Millennium Actress - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: A+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £16.99
  • Running time: 83
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress

By Dani Moure     November 07, 2005
Release Date: September 26, 2005


Millennium Actress
© Manga UK


What They Say
Millennium Actress has the stylistic sophistication of Perfect Blue with the empathy, warmth and truth of Spirited Away. A gorgeous, theatrical animation from the makers of anime classic Perfect Blue and last years' adorable Tokyo Godfathers. Millennium Actress begins as a TV crew track down 70 something screen goddess Chiyoko Fujiwara. Chiyoko begins to tell her life story, at which point she literally steps into the past, dragging the confused crew into her memories - one moment they're discussing dramatic art, the next dodging bullets in the midst of a movie as the boundaries between film, memory, fact and fiction become a breathless blur.

The Review!
Director Satoshi Kon’s second anime feature finally makes its way to the UK, making all his anime properties available locally, and what a movie this one is.

Audio:
With a new dub created for this UK release, I sampled the English language 5.1 mix. From a technical standpoint I noticed no problems at all with dropouts or distortions, and the track was very engrossing with a good sense of direction at key moments. The dub itself was apparently done with some British voice actors, though you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. Despite some fears lying in the back of my head, they’re mostly washed away as the dub is actually very good, with some really strong performances, especially from the woman playing Chiyoko (I’ve no idea who that is as no dub credits are on the disc or packaging). It seems accurate in most places to the original track as well. I spot-checked the other audio tracks and noticed no problems.

Video:
The video itself is very good. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, I noticed no glitches or artifacting during regular playback. There’s a bit of grain at times, but you come to expect that from a film. This one also has the benefit of seemingly being a proper film to PAL conversion (as opposed to the usual NTSC to PAL conversion).

The subtitles are white in a nice, clear font, though they aren’t without issue. Essentially, the subtitles on the disc aren’t exactly a literal translation of the Japanese language track. Instead, they seem to be dubtitles, coming from the ADR script or an earlier version of it. They’re not perfectly timed, and just to rub things in a bit more the subtitles also have some cues in them, such as “claps hands”. It’s quite frustrating in the end as it mars what is otherwise a very good disc.

Packaging:
The cover presents an image of Chiyoko in her younger days in a pose, with the backdrop featuring a mixture of images showing stills from the film over different stages of time. The show’s logo and a quote are on the cover as well. The back cover presents the usual movie description and some screenshots, while there’s a nice technical grid from Manga listing the disc’s features. The inside cover has some screenshots from the film, and the insert folds out into a nice mini-poster.

Menu:
I really like the menu system for this disc as it fits the movie’s tone really well. The main menu features the show’s logo and selections on a red, sunset backdrop, with some scenes from the movie playing in a frame as the theme music plays. Sub-menus all feature a different piece of music and match the look of the main menu. There are also transitions between each menu, which are short but really well done. It’s just generally a classy menu system.

Extras:
The main extra here is the making of featurette, which includes interviews with Satoshi Kon and some of the other filmmakers. It’s particularly interesting to hear from Kon as to exactly what he wanted the film to be seen as. The other extra is just the minute long US trailer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Despite being released after Tokyo Godfathers and Paranoia Agent here in the UK, Millennium Actress is actually Director Satoshi Kon’s second anime feature, the follow-up to the sublime Perfect Blue. Originally released in the US by Dreamworks subtitled only, it’s taken a bit longer for this film to be picked up here, but Manga stepped up to the job and provided an original dub to boot, the first of its kind in a very long time.

The film itself is quite simply outstanding. As I watched it, having already seen it previously, the magic of the first viewing was recaptured all over again and I suddenly remember why it stayed with me so long after my original viewing. From the presentation of the story, to the characters, right down to the story itself, everything about Millennium Actress is masterfully crafted and blends into one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time.

Chiyoko Fujiwara was once the most popular star for Ginei Studios. Two men, Genya Tachibana and Kyoji Ida, get together when the studio is destroyed and create a documentary about the life of the actress who sustained it through much of its 70 years. They visit Chiyoko at her home to film an interview with her, as she’s now over 70 years old herself. When they get to her home, Genya gives her back a key she had lost a long time ago, something that she treasured deeply. She then begins to tell the story of her career.

On the way home one snowy day, Chiyoko bumps into a man carrying something under his arm. He apologises and quickly runs and hides, when police come round the corner chasing him. She spots some blood on the floor in the snow, and sends the policemen the wrong way. Chiyoko spends some time with the man, who turns out to be an artist, and takes care of him in secret for a while. After he leaves to return home, she finds a key lying near where he stayed. She picks it up and chases after him, but he’s long gone.

Thus begins her search for the man with the painting. Over the next several years Chiyoko becomes one of the most popular and well-known actresses around, working all through the wars, but she never lets go of her memories of the man who she thinks of as her first love, and she is always longing to find him.

While the story is a simple tale of one woman falling in love with a man who she was destined to never see again, and learning how hard it would be to finally let go of her memories, it’s told in a slightly unusual way. As we follow Chiyoko over the years, the story unravels through the parts she plays in her movies. The dialogue is done in such a way that it reflects the various stages of her story as she grows up and matures, still longing for the man she only saw for a short time, and it also involves Genya and Kyoji who are both filming the entire thing. In fact, Genya actually ends up far more involved than you would initially expect as he has ties to Chiyoko’s past.

Rather than being a gimmick that’s used as the main selling point though, the style provides a striking visual backdrop for what is actually a very personal story. It really helps draw you in to Chiyoko’s history and understand how strong her feelings were, only it does it through her acting and stories rather than being a totally linear and traditional narrative.

The films are all different, ranging from a movie set in space to one set in warring times, and yet all have similar themes and naturally fit with Chiyoko’s story. Each provides a colourful backdrop that matches the mood of that point in her life, and that’s reflected not just through the colours and tones of the artwork, but also through the other characters and events that happen around her.

As a character, Chiyoko is a wonderful focal point, as Satoshi Kon presents several different sides to her. From her strengths to her weaknesses we see her through her highs right down to her lowest point. As a result, we get to know her so intimately that it becomes so easy to relate to her story on a personal level, and it’d be hard not to be moved and find yourself with some emotional attachment as the film draws on to its conclusion, particularly after some of the final revelations.

It’s hard to articulate exactly what makes Millennium Actress just so good. The story is simple but the style of narrative is quite unique, and has a powerful impact on the main character, as well as being a way to draw the viewer fully in to Chiyoko’s story. There’s just a magical essence to it all, and after both my viewings I’ve been left with a sense of awe and the tale has stuck in my mind long after I watched it. The simple fact that I found the film just as amazing second time around is probably the highest recommendation I could give.

In Summary:
Satoshi Kon strikes gold with yet another masterpiece of animation. Visually stunning and meticulously crafted, the story of Chiyoko and her quest to find the man she fell in love with is one that will stick with you long after your initial viewing, and part of its charm lies in how simple and easy to relate to it is. While there are a couple of hitches in Manga’s production of the disc, they should be applauded for acquiring the movie and funding a brand new dub for it. There’s really nothing more to say, aside from “Go buy this movie now”. It gets my highest recommendation and reminds me why Satoshi Kon is one of my favourite anime directors.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Making Of Featurette,US Trailer

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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