Millennium Actress

Movie Information

The Asheville Film Society will screen Millennium Actress Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the Asheville Film Society.
Score:

Genre: Animated Romantic Fantasy
Director: Satoshi Kon (Paprika)
Starring: (Voices) Miyoko Shôji, Mami Koyama, Fumiko Orikasa, Shôzô Izuka, Shouko Tsuda
Rated: PG

Earlier this year we lost Japanese animator Satoshi Kon to pancreatic cancer at the far too young age of 46. He left behind possibly the most heartbreaking note I’ve ever read. It concludes with, “With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen. Well, I’ll be leaving now.” He also left behind a handful of the most remarkable animated films imaginable. To commemorate his death, the Asheville Film Society is screening his Millennium Actress (2001), the second of the four feature films Kon completed. (His final film, The Dreaming Machine, is being completed by his collaborators.) If you only know Kon from Paprika (2006), you’ll likely find that this won’t get you as high, but it probably has more emotional resonance. That, by the way, isn’t to say Millennium Actress is exactly your normal narrative. It spans 60 years, several countries and outer space—and it freely moves in and out of movies and reality.

The film—which begins with a science-fiction-tease opening that finally becomes central to the narrative—works from a simple framing story that has a TV interviewer seeking out a once famous, but now reclusive movie star in order to shoot footage of her telling her life story. He, however, is much more connected to the star than he lets on. As the actress tells her story—all of which is focused on her attempts to find a man she fell in love with as little more than a child—the line between past and present, reality and the world of the star’s movies becomes increasingly indistinct. That probably sounds more difficult to follow than it is. In truth, the narrative flows smoothly—with a winning combination of humor, emotional resonance and striking, indelible imagery. It’s a film to be savored, though I wouldn’t want to say too much for first-time viewers, since it’s also a film where the first viewing has a special magic of its own.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

14 thoughts on “Millennium Actress

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    I’ve never heard of this before, but I absolutely love Paprika, so count me interested. Now I’m wondering why I’ve never got around to looking into Kon’s other films. Especially since I’m the kind of person who went and watched everything by Miyazaki after I first saw Spirited Away.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve never heard of this before, but I absolutely love Paprika, so count me interested. Now I’m wondering why I’ve never got around to looking into Kon’s other films.

    Does that mean we’ll see you on Tuesday? I should confess that someone sent me a copy Millennium Actress (and Perfect Blue) ages ago and I put off watching it till this screening. Why? I think I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to Paprika. I believe it does, though, finally seeing it. Kon’s work affects me on a very different and much deeper level than Miyazaki.

  3. Barry Summers

    Paprika is one of the most brilliant animated films ever – it reaches an almost frightening level of beauty and complexity. I was completely floored by it. I have to wonder if Christopher Nolan based his idea for Inception on the book, Paprika.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Paprika is one of the most brilliant animated films ever – it reaches an almost frightening level of beauty and complexity. I was completely floored by it.

    Oh, I quite agree. The minute I saw it, I started “selling” it to everyone I knew.

    I have to wonder if Christopher Nolan based his idea for Inception on the book, Paprika.

    Actually, there’s a very strong case that’s been made connecting Inception to a Scrooge McDuck comic book. Having read the comic book in question, I think they may have something there.

  5. Barry Summers

    Actually, there’s a very strong case that’s been made connecting Inception to a Scrooge McDuck comic book. Having read the comic book in question, I think they may have something there.

    The McDuck comic was published either in 2002 or 2004 (depending on which source you credit), but Nolan’s treatment for Inception was first submitted in 2001. I think they both ripped off the Japanese novel Paprika, which was published in 1993.

  6. Ken Hanke

    The McDuck comic was published either in 2002 or 2004 (depending on which source you credit), but Nolan’s treatment for Inception was first submitted in 2001

    Of course a treatment and the final screenplay are often quite different. Similar concepts are not unheard of, but specifics are rarer (or more suspect if you like). How much either is like the Paprika novel I don’t know, because I haven’t read it and don’t know how much the film departs from it. The concepts are certainly similar, though as a film I think Paprika trumps Inception. Much as I liked Inception, I admit it hasn’t really stayed with me.

  7. Dread P. Roberts

    Does that mean we’ll see you on Tuesday?

    I hope so, but I can’t make any promises at this point in time.

    Kon’s work affects me on a very different and much deeper level than Miyazaki.

    I feel much the same way. While both make wildy imaginative, visually stunning anime, there is certainly a distinguishable difference between the two. Miyazaki touches on the imagination of my inner child; taking me back to being a kid, wanting to explore the unknown wilds of the outdoor world around me. Whereas Kon makes me feel like an intellectual, playing a mental game of chess, trying to break down, and better understand, the intricacies of said imagination.

    Paprika is one of the most brilliant animated films ever – it reaches an almost frightening level of beauty and complexity. I was completely floored by it.

    Oh, I quite agree. The minute I saw it, I started “selling” it to everyone I knew.

    I’m right there with you guys.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I’d love to attend this, and it’ll be my first such event. Is there any charge?

    No. The Tuesday night screenings are absolutely free and open to the public.

  9. Barry Summers

    The Tuesday night screenings are absolutely free and open to the public.

    *cough, cough*…socialist!

  10. Ken Hanke

    *cough, cough*…socialist!

    Does it help that we do occasionally make a pitch to get folks to cough up the ten buck yearly AFS membership fee, based on certain benefits that come with it?

  11. Sean Williams

    I was wondering whether you knew of Kon’s death and considered mentioning it in the Screening Room. I won’t even attempt to do justice to the loss that animation — no, that film as a whole suffered with his death.

    I think Kon’s filmography is important because it reminds Americans not only of the quality but also of the diversity of anime. In fact, anime is vastly more diverse in style and subject matter than American animation. The uninitiated associate anime with a few very particular genres because anime of those types are distributed and promoted most widely.

    Kon’s work affects me on a very different and much deeper level than Miyazaki.

    I think one has to have a very specific temperament to be deeply affected by either director. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, it doesn’t surprise me that you prefer Kon.

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