By Jonathan Clements.
Millennium Actress comes loaded to the brim with references to Japanese film, although many of them, perhaps for legal reasons, have been tweaked a little so as not to be blatant hommages. So it is that we see leading lady Chiyoko with a robotic lizard, evocative of the iconic Godzilla, but not actionably similar to him. A moment on castle battlements finds Chiyoko attired and made up in imitation of Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada) from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), looking down on a scene of samurai combat similarly suggestive of that film. And yet, in the same sequence, the cameraman Kyoji is pinned to the wall by a volley of arrows, in clear reference to another Kurosawa classic, Throne of Blood (1957). There are nods in Millennium Actress to Yojimbo (1961) and Seven Samurai (1954), but also to movies less well-known outside Japan, such as 24 Eyes (1954), the story of a schoolteacher who gets to look in at her pupils at different point in their educational lives – in 1954, the year that Seven Samurai took overseas awards by storm, it was 24 Eyes that garnered the most critical praise in Japan.
If such moments prompt the viewer to feel like an outsider at cocktail party, missing the point of in-joke after in-joke, we might remember that even the director Satoshi Kon regarded himself as a relative novice to the joys of movie history. ““I am not really familiar with Japanese films,” he commented in an interview at the time of the film’s release. “I think I get more from the combination of memorable films that I saw in my childhood, rather than particular scenes from particular films.” In other words, much as Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll (1993) deliberately sought to evoke the feeling of Japan’s ninja canon rather than specifically adapting the works of Futaro Yamada or Sanpei Shirato, Kon’s movie references are a set of impressions of certain movie types – a fantasy of what the films might have been, rather than what they actually were.
By Andrew Osmond.
Happy Christmas, Pixar fans! The studio’s new CG animation Soul debuts today on the Disney+ platform. It’s an afterlife fantasy, in which Joe, a New York jazz pianist takes a tumble down a manhole and ends up as a disembodied, well, soul en route to the Great Beyond. But our ghostly hero is convinced that it’s not his time yet, and rushes into a series of wild adventures, both in our world and those beyond.
By Masaaki Yuasa.
Up to this point, I’ve always had large casts in my work. That’s because I always had a desire to draw the entire World” of each piece. But in this project, Ride Your Wave, I thought it would be better to limit the number of characters to focus more on the characters’ emotions. Hinako was conceived as a character lacking in confidence. That was fleshed out by Reiko Yoshida in her screenplay, but when I saw her, I realised that this should be a story in which people without confidence can gain it. In a world where we all have to live at the pace of others, I wanted to “put her on a wave.” Continue Reading
By Motoko Tamamuro.
All the stories continue: There are sequels and side stories. Why are they born? Stories are told and disappear, read and forgotten. But, if that is all there is, it is ephemeral. That’s why there is a sequel.
The Tale of the Heike: Chapter of Inu-Oh is a modern novel by Hideo Furukawa, set in 14th century Japan. Tomona is in his early teens and a son of family of divers in Dannoura, site of an ancient samurai battle. One day, they have visitors from Kyoto, the imperial capital. With a map in their hand, they ask Tomona to dive and find a relic. He and his father oblige. Coming back up to the surface of the water, his father draws the sword they found, which kills him and deprives the son of his eyesight. Continue Reading
By Jonathan Clements.
The approach of the year 2000 was fraught with a sense of commemoration and closure. Various media tried to put a cap on Japan’s last ten turbulent decades. On television, for example, the TBS mini-series 100 Years: The Story of One Century (2000) would chronicle the experiences of a group of Japanese women, several generations of the same family, all played by the same actress. Nanako Matsushima hence became a Japanese everywoman, transformed only superficially, in clothes, hair and cosmetics, from the woman she had been at the turn of the century. In Kon’s Tone, a book charting “the road to Millennium Actress,” the director Satoshi Kon mentioned some of the documentary serials airing on Japanese television at the time he was writing the outline, including Images of the Showa Era and Images of the Twentieth Century.
Film technology itself was in a state of flux. When we first see Genya Tachibana, the point-of-view character in Kon's Millennium Actress, he is reviewing Chiyoko Fujiwara’s movie appearances on VHS video tape, the death of which had already been announced in 1999, after Bandai Entertainment released its Tenamonya Voyagers straight to DVD in the United States. With DVD on the rise, particularly after the release of the PlayStation 2 in March 2000, VHS was on the verge of turning into a legacy format. Kon’s camera lingers on Genya’s TV screen as the tape spools backwards, lovingly recreating the onscreen tracking static that was familiar to 1990s cinephiles, and is doubtless unknown to many of today’s digital viewers. By the time the film commenced production, much of the anime business was already operating on digital paint and trace. Millennium Actress was supposedly one of the last big features to be made with the old cel methods – subsequent animated films, even when retaining the cel-painted look, would be made entirely within a computer.