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Millennium Actress

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9 reviews: 4.22/5

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Arno Ching-wan 5
Astec 5
Elise 4.5
Ghost Dog 3.75
jeffy 3.5
Ordell Robbie 4.5 A Magnificent Tribute to the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema
Sonatine 3.75
Tenebres83 4
Xavier Chanoine 4
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A Magnificent Tribute to the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema

PLOT:Genya Tachibana is a director being the boss of a little production firm. One day he's contacted by legendary movie company Gin Ei Studios asking him to make a documentary about the studios in order to celebrate their 70th birthday. He's choosing Chiyoko Fujiwara as the subject of the documentary...

After his excellent thriller Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon confirms his talent with this tribute to what Japan's film industry used to be. Alongside with the huge number of citations of japanese movie classics, we can point out the originality of the narrative structure: Kon adds to elements borrowed from Citizen Kane (the flash back structure, the key being a Rosebud for Fujiwara Chiyoko) the idea that Tachibana Genya and his assistant project themselves inside Chiyoko's memories, playing funny roles as reporters (the charcters from the past even criticize them, our reporters comment the action while filming) or even in Genya's case to imagine himself as an actor in Chiyoko's movies and giving himself the role of the lady's savior. That way, Kon is showing us how Genya is trying to recreate the world of the studios, a world which fascinated him, a world in which he played an key but not visible role. We see him wearing during the interview Mifune's helmet in Throne of Blood while Chiyoko's feelings during the shooting surface again in her heart. SPOILER But the other force of the movie is to tell Chiyoko's career as an actress and her quest of a painter she met once but didn't see again because of the war as the same story: she's gonna be seduced by a man comparing the director's work with the one of the painter, through the characters she plays she's progressing in her quest for the painter, real life and cinema mix into the narration at the point where we can't distinguish them. And this narrative choice illustrates a certain idea of acting: find in what you've lived the emotions that can help you play a role. END OF SPOILER

We are here in the case in which a character's living possesses a cinema-like dimension: Chiyoko's quest for the man missing in her life (abandonning the shooting of a movie) reminds us of the sacrifices of japanese melodramas' heroines who are ready to drop everything in order to live their impossible loves because of their stubborness and determination. Her quick withdrawal from the cinema world reminds us of what most great sex symbols of Hollywood in the thirties -another golden age of star system- did and in the case of Japan of Hara Setsuko who worked like Chiyoko during the golden age of Japanese cinema -the fifties, peak of Chiyoko's career as an actress- and whose retreat after a serie of movies being landmarks in cinema history made her a myth for Japanese people. Since we are talking about this, there's in the movie lots of tributes to the movies made in the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, this great period in which the studio system produced cinematographically innovative and financially successfull movies: we see a monster coming from a kaiju eiga, Ozu-like interior scenes, a remake of Throne of Blood in which the arrows of the famous final scene of Kurosawa's movie almost kill a cameraman. But despite being maniac in the recreation of an era -we see some TOHO-like posters- the movie doesn't look like a serie of citations thanks to their perfect narrative integration in the movie, SPOILER the obstacles Chiyoko had to fight on a movie screen -the dinosaur, the army putting a palace into fire, the ronins, the ninja-woman- echoing the ones she had to fight in real life -a mother who didn't want her to work as an actress, people working with her being jealous oh her talent-. END OF SPOILER An example of this reinterpretation of the citation is the opening scene in which a traditional japanese element (the princess coming back to the moon after having grown on earth) is transposed in a 2001-like universe. As a matter of fact, the movie could be seen as a reinterpretation of Japan's history through cinematographical fiction: the real and fictional stories in the movie take us back to feodality and the era of the samurais, the phenomenon of mercenary samurais which followed, 1923's earthquake, the second World War, its consequences and the following economical boom. Moreover, the movie points out through Genya's character the importance in the studios' system of all the technicians who will never get the actors' and directors' glory but whose work might contribute to great artistic achievements and who can play the role of being the memory of cinema -obvious here-.

To conclude, Millenium Actress is a major movie about the schock created by japanese cinema among movie buffs, a nostalgic hymn to a now dead movie industry -the fifties and their studio system- and the tear-jerking story of a woman's quest. Moreover, it's pointing out the link between japanimation and the Golden Age of japanese cinema: in both cases money is used to create accessible and ambitious cinema. Only bad thing here: the music (heavy synthetizers on a jidaigeki-like scene for instance). Anyway, Millenium Actress confirms Satoshi Kon as a brilliant director.

10 September 2003
by Ordell Robbie

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