“Once In A Lifetime” – Millennium Actress (anime) – 10/10 Thunderstorms

Genre: Romance/Drama

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Gorgeous. With Satoshi Kon directing and doing the art, you get the realistic-looking characters (much like with Naoki Urasawa’s work), vibrant colors, and stellar animation. This also makes use of some very neat animation techniques, such as having some parts of still pictures move, fading from one to another. Using still pictures in the first place, that almost look like they could be real, and using them for narration. It feels very much like a war or historical movie.

Summary: When Studio Gin’ei commissions filmmaker Gen’ya Tachibana to make a documentary in commemoration of its 70th anniversary, he travels to a secluded mountain lodge to interview the idol of his youth, the enigmatic Chiyoko Fujiwara, who was the studio’s leading lady from the 1930s until the 1960s. As Chiyoko reminisces about her life, Tachibana and his cameraman suddenly find themselves on a rich and dazzling journey through time. Chiyoko’s films and personal memories intertwine with present events and stretch the boundaries of reality. (Source: ANN)

Review: The late Satoshi Kon was known for his clever symbolism and beautiful storytelling, and this movie shows it beautifully. This is a story where reality weaves interchangeably with movies and memories to recreate the story of Chiyoko’s life- a life filled with hope and unrequited love.

Not only do her own memories narrate her life and the story of her search for her love, but her movies do, too. We’re put into one scene after another from her movies, in chronological order. These movies, or scenes from them, mirror her life so completely it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t actually happen, that they aren’t past lives or future lives where she is still searching for the man she lost. What keeps us in the realm of reality are the narrators of Genya and Kyoji, the filmmaker and the cameraman, who narrate as they become wrapped up in the scenes and, indeed, occasionally become minor characters themselves.

But Kon was also remarkably good at creating sympathetic characters. Whether your original fondness is for Kyoji, who has an incredible amount of snarkiness and disbelief in Genya’s adoration for this old woman, or Genya who has some pretty hard hero-worship for an actress who will never grow old for him, as they are drawn into her story, so is the watcher. You see her grow from a shy girl with a crush into someone who deeply loves a man she may never see again. Her trials and tribulations are like the movies that she made- the slings and arrows that others cast on her search, the fact that to find him she may have to leave everything behind, the knowledge that she would leave everything and everyone behind to find him again.

These mix to create a story that is powerful and compelling. Life, love, heartbreak all come together as her story is told from beginning to end, from childish hope and beginnings to old but firm beliefs. This is a story for those who’ve lost someone precious, who still keep a burning torch in their heart, who love a good love story.

Overall, while this may not be the happiest movie, it is most definitely one of the best.

Recommended: 10 and over, if they can deal with some of the issues and themes that are in it. The artist was injured (you see blood in the snow), she visits one of the prisons where torture is implied to happen, there is some bombing. All deaths are merely said, not shown. There’s also an instance in one of the first movie flashbacks where she’s talking to a spirit, and this pops up later. If you’re paying attention to the rewind of the movies when the title comes up, then you’ll realize this isn’t actually a spirit- it’s a scene from one of her movies that we’ve been plopped into, and there’s symbolism in it (she never does get to see her love again). These words are brought back to haunt her later in her life.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Emma: A Victorian Romance (manga and anime)
Air (anime)
Kanon (2006) (anime)
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)
5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hope_In_Song
    May 01, 2011 @ 04:12:26

    Beautiful review! I've been wanting to see this movie for awhile and your review makes me want to see it even more. I heard it's only subbed, is that true? No matter – either way, I'll watch it ^.^ It sounds like a rather unique story.

    Reply

  2. Sweetpea
    May 01, 2011 @ 12:03:44

    Yes, this did not get a dub- I don't think it was expected to become a popular enough movie for one (so they cut costs where they could). It is definitely unlike anything I've seen, but that seems to be true of all of Satoshi Kon's works! I'm just upset because I just saw it on Amazon for $10 and I paid quite a bit more for it >.>It was worth my money, though. I think I've seen this movie 5 times since I've bought it. It's one of my favorites.

    Reply

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