Starring: Miyoko Shôji, Shôzô Îzuka, Shôko Tsuda
Director: Satoshi Kon
Running Time: 87 mins
Millennium Actress is an American film following a cameraman and an interviewer who begin to look back through the memories and biggest roles of a beloved actress, and the story of a love that kept getting away from her.
This is a very interesting way to tell a story, and as strange and abstract as it may seem, Satoshi Kon pulls it off very well. Whilst Millennium Actress isn’t always the most thrilling or mind-bending film, it’s a consistently intriguing one that keeps you on the edge of your seat with its very fluid structure, moving in and out of different time periods and between films and reality.
Let’s talk more about this structure then. The film starts off with an interviewer and his cameraman going to the house of a now aged famous actress. There, they begin to interview her about her life. However, rather than telling the resulting story of her life through narration and linear flashbacks, the film places you directly in the action of the past by physically putting the interviewer and cameraman alongside a younger version of the actress.
Throughout the film, we’re introduced to the story of the actress’ lost love in her younger years, and her endless quest to find him, but where the film becomes relatively complex is with regards to where the action is taking place. As the interviewer learns more and more about her roles in cinema in and around the period of the Second World War, the film’s physical space starts to become very fluid.
Sometimes that revolves around the characters being in one scenario and then seamlessly entering another, kind of like in a dream, and at others the story of the actress’ life is played out in both the real world and the film world. The actual plot is almost completely linear, as we follow the cameraman and the interviewer following the actress through her life, but those linear events take place in non-linear time, meaning that something that happens in the 1930s is then followed by a resultant event that appears to take place in feudal Japan, as that was a film genre the actress once played in.
If there’s one thing about the film that has the hallmark of a confusing Satoshi Kon film, it’s that, but the reason that I enjoyed this film a lot more than some of his other works is because it’s not so mind-bending. Its style and structure is complex, but when it comes to following the narrative, story and character development, it’s actually not so difficult at all.
It’s an unpredictable and exciting movie throughout, and there’s also some very interesting emotional subtext that comes into play later on, making for an overall entertaining watch. The plot isn’t as dark or heavy-going as what you’ll see in Perfect Blue and Paprika, and although it’s by no means an upbeat movie, centring around a woman who still feels a real sense of loss, as well as a man with regrets about the past, it’s not a sad and emotionally draining watch.
Overall, I was very impressed by Millennium Actress, mostly because of its interesting and unique way of telling a story, but also because of its unpredictable and entertaining story. It’s a film that works very well as an anime, and definitely wouldn’t be as effective in live-action, but it’s that particularly fluid and complex physical structure that makes for a memorable watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.