Satoshi Kon’s sophomore feature Millennium Actress is having a special re-release in theatres this year. This is part of a new effort to renew his works, such as the release of his first film, Perfect Blue, on blu-ray earlier this year. These special screenings, hosted by Fathom Events, feature one screening of the Japanese audio and English sub and another screening with the all new English dub. The film has been newly restored and will hopefully receive a blu-ray release as well.
I am a huge fan of Kon’s work, and was able to attend the English sub screening this week. The theatre was packed. People clapped when Satoshi Kon’s name appeared in the opening credits. Everyone laughed, cried, and applauded as the film unfolded. It was amazing to experience one of his films in a theatre setting, and I never thought I would get the chance to see it happen. The audience’s love of the movie warmed my heart as well. Even though Kon is no longer with us, his legacy remains intact.
Let’s talk about the film itself, what makes it unique and why a theatre release is so important to me.
The back of the box summary is that Millennium Actress is about Genya Tachibana, a documentary filmmaker, and his cameraman Kyoji Ida, who interview retired actress Chiyoko Fujiwara about her life and illustrious career in Japanese cinema. However, in typical Satoshi Kon fashion, the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur. Chiyoko’s life is shown throughout her various roles in her career, to the point where the plot of her fictional films and her real life become intertwined. As Chiyoko tells her story, the two filmmakers appear in her memories, sometimes as characters in her film, other times as confused bystanders.
In her youth, around the time she was scouted by a director, Chiyoko shields an artist and anti-war activist from the police. He wears a key around his neck, telling her that it opens “the most important thing in the world”. When Chiyoko returns from school the next day, she finds the police have swarmed her house and the man is gone. She finds his beloved key in the snow, and thus starts her lifelong quest to reunite the key with the man she loves.
This film contains some of Kon’s most memorable match cuts and scene transitions. The editing flows together beautifully, weaving together Chiyoko’s life and her filmography into a gorgeous tapestry. Throughout the film, there is so much love: Chiyoko’s love for the artist, Genya’s love for Chiyoko, and their shared love of movies. From ninja flick to historical Japanese drama to sci-fi epic, Chiyoko chases her man through it all, with Genya cheering her on and Kyoji making quips as he films the who bizarre journey.
It feels strange for a director to make a film about filmmaking so early in his career, but rather than the artistic pain in films about film such as 8½ and Adaptation, Kon made a film about the pure love of film. That’s why the films theatrical release is so important: a film about the love of movies deserves to be seen on the big screen.
Millennium Actress is a joyous celebration of love, even giving it’s due to how painful love can be. It’s about how love and art shape the heart of one woman. You never see the face of Chiyoko’s beloved, yet you still cheer her on as she chases ever after him. Visually, it’s Kon at his absolute best. Each frame works overtime to create a wholly unique way of telling this story. A scene could present itself as biographical, only to be revealed as a scene in one of Chiyoko’s movies. Her life and her art blend together seamlessly, to the point where it doesn’t matter what’s really happening and what isn’t: because it’s all real. Because life and love and art and pain are all the same thing anyway.
The English dub screening of Millennium Actress is on Monday, August 19th. Check the Fathom Events website to find tickets in your area. And unless your heart is made of stone, bring tissues: you’re going to need them.