Forgotten Films: Millennium Actress (2001)
This is the 75th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I just recently returned from the San Diego Comic Con (my first trip) and while I was there I attended a premier showing of a forthcoming teen horror film entitles BAD KIDS GO TO HELL. This is not my usual movie fare any more, though I have seen plenty of these over the years. My nephew works for Antarctic Press, a comic publisher located in San Antonio. Several years ago the creators of this film were working on the screenplay when the writers’ strike happened. So they published it as a comic and graphic novel with Antarctic. They later finished the script, raised the money, filmed it, and, this fall, it will be in multiplexes everywhere (or the occasional drive in). I went in with no expectations and found myself really liking this film. It is a teen slasher film but it had some good twists. And the production values were relatively high, particularly for an indie film. Kudos to Barry Wernick (Producer) and Matthew Spradlin (Director) for an enjoyable evening. When it hits those theaters and you are looking for something to watch, check it out.
On to this week’s film. I will admit to having a limited knowledge of anime but some friends I trust showed me this film from Satoshi Kon, who directed 4 full length films of which this is the second. The others are PERFECT BLUE (1997), TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003) and PAPRIKA (2006). I was aware of TOKYO GODFATHERS and had seen PAPRIKA which I enjoyed quite a bit. Unfortunately he died in 2010 at age 46. His films earned many nominations and awards.
The film is wonderfully non-linear which might cause some viewers grief, but which I found exhilarating. The film deals with the destruction of the Genei Studio. Documentary filmmaker Genya Tachibana has secured an interview with reclusive star Fujiwara Chiyoko, who was at the studio from the 1930’s on to the 1970’s before retiring. Genya has promised to give her something, which turns out to be a key she had lost.
The key excites her memories and she tells Genya and his cameraman about receiving it. Her memories are so vivid that they are transported to the site and witness the events firsthand. An injured man running from the police gave her the key stating that it was the key to the most important thing in the world. Chiyoko is puzzled and asks to think on it for a night before receiving the answer. When she returns the next day, he is gone. Someone thinks he is Manchuria. A movie producer sees her and offers her a job to work on a picture in Manchuria. She takes the job over her mother’s objections and thus begins her lifelong quest,
As Chiyoko remembers various aspects of her life, Genya and the cameraman find themselves to be active players in her remembered world, facing the same dangers she does. Eventually she loses the key and there is a frantic search. It is found and lost several more times before being finally lost and discovered in the rubble of the studio. Genya had worked at the studio as a younger man on several of her films and knew its significance.
The memories do not follow a straight time line, jumping through various aspects of her life and time periods. Among the most vivid are her return to her hometown and her mother’s sweet shop after it was been totally destroyed in the war. The viewer sees her go from young girl to woman and to old lady through these memories.
Several things I read about the film indicate that if you have a good knowledge of Japanese cinema you can identify various things throughout the filming sequences shown. There are definitely some references to Akira Kurasawa and also to the Toho studio Godzilla films. Her final film is a science fiction piece with Chiyoko being launched into space.
This was a very impressive film and one I was happy to become acquainted with. Now to check out the others. You should too.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.