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Further Reflection on Millenium Actress

Before reading further, I will point out that my actual review is found here, while this post will contain spoilers as well as my general impressions of the film’s plot and ending.

I usually make it a habit of checking IMDB comments on films that I have just seen, and I was a little surprised to see some negative comments from people who felt like the last line of the film ruined the story.  This is because they thought that what the last line implied was that her quest to find the artist, which seemed to drive much of the film, was actually just a superficial “thrill of the chase”, without any more meaning, and that this made Chiyoko look like a vain person.

I don’t think that’s what Kon was aiming at, and I had a completely different interpretation of the film.  In the second half of the film, Chiyoko is already revealing the fact that she doesn’t even remember any firm details about the man, her memories of him are faint and inconsequential.  At the beginning, we may be driven into the idea of Chiyoko on a life-long quest for love, but the truth is that she didn’t really get to know the man well at all, not enough to sustain such a quest.  I think that what Kon is trying to build at, and what is so wonderfully summed up in the final line, is that Chiyoko wasn’t longing for the man she had met, she was longing for the childhood in which she had met him.  That is, she was longing to remain as her old, young, innocent self that could be so easily swept up in such feelings and carry such naive motivation.  Trying to interpret the film as a love story between Chiyoko and the artist, in my opinion, ignores a lot of the other layers that Kon added.   And it was that multi-layered approach which impressed me far more.

Of course, there are some pretty major symbols that Kon threw into the film to make us aware of it.  The one that sticks most in my mind is the old witch (wraith) who seems to haunt Chiyoko in several of her memories.  Late in the film, she looks into her reflection and sees the old woman looking back at her.  The “hag” was, of course, a projection of herself, or at least, Chiyoko’s view of herself.  This was her constant, looming fear – of becoming old, of losing her youth, of changing into something she didn’t wish to be.  This is why the dissident artist was so important to her, because it was the one remaining thread of her childhood and innocence, and by searching for him so fervently, she could remain bound to her youth and passion.  She had become a movie star, but it had never satisfied her.  What she longed for was to be able to remain as the girl who had dreamed of looking at the stars from the snowy fields of the artist’s imagination, rather than become the cynical woman who knew that such dreams were now fruitless.

This all makes the wraith’s final line, as she looks at Chiyoko, that she “loves her and hates her more than she can bear”, such a poignant one.  Being a reflection of Chiyoko herself, the quote reflects her inner longing for that young, pure, optimistic girl she loved, versus the weary, aged actress who had pointlessly chased a faint memory that she was becoming.  When it is revealed that the artist had died many years earlier, we realize that the search itself had been futile and hollow.  In some ways, it extends beyond the film and speaks to everyone’s need for some greater, more satisfying goal or purpose in their lives that may not ever exist.  When I next watch the film, one of the things I will looking out for specifically is the moment or period in her life where her longing to find the man had subtly transformed into a longing for her old self.

It’s strange, in a way, how there is a great deal of sadness in this film, but it nevertheless leaves you with such a positive feeling once it’s over.  I found myself sympathizing and feeling sorry for Chiyoko for having what was essentially a fairly unrewarding life, yet her very existence, the culmination of everything she had went through, all of it seemed to come together to leave a distinctly affirming and positive impact on me.

Anyways, it’s a really wonderful film.  I think I had delayed watching Kon’s other films because they had often been described as “trippy”, which didn’t really sound very appealing to me, but what a mistake that was.

7 responses so far

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7 Responses to “Further Reflection on Millenium Actress”

  1. bdon Oct 12th 2011

    I’m one of those viewers that felt like the last line of Millennium Actress somewhat spoiled the experience. It’s still a beautiful story and I loved it enough to buy it (I had watched it on NetFlix first and had to have it), but the first time that I watched the movie and heard that line, I went from crying (I’ll admit it) to feeling empty… in a bad way, an irritated way.

    In the time between me seeing the movie and today, I’ve thought about it and came to nearly the same conclusion that you have — the hag was what really nailed it for me, lol, I felt so proud.

    Still, I can’t help but feel that Chiyoko’s acceptance of what she had really been doing all her life could have been handled in a much subtler manner and have the same — heck, a better, effect. When I watched the movie with my mother, she had just one complaint about the movie, the same that I and many other people have. A lot of the emotional impact of this movie comes from the romance. You get attached to not only Chiyoko, but also to the man she was chasing. You know from the beginning that it doesn’t end up well, but to see the heroine spend the whole movie chasing after this one person, loving him so much that she’ll drop everything and ‘run to him’ years later, after being married… and then telling us, seemingly out of nowhere, that she wasn’t chasing him at all, she was just chasing for the love of chasing (because that is what the line sounds like, especially if you’re watching it for the first time) is very disappointing.

    The point he was trying to make was definitely valid — I usually dislike when movies have the main character fall in love when they don’t really know the other person (I’m not a big romance fan at all if you can believe it). It was a bit patronizing in execution, but it does make you think, and I suppose that a movie of this quality should make you do that.

    But the average movie-goer or NetFlix-renter doesn’t tend to think too much about the movies that they watch after the fact — at least, not on any level that would justify a line like that in a seemingly romantic movie. They walk away from the movie with a bitter feeling instead. I’ve done that myself in the past. It just seems to be purposefully alienating the audience, which, while some would argue is just a normal part of art, is a very bad thing in this case. Instead of getting them to concentrate on the point of the movie, the audience walks away and never thinks about it again unless it’s to remember how disappointing that last line was.

    Like I said, I still love this movie, but I definitely would have gotten rid of the last line — or, hey, added more hints that it wasn’t a man she was pursuing so that an audience expecting a love story would be able to figure it out beforehand and be satisfied with the ending rather than disappointed.

    Sorry this comment is so long and may not make sense. It’s pretty late and I don’t want to reread this monster, so I’ll just hope that it sounds coherent enough the way it is.

    I do want to thank you, though… I had thought that I was just over-thinking it when I took it past ‘it’s a love story with an ending that will make you want to punch the t.v.’, haha. You phrased it so eloquently, too! Beautiful, though I may not agree completely.

    “When I next watch the film, one of the things I will looking out for specifically is the moment or period in her life where her longing to find the man had subtly transformed into a longing for her old self.”
    Ditto. 🙂

  2. bdon Oct 12th 2011

    That turned out to be almost the size of the article! Sorry, sorry! D’:

  3. Theowneon Oct 13th 2011

    Thanks for dropping by with your thoughts – I love getting long comments that really give me something to think about.

    I do agree with you to some extent – I can understand the natural reaction to that line, as it does sound very superficial when taken out of context. But let me tell you the way that I approached the film – I actually felt there was something “missing” from the love story from the beginning. Her constant, deep attachment to this vague person from her childhood actually bothered me increasingly as the film went on, because I couldn’t accept that any sort of meaningful love could come out of such a minor interaction with a person.

    So I suppose where I diverged from you is when you say that “You get attached to not only Chiyoko, but also to the man she was chasing.”. I disagree – I was never attached to the man she was chasing, because I didn’t know him, not nearly to the extent that I came to know Chiyoko. I didn’t know who he truly was, his true ideals or personality, as we only had a brief meeting with him. So when Chiyoko uttered her final line – it was like the pieces of a puzzle finally clicking together. Chiyoko was not madly in love with a man she barely knew – her quest for him was something else, something that was equally beautiful in its bittersweet nature – the longing to remain as the girl who could be swept up in such an idealistic pursuit, even as adulthood and cynicism overtook her.

    Without that line, I actually may have liked the film less, because although everything else about it was done well, the love story would still have had a slightly unconvincing or unsatisfying nature for me – can we really accept and celebrate a vague memory as real love? But with this line, which changes the meaning of the story as well as Chiyoko’s motivations, the film becomes something else, it reveals itself not as an attempt at an idealistic love story across decades, but rather a meditation on the reality of ageing and losing the idealistic dreams of one’s childhood (which, here, are embodied by the young man and Chiyoko’s confused memory of him). And this, I feel, is a more unique and worthwhile story among the anime (and otherwise) world.

  4. Michaelon Jan 9th 2012

    To me, this film’s great success is the elegant and accurate depiction of deep meanings, in such simple terms. My point of view is that the film is not about the actress. It’s more about the interviewer’s journey in her life if you ask me, but anyway I think its not about characters at all. Its about simple truths that apply to each and every one of us. Maybe what made some people uncomfortable was the punch in the face: Love is just your personal fantasy, it has nothing to do with reality, and that’s really ok! That is how I interpret the final line. The words chosen could have been better I guess, but the meaning is clear. The fact that put tears in my eyes was not that the old lady died and it had nothing to do with the line itself. It’s because she didn’t have the time to finish it, but there was a person who knew the rest of it anyway. Its such a simple and straightforward demonstration of “living on in people’s hearts”. This is the kind of superstition free magic that good films ought to offer.

  5. Florinon Jun 3rd 2012

    As she is about to die and reflects back on her life and what gave it meaning and purpose, she reveals to Genya that she had come to realise, eventually, that she had been chasing a ghost the whole time… And that it was *alright*.

    She understood by then that the romance itself was besides the point. She had moved beyond that. Yes, she deeply loved that man her whole life, but it was the hope of finding him that gave her strength, purpose and youth, and that is what truly mattered in the end.

    That’s why she said she was really after the “love of the chase”.

    The objet of her desires (the man) was but a mental icon which she used to give herself purpose and drive, and though her love for him was genuine (with the typical naivety and intensity of a young girl’s first crush), she had been blindly chasing a dream that would never come to materialise. Weither the object of her love could actually receive this sentiment was unimportant, what mattered was the fact that she had someone give her love to and a reason to keep going. She understood this only in the latter stages of her life, perhaps only after she saw the key again when Genya brought it to her, or after she had told him her story.
    Having fully matured, she is at peace with that, she’s glad for it. Like she said, it kept her young and pure and gave her meaning.

    To me this film is actually the quintessential love story. A love ever pure which could never be consumed (and eventually tainted). In it’s tragedy the story brings upon a perfect example of love in it’s most immaculate expression, and all the power of purpose it can have on someone. The film tells us that this deepest of love is what life is about, after all, even if the recipient of it never even knows about it.

    I have seen the film several times and that’s the way I’ve understood it from the beginning.

    Thank you Theowne for your thoughful review.
    To me this film is nothing less than a small masterpiece.

  6. alsoaVinnon Apr 20th 2015

    Another theme that really applies to this is the moon. When Chiyoko first meets the man with the key (his actual name, it’s in the credits), he tells her about the full moon. “After the full moon, everything starts to wane.” This also applies to any event or goal. Once you’ve achieved it, or reach the climax, everything starts to wane.

    Chiyoko never finally meets the man with the key again, so she never gets that full moon, her experience with him never starts to wane. So the reason she says “After all, it’s the chase I really love.” It’s because her whole life she was in a constant… ecstasy almost, of almost reaching, and that goal of hers never had to wane.

    This can also be applied to Genya, his life goal, almost, was to meet his hero, Chiyoko. He does reach this climax, the full moon, but she dies before it has the chance to wane.

    I’m surprised that last line ruined the film for people, I thought it made it. As soon as I heard it, I was just like, “wow, that’s incredible.” I’m not sure why it resonated with me, I didn’t realize the Moon thing until my tenth viewing (I’m on 15 views and counting! I seriously love this film), but I loved that line in particular.

    Perhaps because it gave me this idea, this hope, that in Chiyoko’s next life she will continue to pursue the man with the key.

    As for what the key represents, I think it’s creativity. The majority of the film don’t speak to this, but as soon as he say, “It’s the key to the most important thing there is.” The camera does a close up on his briefcase, which has a lock, and is splattered with paint. So the most important thing there is is painting? It doesn’t seem like much a stretch to extend that to creativity as a whole.

    Nice article! It was a fun read. I love Millennium Actress analysis articles, because the movie is so rich, and filled to the brim with many layers and themes. It’s my favorite movie of all time for a reason.

  7. Phoebeon Apr 14th 2016

    After seeing the Millenuim Actress, I knew that the movie has so much meaning that is meant to be taken figuratively. After reading all of the opinions/thoughts on this movie, I would say that #alsoaVinn had some intriguing ideas. If the key is for opening up creativity, then what causes creativity to open up? In my opinion, I would say that the key itself represents motivation. For the painter, he didn’t just paint randomly so he would need some inspiration or “motive” to create. When Chiyoko had her key stolen and when she lost it during an earthquake, she loses hope in finding the man again resulting in her marriage and then later her retirement. As for the painter, in a way, he is real and has an impact on Chiyoko. I think that he served as an inspiration to her to where he would also be part of her motive. The last line serves as a purpose that I believe is to be meaningful. The type of life that we live can be determined by how we live and see the world in our eyes. Chiyoko learned to see that her life was an adventure because she chose to see her life that way. This movie is beautiful because it can be seen in many different lens by us. It is great how we can show what we saw and let others decide even if my statement isn’t accepted. Thank you guys for putting out a perspective on the movie that I hadn’t seen before.

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