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Laramie Movie Scope:
Millennium Actress (Sennen joyu)

A highly imaginative animated feature

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 10, 2004 -- “Millennium Actress” is one of the most imaginative, original films of 2003, and one of the best. Released in Japan in 2001, it received limited distribution in the U.S. in 2003 and is now available on video. This is a film for movie lovers as well as people who like Japanese animated features. Better than most Japanese anime films, like “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie,” for instance, it tells a very original story in a very unconventional way.

This enchanting love story is about a legendary actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, being interviewed about her long film career. The story unfolds like a celluloid dream. Movies, daydreams and history are woven together in flashbacks. All of these flashbacks merge to the point where there is no difference between reality and fantasy. The interviewer, Genya Tachibana, who is also in love with Chiyoko, and his comic-relief cameraman, Kyoji Ida, are swept along into this fantasy world and are held captive there by Chiyoko's storytelling power. Genya becomes part of these stories, both in fantasy and in real life.

Genya and Kyoji Ida are Chiyoko's constant companions in her travels to distant memories, movies and fantasies. Kyoji Ida is seen using his camera to capture Chiyoko's memories, sometimes while dodging bullets, arrows and swords. Genya often appears as a hero in her memories, rescuing her from numerous perils. He appears as historical, heroic figures in movies, fantasies and in history. It turns out Genya was, indeed a hero in real life, if there is such a thing as real life in this story. This journey includes historical movies from the early history of Japan that Chiyoko starred in, and memories of pre and post-war Japan from Chiyoko's long memory. It takes us up to a modern science fiction movie that Chiyoko starred in at the end of her career. Godzilla even appears now and then, every bit as real as the soldiers of World War II.

A key which Genya gives to Chiyoko at the beginning of the interview seems to unlock her memory of a mysterious artist she met as a young girl. Chiyoko spends the rest of her long life trying to find this mysterious man, who she has come to think of as her ideal love. The key itself is very much like the mysterious word “Rosebud” that was the central mystery in “Citizen Kane.” The key becomes the movie's central theme, but it is, in a real sense, a McGuffin. The journey itself is what is important, not the destination, and what a journey this is! Part of the magic of the story is how it plays on our fantasies as film fans. Who hasn't dreamed of being able to enter the world of movies (as in “The Purple Rose of Cairo”). This story is like a fantasy passport into the world of movies, where fans can become part of the story and fight alongside their movie star heroes. The artwork is stunning, but not as stunning as the story. This is a masterwork of storytelling imagination, the best animated feature I've seen this year. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)