In many attempts, a TV reporter and cameraman managed to come to Chiyoko Fujiwara’s house to schedule an interview. Chiyoko is a famous actress, and the reporter tries to interview her heritage and work. Chiyoko had retired 30 years earlier, leading a reclusive life, turning down new roles and other offers from journalists despite her having starred in many notable features to play a major role in building Ginei Studios’ reputation.
In such a way, it emphasizes the tremendous opportunity the reporter has now. The reporter opens the interview by giving her the key when Chiyoko welcomes the reporter to her house. She believes that the key was lost during the shooting of the film. For Chiyoko, the memory and the key trigger items lay the foundation for her to start her story. In the first sequence, the film sets the story during Chiyoko’s childhood in the Sino-Japanese War.
At the time, she helps a dissident trying to escape the police. As the days pass, the political activists are ready to go. However, it was not without saying goodbye to his savior. He tells her about the importance of the key that Chiyoko brought. The key will open the most important thing. The authorities know the location of the eventual dissident. However, the man runs away again, leaving her key as the only memory Chiyoko has of him.
From such a point, the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred. The reporter and cameraman accompany Chiyoko on her search to Manchuria. She hopes to find the strange man and the answer to the importance of the key. She found her way to act first. The project allowed her to star in a feature set at the set, despite the quest never being successful. Chiyoko’s dream of becoming an actress comes true.
She always believed that the man she once survived would see her on the big screen with her fame.
Actions, motives, and reality never limit Chiyoko. In the first place, the audience will wonder why Chiyoko keeps looking for answers to the key and the strange man. However, with all its strength to the absurdity of Satoshi Kon’s will, love’s essence is represented in such things. At such a moment, some audiences will also consider her character unattractive.
There are no tropes of a tragic romance queen or any other empty vessel of a woman who is only there for the man. However, all doubts will be gracefully cleared away by Kon. Gender complaints from superficial characterizations never spoil the film. Therefore, the film wants to achieve what Chiyoko finally becomes and shows it to the audience. It is far greater than the reduction of the film to a story about shallow love.
In addition, Kon’s films were never about complex characterization. However, he uses very simple characters to tell a big story with a deep theme. In a marriage of substance and style, style never denies substance. The audience can find a subtle familiarity in its romance, which is obscure but does not illuminate such ambiguity. Besides, Kon beautifies with its innocence.
It is interesting because the complete understanding of the protagonist and the events that follow him always determine the title’s theme: actress, millennium, history, and autobiography. Of course, Chiyoko’s love served as the driving point. However, that is not the focus of the entire film. Therefore, Kon painted many pictures. With each progressive frame, the romance falls back to the fringes with more surrealism.
It is more opaque and more ubiquitous when it takes over the flow. With time, Kon reveals to the audience the ephemeral nature of love. The landscape of society in the film is always disappearing but changing. The dichotomy between reality and fantasy plays an important role in introducing the evolution of cultural trends. Cinematic progressivism brings everything together in one place.
It stretches through many films, with the protagonist ostensibly guiding not only the reporter and cameraman but the audience.
A Companion to Perfect Blue
Millennium Actress could be a companion to Kon’s feature titled Perfect Blue. In many ways, both films are always related to the phenomenon of stars. However, the contrasting angles are very different. In Perfect Blue, Kon emphasizes an idea of depression and obsession that audiences and scholars can trace back to the concept. On the other hand, Millennium Actress regards stars as an accumulation of longings, hopes, and dreams. It is an idealized version of personal history. It is even more so about a nation that only filmmakers’ minds can conjure up.
The character Chiyoko has similarities to Mima Kirigoe from Perfect Blue apart from the overall theme and color scheme. The two characters’ status as stars makes both of them seamless yet crosses over to the different layers of place and time. In addition, it takes another person along with both characters, as the audience can see with the reporter and cameraman. Both characters become part of Chiyoko’s story about her life. Various roles and stories become a representation on another level.
In addition, the audience experiences the same sensation when the protagonist is completely immersed in the screen’s fantasy. Throughout his career, Kon is always looking for that special relationship. The metaphor for the experience of seeing another world that bends place and time resembles the exploration of the medium of fantasy and surrealism. In its form, it is at its most extreme. While Perfect Blue explores the darkness of fame, Millennium Actress becomes a love letter.
The letter was about filmmaking, various developments in the industry, and Japanese popular culture. While the story’s beginning shows the grim scene of the studio demolition, it evokes the idea of a shattered illusion with the plethora of props and costumes that the ground spreads. Chiyoko’s status as a star is countless. She rebuilds dreams and illusions in all her glory. During the story, the audience faces various stages of the evolution of Japanese films. Various references to iconic moments in Kon’s film history are featured in the film.
People can notice how Kon includes references to Godzilla or various films from the Japanese New Wave and Kurosawa. At the same time, the reference becomes a reflection of historical reality. With Chiyoko starring in a sci-fi feature, it explores and plays into where the stars are.
The Interpretation of Irrationality
At the onset, Kon presents a very imaginative work. The audience can see the work from various perspectives. However, what the audience sees from one angle becomes the basis of perfection for a story that plays out a fantasy as in reality. The story of human desire, the story of irrationality, and the story of the threshold become a trigger for why most of Kon’s works are very hyperrealistic. Chiyoko did not just fall through many roles.
Instead, she combines her desires to find love. Her passion becomes ingrained, rooted in every role she plays. However, the puzzling success she had never satisfied her. Sensation acts as a pursuit in pursuit of an answer. It never stops the protagonist and serves as the core of the story in the film. The canvas on which Kon paints is of epic proportions. While many people debate the homogeneity of appeal to Japanese audiences, the film, regardless of which, is stifling.
The historical contextualization and the dynamics between characters are reminiscent of the dynamics of Japanese romanticization. The overall sentiment and feel of the film are deeply rooted in the iconography of Japanese culture. However, for non-Japanese audiences, the film expresses an artist’s passion. It is a great tribute to a variety of artists to sympathetic characters in works of fiction.
In many works of fiction, universalism transcends the scope of a single setting, especially in film. Thus, it weakens a claim to a debate about homogeneous attractiveness.
- Linnarz, R. (2021). Anime Review: Millennium Actress (2001) by Satoshi Kon. Asian Movie Pulse.
- Ortabasi, M. (2007). Indexing the past: Visual language and translatability in Kon Satoshi’s Millennium Actress. Perspectives, 14(4), 278-291.
- Villot, J. M. (2014). Chasing the Millennium Actress. Science Fiction Film and Television, 7(3), 343-364.