This will teach me to put off ideas for posts for a while. I wanted to recommend ‘Millennium Actress’, but I felt that anything short of a 5000-word essay would be an injustice. And it is. It’s a film that is both singularly frustrating and invigorating at times.
Watching it, as a film geek, you just can’t help but be giddy with excitement at all the references it makes, not just through content, but with it’s style. It is perhaps one of the best-animated films in terms of framing and camera movement. Though it’s story arch is interesting (sudden transitions between time and space, guided by themes), it’s something that’s been done before. But, in the film’s defense, it does this well. What hasn’t been done much is the, what I’d describe as theatrical mis-en-scene*, that is, within these transitions, hints are given (through dialogue or otherwise) as to where and when the characters are. Obviously you could tell apart modern Japan from the Meiji period, but say, in the crucial WWII arch, the story is told from the 1920s to the restoration and then beyond. Knowing exact year is crucial and I thought this clever because I’m frankly tired of subtitles. There’s a certain pleasure to be had at guessing the period, whether it be by the music on the radio, news on TV or a military campaigns. For example, there’s a transition between Chiyoko growing up and her being on a train. This transition is subtle and you don’t even realize there was one until the train is under attack. What’s happening? Who’s attacking? Then there’s a moment when you brain goes Ping! Manchuria!
Having now praised the film, all this fancy style and cleverness is frankly wasted on a sappy non-story. A girl chasing a boy where by the elements prevent them from getting together. Was it commentary on the medium of film itself? I recall I think it was Goddard that said ‘The history of cinema is boys photographing girls’ (or something to that extent); if that is indeed what the film was aiming it, it did a rather poor job. That’s what’s frustrating, that this talent was spent on some adolescent girl’s half-baked notion of what love is.
But you know, it could be just me. I hate stories where love is idealized or thought well of. I know most of you here think well of ‘Amelie’, it got thumbs down from me. Call me grinch.
*Different use than cinematic mis-en-scene; refers to early theater that lacked sets or scenery, instead established location through dialogue: “Come to this creek on this beautiful day!”