Greetings, fellow reader. I hope you’ve been well in the last two months or so that I’ve been unavailable. I’d been particularly struggling to get into the groove and watch something new during this time. I’ve also missed writing quite a bit, but life just seemed a little exhausting. However! I watched Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress at the beginning of May, at the persuasion of a dear friend. He said he looked forward to what I had to say about the film, and it felt very nice to hear it. It seems like validation is after all the perfect push for any stagnant individual and so here we are. As always, I went into this film with a blank slate; and as my lovely friend would agree, is probably the best way to watch any film.
Before we head on, here’s a spoiler warning. This particular blog post will serve you better after you watch Millennium Actress. So please come back after having watched the movie! This is also a very long read, so I thank you for your time.
Thank you, Bonbon. For reminding me how much I liked doing this.
In the beginning
The only other movies of Satoshi Kon I’ve watched so far are Paprika and Perfect Blue. They were both amazing, although I don’t remember my experience with Paprika much, Perfect Blue was a far more recent watch. Somehow, I expected to feel the same way I felt (or at least similarly) about the other two films for Millennium Actress. But it took me some time to process the film myself and understand my feelings towards it. So with that said, I think it’s important for me to give you some context as to where I’m coming from before you read my thoughts on the film.
As a woman
In recent years, my view of relationships, both platonic and romantic, have always been sceptical. It’s not the greatest way to live, and I’m trying to change. My view of romantic relationships especially has been quite pessimistic as well. They’ve been key in influencing how I feel about our main character in particular. At this point I’m not sure if pursuing romance is worth the time and effort. Since my childhood, I’ve also been insistent on women having their sense of identity, and very loosely “doing what they want” because of the inherent misogyny I was surrounded by. We’ve been conditioned and encouraged to think and worry more about our prospects of marriage- even today – than men. Women, like men, are multi-faceted human beings. And it’s probably this belief of mine, amongst all the others that I just listed out, that was tested the most by this film.
Something I appreciate in Satoshi Kon’s films is his consistency. When the film started, the art style I saw in the very first scene gave me such a strong sense of familiarity. It was comforting!
What I loved about Millennium Actress
As was with the other Satoshi Kon films, once you watch Millennium Actress you’ll once again find yourself chasing your thoughts around, trying to understand what’s going on. I remember feeling annoyed by this while watching Paprika, but I found it endearing in this film. In this case, I’d like to think that while Chiyoko chased after her man, I chased after her; trying and trying harder to understand her and her choices better.
If this was what our director intended, then honestly? Well played. This is about as immersive as you can get in a story, so of course, I loved this. Other aspects pull you into the story – the audience’s relatability to Tachibana’s assistant’s dread and confusion, and Tachibana’s investment in each episode of Chiyoko’s life. Chiyoko herself was relatable to a certain extent – which in hindsight probably might answer why I feel so strongly about her.
I loved the portrayal of Chiyoko’s desperation: the chaos on screen while she revisited her memories aligned so well with the internal chaos in my mind; trying to keep up with the difference between her movies and her past reality. This is yet another prominent attribute of Satoshi Kon’s films, and I wasn’t surprised to see it here. While Tachibana’s self-insertion is not a surprising feature to see today, it took me some time to realise what it really meant. That it was for us to note his devotion to the actress and that he was more than just an obsessed fan. While he was her aid in all her cinematic ventures, he was a similar participant in her real life when she needed it. I appreciated this thought towards the usage of characters a lot because it conveys the depths of his regard for the veteran actress.
We learn so much more through the film, probably so many references to actual Japanese films themselves. References I ultimately wasn’t curious to explore, and didn’t even think of until I read about them in a book that speaks about Millennium Actress at length in one of its chapters. I was happy to know that the author and I were thinking along the same lines. But I was far from getting the answers I was looking for. I put the chapter down when the words started becoming too heavy, and my brain struggled to comprehend the concept they tried to convey. However, I can’t complain because this has forced me to form my own opinion on Chiyoko’s character and draw a satisfactory conclusion about her journey.
Chiyoko’s not the kind of character you’d find on a pedestal today. I don’t remember the last time I struggled so much to process a character. She quickly became someone I didn’t like; because she made it impossible for me to be objective about her and her story. I kept watching, hoping I would get a satisfactory answer to what I found to be appalling behaviour. But once it ended I think I felt even more ridiculous than when it had started. She might have been heavily disliked by me, but she still held my interest the entire time.
To provide a bit of a refresher – Chiyoko went looking for a man she happened to bump into and rescue temporarily, to return something that belonged to him. She was in love with this person she knew absolutely nothing about but obsessively chased after anyway from her early teens to her early forties. Her acting career was convenient because it allowed her to travel to find him. However, she never found the man, because he’d passed on way too early in her chase which she had no way of knowing. After desperately chasing him, she quit acting and became a recluse until our man Tachibana goes up to interview her and give her the key (literally) to her past.
I despised Chiyoko’s character so much simply because everything in her life was about this man. She had an incredible career which she started and ended for this man. Although I’m not sure if typecasting was a thing in the 80s, considering all the films she spoke about had the same plot as her life, she probably did get typecasted. Her self-esteem about her appearance was incredibly affected, for fear of him not recognising her. This became a reason for her to go off the grid almost entirely.
Although Chiyoko settled down, the hold this man had on her never changed. So the marriage she did have was yet another sacrifice. To me, and maybe even to you, she lost a lot more than she had to gain. I’m not sure what kind of reunion Chiyoko was hoping for, but was a man (that she barely knew nor remembered) worth it?
Everything about her existence seemed to be about this man. However, everything about her existence also seemed to be about her.
While it was love, Chiyoko’s feelings still can’t be labelled as a mere obsession. It felt too odd to think about such an extreme life path as an ‘obsession’. There was always something she wanted after she reunited with him. Her interaction with this man was cut off abruptly because he had to run away, so she never knew what the most important thing was supposed to be. Maybe that’s what she wanted. Or a more firm resolution. I’ll never know.
It might have been her goal to marry this man. But she never thought about it too much. Maybe this chase gave her a purpose and a sense of fulfilment. An extremely unconventional type of purpose (today), but a purpose nonetheless. Chiyoko comes from a time when she’s also learnt there might not be a tomorrow the hard way. Taking into account the kind of era she’s from, where commitment and resolution were not carelessly made and taken seriously, I don’t find her character that appalling anymore.
However, as a woman, I didn’t think it was right of me to dictate another’s life on my terms. I didn’t think it was right to determine what happiness is for another person. Chiyoko stayed true to who she was till the very end, and even after it. Despite not liking her much, Chiyoko’s commitment and perseverance are something I couldn’t help but admire. She probably knew he’d passed on and was waiting for her death to continue her chase.
So maybe this is what love feels like. The final scene might have been corny, but I absolutely loved it. It was just so fitting, especially if you keep the above interpretation in mind.
In the end, I couldn’t stay objective about her, even while writing this. I’m still not her biggest fan, but I do think better of her. Chiyoko was simply a product of her time, and she’s not done living her life. I don’t think I have what it takes to be that determined, but she’s opened my eyes to the capacity we as humans hold to truly love. It took me a ridiculously long time to write this, more than a month actually; simply because I couldn’t comprehend my thoughts about the film, and Chiyoko. It might not have been the answer I wanted to hear, but I’m glad I could find closure as I continued to write this. I hope you enjoyed this piece from me, and hope it gave you something new to think about.
Thank you for reading.