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Director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) takes on both writing and direction duties for his second animated film. Having been inspired by the concept of trompe l'oeil, Millennium Actress again visits the themes of reality, perception and obsessive fandom with an actress at the centre of the story. The plot is set in motion when an old film studio is being torn down and Producer Genya Tachibana tracks down Chiyoko Fujiwara, its most famous star for a documentary and also to give her an important memento. She's been a recluse for decades, and during the interview, she relives her past life and career.
While not as challenging to watch as Perfect Blue, the film plays with reality in a clever, light-hearted way that has an underlying sense of tragedy as well. As Chiyoko tells her story, we are transported back through various periods in Japanese history, as if Genya and his cameraman are there filming Chiyoko's life and intruding on the sets of her films. We also see how she is thwarted time and again by her adversaries and fate itself in her search to be reunited with her first love. This works for the most part, once the initial confusion subsides. As with Perfect Blue, there is so much going on conceptually that it does get a bit hard to follow at times on the first viewing.
Technically, the animation style might appear a bit dated to those hoping for the next digitally enhanced anime spectacular. It has a realism to it though that is almost photographic at times and was done by MADHOUSE, the company that worked on Perfect Blue, Metropolis and Vampire Hunter D. With a good mix of action, drama and tragedy, the film may seem a bit melodramatic for some, but love and obsession are rarely mild emotions. It operates on several levels, and is one of those films that aren't quite like anything else. It'll make you wish more challenging, unconventional films, animated or not, were being made.