animefringe october 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Millenium Actress - The Bonds that Link Actors to Their Fans

The only information I had prior to seeing Millennium Actress Chiyoko during the Japanese Festival held annually at the St. Louis Botanical Garden was that "it was made by the same guy that made Perfect Blue." That "guy," by the way, is Satoshi Kon.

Okay. Now, from that, I'm not sure what I was supposed to expect. Did that mean the animation quality would be as good as his previous film? Or maybe it was destined to have the same enjoyably disorienting blend of reality and delusions. Really, though, neither assumption can really tell you anything about the film, so I tried to clear my mind of conjectures, sit back, and enjoy the movie.

And enjoy it I did. In fact, aside from technical glitches (unrelated to the film and entirely due to the way it was presented), the rest of the crowd seemed to like it, too. Frequent outbursts of laughter accompanied the screening at appropriate times, and more somber moments had everyone biting back tears. Overall, it was a great audience reacting well to a great movie.

Here you go - the first and last bit of comparison to Perfect Blue. Millennium Actress does have the same sort of mix of fantasy (in the form of flashback sequences that draw other characters into them) and reality. However, where the former movie was tension-filled with a strong undercurrent of paranoia, this newer film conveys a more pure, excited feeling.

This is the story of Chiyoko Fujiwara, one of Japan's most beloved movie stars of the past fifty years. Thirty years after her sudden departure from the film industry, a long-time admirer of Chiyoko's finally gets permission to interview her for a documentary he's filming. It's the opportunity of would-be filmographer Genya Tachibana's lifetime, and it's not one he'd miss for the world.

As the detailed storyline is revealed to the viewers, we discover that Tachibana's dedication to Chiyoko far surpasses the average fan's love of his or her favorite media personality.

Altogether, it's one of the most touching, most brilliantly executed films I've ever seen: incredibly original and backed with technical and artistic might, this is a story many people will relate to.

Lately, I've been studying the effects actors and actresses have on their viewers. In particular, I'm intrigued by the average person's perception of his or her relationship with a celebrity. For example, if I were to encounter, say, Robin Williams on the street, then I'd have a preconceived notion of how he'd likely behave based upon what I've seen him in. In a way, I'd feel almost as if I knew him, and I might be a little hurt if he didn't treat me as if he knew me.

Now, logically, I realize this is completely wrong. I don't know him. However, I'm familiar with his characters, and thus I project that familiarity onto him.

We can fall in love with Nicole Kidman or Ewan MacGregor in Moulin Rouge. We can hate the various villians Gary Oldman portrays. We can feel sorrow when a character we care about dies.

Millenium Actress explores those feelings of connection a diehard fan will have with his or her idol, and extends those feelings a bit into reality for a brief period of time.

I'm not sure how Dreamworks will handle the domestic release of the film. Recently, I talked to a couple of Dreamworks representatives at a tiny comic book convention in Illinois, and right alongside their promotional material for Sharkslayer and Shrek 2 was a stack of Millennium Actress flyers. Merely their presence at a low-key event suggests that they might actually put some effort into properly promoting this fine film.

Thus, allow me to do my part. Anyone who's ever felt a connection to a character in a film, anyone who feels as if he or she knows a celebrity as well as a best friend, anyone with a love of cinema would do well to support this film in theatres, if possible. Not only might it advance the presence of anime in theatres, it's a darn good movie, as well.