Millennium Actress Collectors Box (of 1) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, March 23, 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.

The Review!
After hitting a very high note with 1995?s Perfect Blue, there has been much anticipation over this project. But is it what people were expecting or did Satoshi Kon manage to surprise just about everyone?

With this being a Japanese only release, it?s no surprise that only a 5.1 and a 2.0 mix are available here in addition to an audio commentary by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai. We watched the Japanese 5.1 mix and rather enjoyed just how subtly crafted much of it is. While it does have a fair number of big bang for your buck sequences, it?s the much softer and subtler moments that really shine here as we get immersed into the story being told. This is a great mix and really helped build up the overall mood of the film.

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for anamorphic playback, this transfer is simply gorgeous. Like most of the theatrical anime that gets truly known, the animation is done up in as close to a real world style as possible, but combined with the movie magic aspect of the film, colors and vibrancy are all over the map here. And in a good way. Colors are rich and solid, cross coloration is non-existent and there was just one scene where some aliasing became noticeable. This transfer was just such a treat to take in and enjoy.

For the limited edition collectors set, they made a really nice box release for it. Almost splitting in half from the top and bottom, you can pull off the top cover which reveals the keepcases, book and the towel inside a small box. The main box is a deep rich black with some very nice gold etchings around it. The movie keepcase itself has a great image of a young Chiyoko in a kimono while you see the various images of her from her films running in the background behind her. When you sit down with the box and just lay everything out and touch it, it simply exudes quality.

The menu layout is a simple static piece with similar imagery to the front cover. Selections are all in Japanese so navigation was fun until I decided to just set everything on the fly.

There?s an entire second disc of extras that are not subtitled, which I haven?t had a chance to even open yet. In the box itself, it comes with some very nice limited items such as a small hand towel, a book of postcards that basically reproduce all her movie covers and a massive 500 page book containing all of the films storyboards. After getting one of these with the Patlabor WXIII movie, I?ve been fascinated with them ever since and love to just go over the flow of them. This one is just as fun and informative to go through.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Even while knowing that this film has already been licensed for U.S. release by Dreamworks, I did not want to hesitate upon its Japanese release for a few reasons. One being that it will be some time later this year before we get it on home video, if not until 2004. The other being that if an anime is released with subtitles in Japan, odds are I?ll get it. Make it a limited edition box and you?re basically pushing all the right buttons.

But then tell me it?s co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon? Well, hell, let?s overnight it.

The story of Chiyoko Millenial Actress is both simple and complex. The film opens up with the slow moving moments of a science fiction movie, showing a young woman who is going into space because she must. As we watch this and pan out of the film into the real world, we become introduced to Genya Tachibana. Genya?s a bit older than he looks, but he?s also something of a big man in general with his frame and tightly trimmed beard. Alongside the very slim and gangly cameraman of his, the young Ida, Genya looks like a bear of a man. But this man has had a long time fascination with the actress in that movie, Chioyoko Fujiwara.

It?s been some thirty years since she last filmed, and as the studio where she did all her movies is now being torn down, Genya is intent on finally having her story told to the world in a documentary. She?s all but disappeared since then, but he managed to find a way to not only meet her but to get her to talk about her life. With a bit of a struggle, Genya and Ida end up in her secluded little home in the countryside and he?s able to present her with a very small black box. While this woman, now in her 80?s but still very much the vestige of her cinema days, shows no emotion over the revelation of a simple key in the box, it?s arrival in her life has immense consequences.

From here, the film takes on an amazing quality, something I?m not quite sure I?ve ever seen before, especially in such a way as this. With the key in hand, Chiyoko becomes quite willing to talk about her past, from her birth in 1923 to the beginning stages of her acting career and how her mother was dead set against it. We see her stumble across an artist on the run from the law, and watch as this young schoolgirl hides him away and tries to take care of him before he heads off to Manchuria to try and help his friends there. In this young schoolgirls eyes, we see the blossoming of a strange youthful love that will ultimately consume her.

What makes the presentation of Chiyoko?s past so different is that as she tells it, she ends up reliving it all herself, often with most of it playing out from the movies she was in. The key scenes from the films she made over the next twenty five years or so provide the backdrop of her searching for this mysterious love of hers while trying to deal with the day to day realities of life, acting and others who are in love with her. But it?s almost always coming back to her continuing search for the mysterious man. And in an effort to provide some kind of external reference for the various films we travel through, Genya and Ida end up becoming so wrapped up in her storytelling that they see things through the films as well. Amusingly, Ida can?t believe it as it goes along, yet continues filming, while Genya becomes just as wrapped up in it and ends up taking on roles throughout the films, most often as a protector of Chiyoko.

There are real life moments interwoven throughout the tale, such as when she travels by train through Manchuria only to have it then shift to a feudal period in Japan where she takes on the role of a princess. The back and forth layering of the film is so seamless at times that you begin to forget which one is ?reality? and which one is the ?film?. Such craftsmanship is very hard to accomplish in any kind of filmmaking, but Kon and his crew have pulled it off masterfully here. The film manages to go through a variety of films and genres, from feudal to post war and to science fiction, without any problems all while letting you see how she was outside of the films as well.

With it?s 87 minute running time, Millenial Actress is very tightly written but also allows a good number of moments to allow characters to reflect on their situation. These moments also tend to bring characters from the past to the present as they?ve aged and changed, and the quite moments give us a chance to put the pieces together from earlier ?film? moments and realize just what they were saying there and how it affected her life. In a way, it?s very hard to describe it, but playing out visually, it?s just an amazing piece of filmmaking.

Once Chiyoko began to weave her story, I found myself on edge for pretty much the remainder of the film, wanting to see where it would go next and how her chase would play out. This is a movie with a very deep and warm heart to it, something that may leave a profound impact once it?s been fully absorbed. Knowing little about the film going into it, I had some vague fear of Satoshi Kon simply reworking his already wonderfully executed Perfect Blue script into something slightly different, but still trying to hold onto that success. Instead, he?s done something wildly different yet kept the key ingredients that made it work. Millenial Actress is an amazing piece of work and I cannot wait to see it on a big screen someday.

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

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Bandai Visual
MSRP: 12,800
Running time: 87
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Millennium Actress