Friday, January 18, 2008

Millennium Actress: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Tachibana and his cameraman also appear in the background of Chiyoko's flashback scenes

Continuing from my recent review of Paprika here, Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyuu) is another Satoshi Kon-directed vehicle that features great production values and quality animation. Of course, you can't really expect anything less than that from a work by both Kon and the famed Studio Madhouse.

Millennium Actress is the story of Chiyoko, a famous actress, whose life story is made the subject of a documentary by a director, Tachibana. It seems that the studio that once produced the films that Chiyoko starred in is closing down and the building is currently being demolished. The effect is a blatant symbolism of Chiyoko's life and career, but the story doesn't end there.

Tachibana, in addition to being a fan of Chiyoko, used to work for the studio where Chiyoko was the star actress. A staff gave him a key that Chiyoko treasured and lost a long time ago, so now he wants to return the key to its real owner as well as record her life story on reel, and here is where it gets interesting.

A fateful meeting that will shape Chiyoko's life

Millennium Actress employs a unique narrative style that both allows the film to tell Chiyoko's fascinating life story as well as give the audiences an intimate look at the real person behind the career. Satoshi Kon "breaks the fourth wall," so to speak, where the fourth wall is that line that divides the audience from the illusion that film creates, allowing them to get a more personal feel for the story by experiencing it for themselves in the person of Tachibana and his cameraman. Not only that, because Chiyoko's career spans two eras of Japan's history -- World War II and the aftermath -- and her films cover the feudal period to a futuristic space age, it allows for great visuals.

In the beginning, when Chiyoko is still a teenager, she helps a wounded fugitive hide from government officers and develops feelings for him. However, the fugitive soon leaves his hiding place, leaving only a key, which Chiyoko treasures for most of her life until it is lost to be restored to her by Tachibana later on. In the hopes of finding her lost love, Chiyoko decides to become an actress so she can go to different places where her love might be. This "search" becomes the theme of Chiyoko's entire life as well as the film's.

A scene from one of Chiyoko's movies

In addition to metafiction narrative style, Millennium Actress also employs interlacing, where one scene from an event in a movie is continued in a different scene in a different movie, often without warning. These sudden jumps between periods and eras makes for a fast pacing, fitting for a movie that capitalizes on "chasing" scenes. As what Chiyoko herself says at the end of the film: that it is the chase that she loves the most.

Millennium Actress won several awards for Kon, including the Grand Prize in the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival, tying with Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. It is one of the more interesting works by Satoshi Kon, less dark than Perfect Blue and yet drawing inspiration from the same source -- identity and human perception. It is a beautiful film because of its unique narrative style and astounding visuals. It is a great story, not about love, but about the hope of finding it some time somewhere, transcending even time.

Official Site
Wikipedia Article
More "Millennium Actress" Screencaps
Watch "Millennium Actress" Trailer
"Millennium Actress" DVD @ Yes Asia
"Millennium Actress" DVD @ Amazon
Satoshi Kon DVDs @ Play-Asia
"Millennium Actress" DVD @ RightStuf