Amidst birthdays, passings, and celebrations of life, join me in honoring one of the most brilliant auteurs to ever grace cinema, Satoshi Kon.
It’s been too long since I last revisited one of my favorite anime. I apologize. I meant to do one of these reflections with Code Geass following my rewatch, and perhaps I still will someday *hopefully* soon.
In the meantime, I had recently celebrated my birthday with my family last weekend. (My real birthday is actually today, so happy birthday to me I guess!) We chowed down on way too much Chinese food, played way too much BTS UNO, and double-downed on way too much cake for our own good. It was an incredible 22nd birthday, certainly much better than my lonely 21st.
But what I hadn’t realized was that, amidst a celebration of my life, anime Twitter was also celebrating another: the life of famed director Satoshi Kon.
Kon died too soon. Pancreatic cancer. He was 46, and would be 56 if he were alive today. That’s right, August 24th was the 10th anniversary of Kon’s passing.
And I—not knowing any of this—really did unintentionally rewatch Kon’s Millennium Actress on the day before this anniversary as a way to end my own birthday celebration.
In a single weekend, I celebrated the life of two people that mean quite a lot to me: myself, and director Satoshi Kon.
I put that “director” in there to establish distance between us;
Satoshi Kon director Satoshi Kon led an accomplished career in the anime industry, leaving behind several legendary films that would go on to be studied in film classes around the world for years to come. He was a visionary auteur, one that would shape my own life with works like Paprika (which I’ve actually written academic papers over), Perfect Blue (which still scares the shit out of me), Tokyo Godfathers (which I still need to watch the dub of), and Millennium Actress (which I still need to rewatch).
Oh wait, I guess I can cross that last one off the list.
It’s still kind of weird to me, though. I mean, I’d never watched a single Kon film until just a year or two ago, and now I can’t imagine my MAL watch list without him. My buddy Scott really put it best when he tweeted:
A decade ago, I didn’t even know who he was. Now I know we are missing one of the greatest minds who ever lived.Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)
Damn, dude. I think I really almost cried when I first read that. Thank you for sharing these sentiments.
Now that I’ve talked for over 400 words about director Satoshi Kon and how splendid my birthday weekend was, I can finally get into the meat of this post: my latest thoughts on Millennium Actress, which come exactly five months after I initially reviewed it back in March.
And I hate to have kept you in suspense this whole time, but honestly— EVERYTHING I said in that post still holds true with how I feel about it now, on the night of writing this, a day before my actual birthday.
No single shot of that film feels lazy, out of place, or lacking in value; Millennium Actress is a masterpiece of a movie, which, ironically, is about the art of film itself.
Seamlessly weaving through a thousand years of Japanese history in cinematic form, the film—unlike any of his others—honors the passage of time in a way that is truly extraordinary and awe-inspiring. In an effort that’s full of character and heart, Genya Tachibana wishes to recognize the long and accomplished life of his idol, Chiyoko Fujiwara, by placing the sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema back in the spotlight one last time.
This act can only come thanks to the countless scores of hours that Chiyoko put into mastering her craft, but equally so the admirable number of hours that Genya spent rewatching her films over the years. A simple yet dedicated man like Genya manages to honor their time by catching Chiyoko Fujiwara on camera before the curtain on her life falls for the final time, and the result is an engaging, unforgettable ride through the life of a historic Japanese artist—and the history of Japan itself.
As we navigate through our own daily troubles and trivialities, films like Millennium Actress continue to age like a fine bottle of wine. (No, I don’t drink, but I really like the expression and thought it fit well here.) In other words, for every day that passes, Kon’s legacy only expands, drawing in new viewers, fans, and inspired artists like moths to a flame. (That’s another expression I really like using.)
Truly, the passage of time—something so inherent, basic, and unconsciously experienced—is a remarkable advent. I would try and persuade you to note it down on your calendar somewhere, but I suppose the existence of the calendar itself is proof of my point: time is strangely unforgiving, yet also tends to honor artists. You could almost call the Clock any artist’s biggest fan, but that would only make Genya jealous, wouldn’t it?
Yesterday, I was 21. Today, I’m 22. I’ll probably get a couple of congratulations from my few closest family and friends (which includes you, of course), but likely no more than that. The truth of the matter is, at this point in time, I’m only worth celebrating if only for the fact that I go to school, teach kids how to play the cello, make some people laugh, and write on the internet. (And I’m perfectly content with that!!)
But I absolutely encourage YOU to celebrate the life and death of your favorite artists as often as you can. Go rewatch your favorite films of theirs, reflect on their best works, and share them with as many others as you possibly can. Promote art, and always promote the artist with it—the only way they live on is if we continue to celebrate their works.
Maybe my passion for Kon’s films is why I decided that instead of spending another birthday evening further inflating my ego, I went ahead and showed my family Millennium Actress for the first time.
And I sincerely hope that they—and everyone else who decides to give it a (re)watch—will fall in love with a film that truly celebrates the shining end of an era—and the brilliant beginning of the next, whatever it may bring.
With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen. Well, I’ll be leaving now.Satoshi Kon
These kinds of posts really are my favorite to write, I ought to do it more often. Anyone else feeling kinda emotional? Just me? Well, that’s ok too. I’ll never be done with talking about this film, but I think for now this will do. In Kon’s own words, allow me to put my pen down here and offer one last tidbit before parting with Chiyoko Fujiwara’s story . . .
In her final hours, Chiyoko Fujiwara left behind a treasure trove of insight to her incredible life as an actress. In his passing, Satoshi Kon left behind a contagious love for cinema that still burns brightly in the hearts of film lovers. In my lifetime, what can I leave behind and impart with all those who come across my name?
Maybe I’ll use 22 to figure out the answer to that question.
Thank you so much for reading. ‘Till text time!