published in Empire No.83, Sydney
It’s hard to even qualify the notion of an ‘auteur’ in anime, considering how many artistic sensibilities and collaborative processes are required in the engineering of the animated image, but Satoshi Kon would be an easy marker of such a definition. Thematically, his work has unerringly explored the fractious nature of the mind, with particular focus on how one’s imagination can dimensionally warp when conflicted by a social reality. Not that he’s always making anime about crazy people, but for Kon, the mind is the portal to all dimensions and dramas.
Accordingly, his stories and their rendering in anime are bench-marks in how one can utilise the fantastic unreality of anime to address how the imagined collapses into the actual. Millennium Actress is simply a story of Tachibana, a somewhat downtrodden studio employee intent on making a low-budget documentary on the retired and reclusive actress of a bygone era, Chiyoko Fujiwara. Even though the stories depicted unfold around Chiyoko’s trials and tribulations as she rises from a child actress in the Taisho era through to a wartime icon and a post-war memory of Japanese cinema, it is Tachibana’s besotted vision which frames everything.
And herein is Millennium Actress’ sublime recourse to visualisation: each story that unfolds in flashback has Tachibana and his suffering videographer appear in the actual scenes, like they are wholly transported back to Chiyoko’s past and cohabitating her space. With sly visual punning and softly laced comedic self-reflection, this format enables the story and the formal bond between Tachibana and his gracious idol to intensify with an emotional resonance. With superb character design and highly attuned performance movement, Millennium Actress again testifies to Kon’s auteur status via his commitment to cinematic weight in the guise of anime form.