21 Aug 2012

Millienium Actress (Anime) Review

Millennium Actress (2001)
Format: Movie, 87 minutes
Director: Satoshi Kon
Studio: Madhouse
Score: 4 stars
Summary: This film blends reel life and real life seamlessly, proving that sometimes, real life can be stranger than fiction. A unique film that still retains Kon's style, without the confusion.

A 70-year-old ex-actress Chiyoko Fujiwara recounts her career, life, and love. The retelling blends fact from fiction, as the film world and her life story intertwines.

For Kon's second film, he goes for a more conventional tale, but never leaves the surrealism he loves so much. It has been described as "a seamless connection between illusion and reality to create a Trompe-l'œil kind of film". The illusion of an illusion punctuates the film when the camera-man thinks he is in a movie when its actually just Chiyoko recounting her days during World War II. The director stops short of showing the horrors of war, instead focusing on the people who work hard to move on. Chiyoko Fujiwara portrays what is now the typical anime film female lead; Strong and assertive, but still chasing or pining for a particular male companion. This is, after all, a story of lost love.

With such a simple story to tell, the animation takes a back seat in this film. I would suspect the best animators on the team worked on all those running scenes and that short ninja scene (the internet seems to believe that it was done by Tetsuya Nishio) as those were some of the smoothest, most realistic movements I've ever seen. The "slipping on ice while running" bit might have been animated by the same person that did the "lose control of bike after skidding" scene in Akira. (Yup, both scenes animated by Toshiyuki Inoue). But other than that, the animators did not have a lot of chance to show off.

What's apparent, however, is the way the story was paced and how it was all edited together. This really is some of the best editing I've every seen in anime. Forget flashy transitions or visual flourishes, Kon uses straight cuts in the most unexpected ways to create such a seamless illusion of reality. It might be a little tough for some viewers to follow as you have to really understand the characters and their motivations in order to tell fact from fiction. But perhaps you don't need to separate them. Chiyoko encompasses all her various roles so well, the movies she stars in become a metaphor for the turmoil she felt in her heart. In the end, that flight into space showed her resolve in chasing him down, but the vast, empty, cold space was simply too much for her.

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