“The you in you isn’t the you you think is in you.” –Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon was known for many things, subjective reality, mentally broken characters, and fluid visuals. He loved using skewed perspectives and messing with the continuity, Kon loved making his audience just as confused as his characters. Kon was also known for making a darn good movie, Millennium Actress, is the perfect example.
Review of Millennium Actress by Satoshi Kon
Millennium Actress is literally the best movie I have ever seen, well… in my opinion. The movie is drenched is subliminal meaning, thematic depth, and emotion. Having seen the movie 20+ times, I’d like to think that I’m pretty knowledgeable about this subject. And yet, when watching it for this review I still discovered new things. There is so much to cover for this movie that I was originally planning to write a 8,000 word article, minimum. I wanted to cover everything this movie has to offer. But that was a little too ambitious, so instead we’ll cover the meta-story and three major themes within the movie. But be warned, I might plan an entire series dedicated just to this movie.
The synopsis of Millennium Actress is as follows: “Two men interview an elderly woman about her extensive film career.” (Source) This might not seem like much, because it isn’t. Millennium Actress’s story far exceeds the boundaries of just a plot, Millennium Actress’s true genius lies in the meta-story.
Warning: The rest of this article contains SPOILERS
Yes, Millennium Actress’s bare plot is a little more involved that what was described above, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the surface plot isn’t important in Millennium Actress, it’s what lies underneath. The meta-story, which contains all themes, motifs, and symbolic meanings, is the true heart of the story. There is a lot to cover, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was planning on writing such a long article, it would be easy, this movie is flooded with… with… genius. There are tons I could cover, like the themes of cinema, fanboys, the hag’s place in the story, the rivalry between Chiyoko and Ako, running, and earthquakes, just to name a few. But I’ve limited myself to three major themes, and I’d like to go over them.
The first is Chiyoko’s Memories, this is the most important because it’s the lens through which the nearly the entire movie is viewed. As anyone who’s watched more than thirty minutes knows, Millennium Actress is not a literal movie. You cannot watch this movie and expect everything to make sense. One of my friends didn’t like Millennium Actress because “She did all those movies but they all had the same plot. It doesn’t make sense.”
But you can’t watch the movie with that mindset and fully enjoy it, unlike a majority of Kon’s other films (namely Magnetic Rose, Perfect Blue, and Paprika), this is not a film you can piece together, it’s not designed like that. Think of Millennium Actress as a grounded art film, The Holy Mountain this is not, it’s much closer to Synecdoche, N.Y in that regard.
However, that doesn’t mean you just have to accept the shifting realities. Millennium Actress gives us a wonder explanation to ties directly into the major theme mentioned both at the beginning of this article and in Magnetic Rose. The majority of Millennium Actress is shown through an individual (or dare I say… subjective) viewpoint. Chiyoko herself says it, “I’ve gotten old and my memory is not what it used to be.” This is further supported by the movie in various scenes (I’d play the clips right now but… you know… this isn’t a video).
Thus everything told by Chiyoko to Genya and Ida is inherently subjective, that’s why all the movies have the same plot, that’s why she’s constantly switching roles and movies. Even the lighting is affected by this, the relevant part is at 2:04, but I suggest watching the entire video.
Moving on to our second we have the final line of the movie, “After all, it’s the chase I really love.” A few people have stated that this line negatively affected their thoughts on the movie. These people take this line to believe that Chiyoko didn’t truly love the painter, but rather just objectified him and the chase. I, however, don’t believe this is fully the case.
The first reason is that Chiyoko didn’t truly know that it was “The chase I really love” until Genya, Ida, and we showed up on her doorstep. As she says in the movie “You’ve helped me unlock this, I feel like a little girl again.” It wasn’t until Chiyoko looks back on her life that she realizes that “It’s the chase I really love.”
The second being what the painter told Chiyoko in the warehouse. “I like this moon the best, because after the full moon everything starts to wane. But with the penultimate moon there is still time, and thus still hope.” In Chiyoko’s journey, as soon as she achieved her goal, finding the painter once more, her life is at it’s full moon, but after that everything starts to wane. But with her goal impossible, her life was always bathed in the light of the penultimate moon, which is the best, according to the painter, “I like this moon the best.”
Finally, I would like the address “The Key to The Most Important Thing There Is.” So, what is the most important thing there is? There are three major interpretations of what “The Most Important Thing There Is” is. Each interpretation is from a specific viewpoint, so all three are correct.
The first it from the perspective of the painter. This would be Creativity. The reason being is that Chiyoko glances at his painting supplies, which are obviously what the key lies to. I am 100% positive that this is what Chiyoko would have guessed “tomorrow” if the painter had not run off. Some would claim the answer is either paint, or art. However, paint is only useful because of how it’s used, because of art. And art is only one of many ways of demonstrating Creativity. Furthermore, the painter was an “anti-government rebel,” taking a stand for free speech, this would further support the Creativity theory.
The second interpretation would be from Chiyoko’s perspective. This would be her entire search. Without the key Chiyoko would have burned out within months. But the key is a constant reminder of the painter and her search. This is seen most evidently when Otaki tries to seduce Chiyoko but her attention is brought to the key, which causes her to run off. Furthermore, after Chiyoko loses the key her passion is lost with it. This is why Chiyoko says she, “feel[s] like a little girl again,” the key brings her the search and the passion for it. This is important because, as discussed above, Chiyoko quite enjoys this search.
Finally, the third interpretation would be our perspective, that of the audience. This would be the entire movie. If not for the key Genya would not have searched so hard for Chiyoko, and Chiyoko would have never told her story. If it wasn’t for the key, we would never have the chance to ‘unlock’ this story. And as someone who adores this film more than my siblings, I am sure grateful we have it.
Technically, the painter claimed it was “The Key to The Most Important Thing There is.” So in a literal sense the first interpretation is the most ‘true’ but as said before Millennium Actress is far more than any literal interpretation.
So, that was my brief analysis of my absolute favorite movie of all time, Millennium Actress. I could talk for hours and hours about how much I love this film and everything I’ve discovered within it. If you’d like to talk to me about it, feel free to comment below, tweet me, anything. I have some notes I took while watching posted on my personal site in case you’d like to see those. But if you want to talk, oh man I would love to, please don’t hesitate.
Back to the actual movie, I feel like it would be impossible to give this movie anything but 100%. This may seem crazy, but if you’d read my Glass Mask Episode one review, then you may know where I’m going with this. This movie has one of the deepest, yet tightest narratives I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it has mistakes too, but it has so much ‘Magic’ to it that I cannot find a single one.
Millennium Actress is basically a perfect movie, and every movie loving fan owes it to themselves to see it at least once.
Kon loved challenging his viewers to make sense of what’s happening, and consider their own perspectives, his movies may seem cynical and pessimistic, but underneath there lies a layer of vain hope. “With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen. Now excuse me, I have to go.” –Satoshi Kon