Sunday, October 14, 2007

[DVD] Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyû) (2001)

My Many Characters

Having watched Satoshi Kon's Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers, it's a no brainer that I would jump at the chance to watch Millennium Actress. And I wasn't disappointed, though if I would rate this movie amongst the others I've seen, then my preference will be in reverse chronological order, not that Millennium Actress is no good, but you do see the scaling of new heights in the newer works.

I'm quite amazed at how a single theme (at least to me) managed to weave itself into a compelling story, and one which paid homage to the history of Japan, and to Japanese films. The actress in the title refers to Chiyoko Fujiwara (voiced by three different actresses - Miyoko Shoji, Mami Koyama and Fumiko Orikasa), and chronicles the story of her career. As such, we get to see her in various characters and costumes, in different genres set in different eras, like the Samurai films, science fiction, romance dramas, and even monster movies. Now a senior citizen who has since retired from the limelight, she's being tracked down for an interview by Genya Tachibana (Shozo Izuka) and his cameraman Ida Kyoji (Masaya Onosaka), as she's the icon for a movie studio which is being torn down. But there's more to Genya's intentions of just speaking to her, and that secret in which he has will form the basic crux of the story.

To some, it might be groundhog day narrative style as events get repeated, although in different reel eras. It's about chasing after a loved one, one who has disappeared, and about your relentless pursuit, never to give up for that glimmer of hope, for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In many aspects, there's a lot of reel life imitating real, and the presentation style is definitely a notch in the direction of class, having interpolate Genya and Ida into the memories of Chiyoko as they learn first hand the events that she encounters, and relive those memories in the form of the movies she had starred in. In this manner of skillfully manipulating images and colour, the movie becomes layered in multiple fashion, and is quite innovative, rather than telling the story in a flat out chronological style.

The story nevertheless remains immensely touching, and bittersweet as well, particularly when a key secret is revealed, and you find yourself having to hold back that tear from coming out of your eye, especially when you have experienced a similar, relentless chase for something that you do not know what the outcome is. As always, the movie is richly animated with deep background details that you do not keep your eyes off the screen, and definitely deserves multiple re-watchings. Definitely highly recommended.

The Code 1 DV by Dreamworks Home Entertainment comes with a pristine anamorphic transfer, with audio only in Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, or 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround should you want to feel the many earthquakes in the movie. Subtitles come in English and French, and you have scene selection in 22 chapters.

The extras are quite basic, containing just the US Theatrical Trailer (1:05), and the Making of Millennium Actress: Interviews and Commentary with Satoshi Kon (40:40), which is a must to sit through as you learn about the movie from preparation stage, to its premiere in Japan. Through the interviews with Satoshi Kon and crew, you get to learn a lot of their thought process and how real life incidents provided inspiration for their reel development, and from the voice actors, their thrill in having been a part of a Satoshi Kon production. Not to worry if you don't understand Japanese, as the extras all come with subtitles.

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