Better known in the West as Millennium Actress, Sennen Joyuu is Satoshi Kon’s second feature film after Perfect Blue. It’s about the life and work of Chiyoko Fujiwara, a fictional character based partially on the non-fictional actresses Hideko Takamine and Setsuko Hara (both of whom, quite interestingly but bittersweetly, outlived Kon). The film is structured as an interview between filmmaker Genya Tachibana and Chiyoko, but it’s about as far from “just an interview” as you can get.
Like Perfect Blue before it and Paprika after it (but mostly unlike Tokyo Godfathers), Millennium Actress blurs the lines between fact and fiction in that it’s often unclear whether Chiyoko talks about the story of a film she acted in or the production of said film (or even the production of a completely different film), so much so that even Genya occasionally has trouble keeping track of where he is and what he has experienced first-hand. To clarify, though, all of this is still kept within the confines of the level of reality of the movie Millennium Actress. The film makes no direct statements about the level of reality inhabited by you, me, and (formerly), Satoshi Kon, Hideko Takamine and Setsuko Hara.
Millennium Actress is my absolute favourite Satoshi Kon film, not so much because of the stories and fictional films that served as the backdrop and the real meat of the movie, but more because when it comes to the director’s passion and feelings showing through, Millennium Actress is by far the most powerful anime movie I’ve seen. It didn’t immediately become clear to me, but as the movie progressed and the references to the fictional movies became more and more vivid and bombastic (aided greatly by the fantastic soundtrack by Susumu Hirasawa), I started to feel like the entire movie was a huge love-letter to film-making. And that was actually my final impression of it. The way it begun wasn’t that important, nor was the way it ended. What mattered was that the love for film-making that shone through so brightly that I ended up being hopelessly in love with the film. It was just fantastic.