Chiyoko Fujiwara is an actress of renown,
Whose star once shone out brightly but for decades has been down.
She lives now in seclusion in the home where she withdrew
Till a filmmaker named Genya comes to seek an interview.
He’s a fan of all her movies, and they settle down to talk,
As the cameraman records them and encounters quite a shock.
As Chiyoko tells the duo of her years of love and strife,
They see the woman’s memories appear and come to life.
They see her as a girl and, through her memories, relive
The time she met a handsome man, a wanted fugitive,
An artist, whom she helped escape, who left behind a key
To something quite important, but he leaves it with her free.
So to find him, she decided that an actress she would be,
In the hopes that she might see him and return his precious key.
She later sees the artist, not too long before the war,
Arrested and imprisoned by an agent with a scar.
Though she’s separated from him, she still acts and keeps her hope.
Through the wartime desolation, that small key helps her to cope.
In her movies, she’s a woman, pining for her absent men,
Roles that mirror her desire to be with him once again.
But she grows yet ever older, and she cannot find him still;
She is haunted by the possibility she never will.
After marriage, she misplaces the key given by her prince,
And then steps out of the limelight for the three long decades since.
But Genya used to work at the same studio as she
And found it and is there now to return her missing key.
He remembers how the scarred man that Chiyoko did despise
Had once come there to tearfully try to apologize.
Chiyoko did not know it, but Genya heard him say
That the scarred man killed the artist all those years ago that day.
An earthquake sends the actress to a lone hospital room,
And the doctors give to Genya no good news, only gloom.
Chiyoko then thanks Genya for returning the old key,
Which opened up a quite important thing, her memory.
And, like an astronaut role Genya was so fond of,
She launches in a spaceship in search of her lost love.

Millennium Actress is probably the weirdest movie on this list. It is a Japanese anime, which I’ve only seen with subtitles, that combines the present-day interviewers with Chiyoko’s past and mixes in her film roles such that it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Seeing it for the second time, I was better able to understand what was going on and the depth it carried, though some scenes went on too long, and there is a lot of running.

Anime is a touchy subject in my family. I grew up on “Pokémon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” but have since gotten tired of the childish cartoons with silly faces and constant yelling. I do like Hayao Miyazaki’s films, one of which is the point of contention over anime. When Spirited Away won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, my mom and dad and I saw it, expecting great things and were turned off by the bizarreness of the characters and circumstances. I have since gotten over it, but my parents have not. My VC also has sworn off Japanese animation, so she didn’t see Millennium Actress with me.

Millennium Actress, which came out the same year as Spirited Away, also has many weird elements, but the weirdness succeeds in making it unique rather than bizarre. I’d rather have a cameraman being in the middle of a flashback (and commenting on the fact) in this movie than green decapitated heads rolling around a bathhouse of spirits in Spirited Away. (For the record, I would have preferred Treasure Planet win the Oscar that year. Spirited Away was not Miyazaki’s best, but I guess they gave him the Oscar for his whole body of work.)

I will separate Millennium Actress’s artistry from its animation, since they’re on completely different levels. The story being told is one of lost love and searching for the unattainable, using metaphors and previous events in a way that heightens the emotions and is often quite beautiful (though I liked the cameraman’s funny comments throughout, which kept Millennium Actress from getting too serious). The Madhouse animation, on the other hand, is just okay. It’s obvious that more effort went into certain scenes, such as the train station scene and the “carriage ride through time,” while many crowd scenes have only one character moving while all the background characters are frozen. Still, it was good enough to evoke the requisite emotions felt by the characters.

Despite my preference for more serious anime, I’m also not a fan of gratuitously violent cartoons that are sadly abundant in Japan. I was very wary of Millennium Actress at first since its director Satoshi Kon was previously known for the gory Perfect Blue, which I have no desire to see. Still, I’m glad I gave Actress a try because Kon used considerable restraint, not including any extreme content. Kon died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 at the age of 46, and it’s a shame more of his films weren’t as relatively clean as this one.

Lastly, I just want to mention my End Credits Song Hall of Fame, where great music over the end credits will be celebrated. The score overall was pretty good, but the credits song “Rotation” is excellent head-banging music, even if the lyrics are in Japanese and don’t mean much even when translated.

Best line (and last line): “After all, it’s the chasing after him I really love.” (one of my favorites)

Artistry – 8
Characters – 3
Entertainment – 3
Visual Effects – 2
Originality – 7
Watchability – 2
TOTAL:  25 out of 60

Tomorrow – #362: Willow

© 2014 S. G. Liput