And if we thought we were impressed with the level of animated storytelling with the first film, we were about to have our minds seriously blown with “Millennium Actress”. We had one person leave and one person show up during the intermission, so our number stayed the same. Our friend Andrea who showed up on time for once announced that she had already seen it which was rare for her, and she was the only one which was even more rare. In fact, no one else had really heard of it. Boy had we been missing out.
The story itself is a little hard to relate and doesn’t even come close to describing what the movie is actually about. The basic plot concerns a documentary film crew interviewing a famous Japanese actress named Chiyoko just as the studio she helped build is being demolished. As she begins to tell the story of her life the director and his cameraman become involved in the action, sometimes as casual observers and sometimes as primary characters. Another thing that further complicates any attempts at coherent explanation is the fact that Chiyoko is slowly succumbing to senile dementia and her personal memories and her memories of her films have become so entwined that sometimes she is in a real memory and it will become a similar situation in a film she was in complete with set dressing and costumes. And sometimes the director and cameraman will be characters in the film that she is remembering and sometimes they’re just hanging around. Later, as it is revealed that the director had been peripherally involved in Chiyoko’s life in a protectorate role, he takes on the role of the protector characters in her films.
In the way that the story is told we are led through one woman’s epic love, 100 years of Japanese film history with each of the film moments perfectly mimicking the various genres that were popular at particular times in Japanese history, and because period pictures have always been an important part of Japanese cinema the film also ends up being a survey of 1,000 years of Japanese history. And on an even more abstract level it brings into consideration the basic considerations of life, the universe, and everything. The only reason I’m able to make moderate sense of any of this now is because we spent a good 10 minutes once the movie was finished explaining it to one another. Watching the documentary included on the DVD was also quite useful, especially since even director Satoshi Kon admitted that the film was meant to be a stereogram. I would describe it as being kinda (but not really) like “Forrest Gump” with an added existential layer.
Rumblings from the Peanut Gallery: Oddly enough, it wasn’t until we started the second film that Graeme made the observation that this was “not a Giant Robot Anime Night”. Most everyone else who made it to the end was just sort of scratchin’ their heads contemplating “Millennium Actress”. However, I believe that both of these films prove the viability of traditional cell animation versus new fangled computer animation and I hope that the studio the former Disney animators put together kick’s Disney’s a*s. Granted both films did employ a combination of CG and traditional animation, but the level and complexity of storytelling, character development and artistry were a hundred times more impressive than all of the digital bells and whistles in the world put together. And now I will dismount my soapbox.
Mariko McDonald and her boyfriend host a weekly film night in their apartment, affectionately known as the Den of Sin. It’s kinda like evil film school. Monthly screening schedules are available at http:filmgurlland.blogspot.com and if you happen to live in the Vancouver, BC area and are interested in catching a screening please drop her a line at filmgurl79@hotmail dot com. Suggestions, hate mail and cute pictures of cats also accepted.
And of course you can always offer up some juicy Back Talk>>>