[box cover]

Millennium Actress

Satori Kon's second film, Millennium Actress (2001), tells the tale of Fujiwara Chiyoko, a girl who seems to live under the shadow of a strange curse. Chiyoko was the most lauded actress in Japan, starring in some of the most important films of the '40s and '50s. And then she disappeared. Part of her legend concerns the mysterious key she wore around her neck, so important to her that she wouldn't allow filming to begin if she wasn't wearing it. Producer (life-long fan, and perhaps more) Tachibana Genya has discovered the key, and in using it to gain access to Chiyoko's secluded mountain hideaway for an interview, he winds up unlocking the secrets of her past. What ensues is a mind-boggling series of events in which the movie moves through a blend of Chiyoko's real life, her films, and her quest to find the man who originally entrusted her with the key and stole her heart in the process. In some cases during the story, it's readily apparent when we're in the film world, as Tachibana and his cameraman find themselves inexplicably in the middle of the action (to which they originally respond with the same sense of befuddlement that's affecting the viewer). Even when we're watching a bit of Chiyoko's past, it seems that perhaps Tachibana has seen it in a film before. At the heart of the mystery is a strange witch, first encountered by Chiyoko as part of a film reminiscent of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957). The (fictional?) witch places a curse on Chiyoko, and it seems to have worked all too well — her search for her lover seemingly repeats itself over the course of her career and beyond. Millennium Actress contains some fairly stunning visuals, mostly the representation of period, since the films Chiyoko star in range from feudal times to the ravaged cityscapes of World War II, and even into the soundstages of a Godzilla movie. Released in Japan in 2001, the movie has garnered praise and awards in its home country, and it's easy to see why DreamWorks would bring it overseas in the wake of the success of 2002's Spirited Away. However, unlike typical theatrical releases of anime titles in North America, Millennium Actress comes without an all-star English dub — although to be bothered by this is tantamount to complaining that the film is unavailable in pan-and-scan. Admittedly, Millennium Actress can be as confusing as it is beautiful to look at. Multiple viewings (and therefore, readings) may be required to fully grasp the intent of Kon's vision. With this and 1999's Perfect Blue, Kon seems well on his way to joining such anime-auteurs as Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) in using animation to make movies that foil the formula Stateside animation often resorts to. DreamWorks presents Millennium Actress in an anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 2.1 and 5.1 audio tracks. Susumu Hirasawa's score is a wonderful accompaniment, but it does sound odd in the more period-driven scenes — until we remember that we're watching a film inside a film, that is. One trailer is included, as well as a very nice "making-of" piece that might just inspire you to watch the film again. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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