Millennium Actress Collection Box (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, March 07, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2003
What They Say
Co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon, the genius behind 1997's highly acclaimed Perfect Blue, comes another outstanding anime film. It's a thrilling and imaginative story about an actress who receives a key that unlocks wondrous secrets within and beyond her memories... Kon's co-scriptor Sadayuki Murai was also responsible for Perfect Blue, and so was the production outfit, Studio Madhouse.
When I first saw this film at the Australian Japanime 02 Film Festival, I didn't really know what to expect. I had heard that the producers had asked Satoshi Kon to make a similar film to his debut "Perfect Blue". I was half expecting a thriller of some kind that involved an actress. What I discovered was that even though "Millennium Actress" has similar themes and subject manner, Kon surprisingly takes this film in the opposite direction.
I only have a basic stereo set up, but both the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks sounded good. The tracks didn?t seem too dynamic, but the film isn?t really an action movie, so I suppose there was no need to make it too dramatic. There were no audio drop outs or distortions in either tracks.
The video is anamorphic widescreen, and is an excellent transfer. There?s no dirt or dust visible on the print. It?s got that nice ?film-like? look to it without looking soft at all. I think this film was mostly done using analogue techniques with few digital effects or digital painting. The film has a natural look and doesn?t have that harsh computer coloured look which a lot of modern anime films that are transferred from computers to DVD tend to have. The English subtitles are the same as the 35mm subtitled print that has been touring film festivals, except the end song has been subtitled. Typical for an English subbed Bandai disc, the subs are white, clear and very readable. The subtitles are for the film only. The extras are not subbed.
The DVDs inside the box come in standard Amaray keepcases. The first disc has a lovely picture of the different film versions of Chiyoko on it. It?s the same cover as the standard DVD. On the back we have the synopsis of the film, various stills, and the usual information box containing the disc specifications. The second disc (The ?Making Of?) is also in an Amaray, and is mostly white with the top third of the slick being covered in promotional artwork.
The box that holds the two discs, storyboard book, towel and postcard book together is quite unusual. It?s a simple two piece box that holds everything together snugly. At first seems to be an ordinary black box with small gold line drawings on it until you actually touch it. The surface is heat sensitive and reveals a montage illustration of all the Chiyoko's in the film (illustrated by Sataoshi Kon). It's a really unusual style of packaging. Only problem is you have to hold the box for a while and heat it up to see the whole illustration, and when it cools down it turns to black again. Such beautiful artwork shouldn't be hidden. Luckily the Postcard Book and Storyboard Book covers have the same illustrations on them. The box itself has a red paper obi strip around it with the film?s title on it.
The menus are more animated than the usual R2 menus. Most R2?s have static menus with no sound, but this seems to be changing. Most sub-menus have static artwork by Sataoshi Kon in the background. Due to the simplicity of the menus, access times are fast and everything is laid out simply and plainly.
There?s quite a lot here. First up we have the audio commentary for the film by Satoshi Kon (Director and Screenplay) and Sadayuki Murai (Screenplay). My Japanese is virtually non existent, so I didn?t listen to the whole thing. The movie disc also has the teaser trailer and full theatrical trailer, as well as two TV spots. The first disc also contains an 8 page Explanation Booklet, which has a Satoshi Kon filmography, an explanation of the film story, and an introduction the characters. Disc two is a 42 minute ?Making Of? featurette that documents the film from conception to completion. There are a lot of cast and crew interviews including interviews with all three actresses that played Chiyoko. Of note in this documentary is the video reference footage Kon took of film studio props, and a poor actress running around, so the animators had a reference on how to animate Chiyoko running. This disc has no menu, and one it reaches the end it starts again.
One of the weirdest items is the hand towel. It comes folded in a small thin box in the same style as the DVD box. It has the same picture as the ?Millennium Actress Special Edition? artbook cover, except is mostly a blue monochrome print on a white towel. It?s fairly thin low quality and it?s more like a tea towel really. The Storyboards Book has the complete storyboards with some commentary a various stages. I was surprised at how detailed they were. The Postcards Book has postcards for every poster for all of Chiyoko?s films. There are 17 in total. They look a lot like the film posters of the time. You can definitely see where the 1950?s posters end and the 1960?s start. A nice little extra to have.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Genya Tachibana, a small time movie producer and his cameraman Kyoji Ida, are asked by Studio Ginei to make a film to celebrate it's 70th anniversary. Genya decides to focus the documentary on the studio's former film star, Chiyoko Fujiwara, whom he is a huge fan of. She was a big star in her heyday, but hasn't worked since the 1970's, and now lives far away from the public eye.
Chiyoko has done any interviews for 30 years, but agrees to recount her life story to Genya and Kyoji. She recalls the time when she was a young woman in school in the 1930's. She meets a young male artist who is running from the authorities and she decides to hide him safely away from them. She falls in love with him, but without telling her he leaves the country and heads for Manchuria. She vows find him, and accepts a role in a propaganda movie being filmed in Manchuria. Her film career takes off and she appears quite a number of films, she develops a rivalry with an older actress named Eiko Shimao, and continues to chase after the young artist who left behind a mysterious key. Perhaps this key will be able to unlock her dreams.
This is quite an amazing film that has many layers covering a simple plot. As her life progresses and she chases after the artist, the films she stared in closely resemble her life, and the two blur together (much like Mima's life in "Perfect Blue"). Also as she discuses her life and films for the camera, Genya and Kyoji end up in her memories, filming and even interacting with the people in them. Unlike "Perfect Blue" this time hoping and the blurring of reality and fiction isn't makes sense and isn't confusing at all. Kon has tied in real events so you know what period of Chiyoko's life you're watching. His directional style and editing techniques used in "Perfect Blue" are very apparent in this film. Even designs and colour themes used through out the film have the same look.
The films Chiyoko star in are mostly based upon famous films from the golden age of Japanese cinema including the "Truck Yaro" films, "Godzilla" and the action films of Shintaro Katsu (the star of the "Zatoichi" series of films). A key scene from Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" plays an important role in the story, and even "2001: A Space Odyssey" makes an appearance. Kon obviously knows a great deal about the history of cinema, in particular Japanese cinema. Half the fun of this film is spotting all the references to other films. Chiyoko's life is almost a metaphor for the birth, death, and rebirth of the Japanese film industry. The film itself carries on a Japanese cinematic tradition of films with central themes about women.
One thing I noticed which was in stark contrast to "Perfect Blue" is how Otaku are treated in this film. It is quite obvious that Genya Tachibana is totally obsessed with Chiyoko, but he isn't demonized like the evil Uchida in "Perfect Blue". Genya is portrayed as friendly and somewhat harmless man, and provides the film with a lot of comic relief. In fact you could say the whole film is a complete opposite to "Perfect Blue". "Millennium Actress" depicts a very positive and romantic story about an actress's life, while "Perfect Blue" was a gory and bloody depiction of the seedy side of the entertainment industry. It's odd that two films that both portray the entertainment industry in such opposing ways were directed by the same man.
"Millennium Actress" is an incredibly uplifting and positive film about cinema and a woman's life. Satoshi Kon has yet again created a brilliant piece of cinema that stretches the boundaries of anime can be. I truly wish there were more films like this one. Kon is certainly a director to watch. Recommended for fans of cinema and those who want something different from the usual standard anime fare.
Japanese Language (Dolby Digital 5.1),Japanese Language (Dolby Digital 2.0),Audio Commentary by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai,English Subtitles,Japanese Subtitles,Making of featurette,Teaser/ Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots,Explanation Booklet (8 pages),Storyboards Book (494 pages),Hand Towel,Postcards Book,Heat Sensitive Artbox
Toshiba SD-2019Y DVD Player (PAL/NTSC, Region Free), 60cm Panasonic TC-59R62 TV set (PAL/NTSC)
Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Bandai Visual
Running time: 87
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Millennium Actress