From the makers of Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers comes Millennium Actress, the story of an ageing actress telling her life story for a TV interviewer and his cameraman as the latter two imagine everything she went through by transporting themselves into her stories.
It's a cute idea in that it links the present with the past without having to resort to constant flashback and forths or one long drawn-out voice-over. This is a much more slow-burning film than Satoshi Kon's aforementioned works, which makes sense when you realise it's essentially a melodrama. Similarly to how Perfect Blue merged real life with the world of film, Chiyoko's story dips into her various acting jobs without transition so every so often we end up with her on the Moon, in medieval times or surrounded by geishas in the middle of a certain scene before we realise we've followed her into that world. The interviewer and his camera guy act as both comic relief and as a link to the present, although one of them turns out to have been much more important to the overarching plot than we originally thought. Millennium Actress is an expectedly visually beautiful film with the usual flair and creativity we've come to expect from Kon. The relatively light-hearted first half-hour leads us to an unexpectedly tragic conclusion and, by the end, we feel like we've followed a love story which spanned hundreds of years when really it was much less than that, even if it may have felt like hundreds of years for the characters.
The character of Chiyoko is more interesting than she may seem on the surface. She may just be a young girl who fell in love, got into movies and eventually married but it's her inner fears and what her desperate love for one man did to her that makes her fascinating as a character. Her fear of ageing is represented through an old cackling witch which appears in her memories every so often and scares the crap out of her. The more you think about Millennium Actress, the more depressing it becomes. This is the story of a woman whose whole life was dedicated to one single deceptive goal and, although she achieved loads and is thankful for the wild rollercoaster ride her life was, you can't help but really feel for her at the end. Depressing tear-jerking theme aside, the film also has its share of funny and very entertaining moments. The fantastic score is also worthy of mention since it not only conveys the grand aspect of Chiyoko's dramatic quest but the human and tragic aspect of it as well, not to mention that it captures the tones of each movie-with-the-movie perfectly. It's another mini masterpiece by Satoshi Kon which actually fits really well between something really dark like Perfect Blue and something much lighter like Tokyo Godfathers.
Further proof that the director's untimely death was a terrible loss for anime and film in general, Millennium Actress is one of the best cinematic melodramas out there and is certainly worth a watch. It's a sad flick, for sure, but not one without hope or a sense of humour. Definitely one of the late filmmaker's most human and most affecting works.