Life is a pursuit. To pursue something is to run after it, to take up the chase, to run. Millennium Actress is a race. It’s about the girl who runs.The film’s short runtime is deceptive given the span of time and the flow of ideas that the film pursues. It’s not simply about the girl who runs, but about the journey and pursuit that makes a life full, vibrant, and wondrous.
The film opens with a woman and a man outside a spaceship. The woman says she must go to pursue a man. Right as the action begins, the scene pulls back to show this is a film being watched by Genya (Shozo Izuka). And, at the moment of takeoff as the engines roar, the building shakes from an earthquake. This is the first of many misdirect and tricks that blur the lines between reality and fiction.
The reality is a woman named Chiyoko Fujwara (Miyoko Shoji), a reclusive actress now in the autumn of life. Genya gets the rare opportunity to interview her and as she tells her life story, the film melds into scenes from her life and the films she makes. However, Genya often finds himself in moments of her life along with cameraman Kyoji Ida (Massya Onosaka). They’re initially observers, but Genya turns himself into an active participant.
The key moment in Chiyoko’s life is an early one where she bumps into a man on the run from the authorities. The rest of her life will be a pursuit of this man, a journey that takes her to another country and a life spent running. And the characters of her films often are caught in a similar pursuit, making her performances from the heart.
As this story unfolds, images race by, scenes roll like the train Chiyoko chases after. The frantic style of director Satoshi Kon and editor Satoshi Terauchi causes things to blur together, not in the sense of blurry images, but that scenes often roll and fold into each other in unexpected and interesting ways.
It’s here where the film takes advantage of animation, crafting transitions and cuts that would be difficult, if not impossible, with live-action film. It’s not simply matching the moment, but effortlessly blending images into each other, creating an organic transition that makes it hard to pinpoint where one moment ends and the other begins.
All this makes for a film where reality and fiction blend together. Here, art imitates life and the fictional stories fuel and drive Chiyoko’s pursuit. It’s a validation of the worth of art and how real-world experiences can fuel the performance in art. And where art ends and real-life begins is uncertain and complicated.
This affirms art as something integral to life, as much a part of who someone is as the defining moments experienced in life. Art is part of the race of life and often reflects our deepest longings and captures the pursuit that drives us forward. To live is to pursue. And art is part of the pursuit.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing