I really can’t recommend this movie enough. I don’t think its appeal is limited to just shoujo and romance fans. Give this movie an hour and a half, you will be glad you did!

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