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Millenium Actress Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read
A Satoshi Kon Experience

One of my favorite films finally receives a proper domestic release.

What They Say:
When the legendary Ginei Studios shuts down, filmmaker Genya Tachibana and his assistant are tasked with interviewing its reclusive star, Chiyoko Fujiwara, who had retired from the spotlight 30 years prior. As Chiyoko recounts her career, Genya and his crew are literally pulled into her memories where they witness her chance encounter with a mysterious man on the run from the police. Despite never knowing his name or his face, Chiyoko relentlessly pursues that man in a seamless blend of reality and memory that only Satoshi Kon could deliver.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this film brings us the original Japanese language mix along with the newly created dub, both of which are in 5.1 and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The Japanese mix is pretty solid all around and I 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. The bigger scenes definitely make out really well but the music in the softer scenes and the little bits of incidental sound as needed in areas was pretty striking at times as it recreates the theatrical experience as it can.

Originally released in 2001, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Madhouse, the film does a wonderful job of capturing each of these time periods incredibly well with a huge amount of detail to them. The film side of anime is always able to take it up several notches and under Satoshi Kon’s guidance, this one is just very striking and uses some great opportunities that animation allows for scene transitions and the like. Combined with the movie magic aspect of the film, colors and vibrancy are all over the map here but are all well-represented. Colors are rich and solid, cross coloration is non-existent and the whole thing just made me very happy to watch..

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork. The visual is a good one that shows many of Chiyoko’s man forms in the background while the most “iconic” of them is in the foreground in full color. The yellow hue of the background isn’t bad and it definitely catches the eye but it’s not the choice I would have made for it. It is different from past editions so I’m glad that they were able to change things up some from there. The blue stripe along the top goes for a softer baby blue version while the logo retains its classic look. The back cover goes for some nice cherry blossom time along the top half where it’s bright and colorful with Chiyoko. Below that we get a few shots from the film and then a healthy dose of production credits followed by the technical information laid out in small and hard to read lettering. The case insert itself replicates all of this but on the reverse side we get a good looking two-panel spread of Chiyoko in some of her roles in full-color. No show related inserts are included in this release.

The menu design for this riffs on the main cover artwork, which is standard procedure for a lot of movie releases. It’s spread out more because of the difference in layout but that space gives it a bit more breathing room and the color, the muted yellows, feel a lot more natural on video than they do on the cover. With it being a single-screen release, selections are quick and easy to make with both the main menu and as a pop-up menu that does a simple strip without taking up too much of the screen. It’s a standard layout overall but it has all the right elements and it sets you into the mood of the film well. I’m glad they went static instead of with a clip of the bigger/faster paced scenes.

The extras for this edition are definitely welcome as both sub and dub fans make out well. For the dub fans, we get new interviews with voice actors Abby Trott and Laura Post. Trott’s clocks in at about 8 minutes while Post’s comes in at about twenty minutes. It’s an extensive Q&A that are thankfully chapter-marked so you can go through a lot of it quickly and see what they thought of their characters of Chiyoko and Eiko. The Japanese side comes with a pair of interviews with the producers, Masao Maruyama and Taro Maki. These clock in at thirty minutes and eight minutes respectively, digging into the film and how things were at the time and how they’ve changed since then. With it being eighteen years or so since it first came out at the time these were recorded, it’s definitely interesting to get their take on the project from that perspective as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A few years after really breaking out with the feature film Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon returned with Millennium Actress to show that he really has the talent and isn’t intent on just making the same thing over and over again. This film saw a pickup by DreamWorks at the time of its release and it ended up a monolingual DVD release that was poorly marketed and handle, leaving fans frustrating for nearly two decades until Eleven Arts and Shout! Factory came along. The film saw a dub commissioned for it and a limited theatrical release across the country for a couple of days. Being able to see this film, and before it with Perfect Blue, were just a handful of features I’ve longed to see on the big screen. With that run complete, the home video release has now landed and hopefully, it’ll find the embrace of new audiences.

The story of Chiyoko Millennium 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, Chiyoko 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 eye, 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 provides 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.

In Summary:
With its 87 minute running time, Millennium Actress is very tightly written but also allows a good number of moments for the 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 quiet 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 – just like the first time, just like the theatrical experience. 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. Satoshi Kon didn’t replicate his past successes and instead did something wildly different yet kept the key ingredients that made it work. Millennium Actress is an amazing piece of work and is a gem in my collection that I hope it’s a strong success for the distributor because it’ll expose so many people to great filmmaking and storytelling.

Japanese 5.1 Language, Japanese 2.0 Language English Subtitles

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Eleven Arts / Shout! Factory
Release Date: December 10th, 2019
MSRP: $26.99
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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