Stephen reviews: Millennium Actress (2001)

poster_milleniumactressMillennium Actress [千年女優 Sennen Joyu] (2001)
AKA Chiyoko Millennial Actress

Starring Miyoko Shoji, Mami koyama, Fumiko Orisaka, Shozo Iizuka, Shouko Tsuda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is perhaps Satoshi Kon’s least well-known film, but after watching it, I have to wonder why. Perhaps it is the PG rating, but if anyone wants a film that proves that rating has nothing to do with quality, then Millennium Actress makes a great example. The film is extremely well made, and a fascinating experience to watch. It lives up to Kon’s reputation for great filmmaking as well as his reputation for mindbending storytelling.

It begins mildly enough, with a man named Genya making a documentary about his favorite actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. He managed to get an interview with the aging, reclusive actress whose career peaked in postwar Japan. During the interview she tells the story of how she entered the business, which was all to follow a man she knew only briefly and developed a crush on. It is during these flashback scenes that the majority of the film takes place, and where the reality warping style of Satoshi Kon kicks in. Genya and his cameraman stand by in the flashbacks, recording and commenting on the events as they transpire, sometimes even interacting in the past as it unfolds before them.

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Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989)

wrathoftheninja_1Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie [戦国奇譚妖刀伝 Sengoku Kidan Yōtōden] (1989)
AKA Legend of the Enchanted Swords; Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period; Wrath of the Ninja – The Yotoden Chronicles; Blade of the Ninja

Starring Keiko Toda, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takeshi Watabe, Tomomichi Nishimura, Masami Kikuchi, Kazuki Yao, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Reizo Nomoto, Shōzō Iizuka, Ritsuo Sawa, Eken Mine

Directed by Osamu Yamasaki


Ninja action is awesome, right? Especially when there are lots of demons and illusions, and martial arts showdowns scattered around, right? The more the better, right? Well, sadly that’s not the case for Wrath of the Ninja which proves that you can indeed have too much ninja action in a movie, as hard as that is to believe. I think (hope) that this is the result of compressing down the longer original story into oblivion. The film version of Wrath of the Ninja is a compilation of the series, and it’s got all the usual problems of such a film cranked up to eleven.

The plot, what’s left of it anyway, revolves around three ninjas from different clans who each own a special weapon with a legend attached to it. They’re up against the commonly used historical figure of Oda Nobunaga, who was also the villain of Black Lion as well as other anime. Here, as is common in stories set in feudal Japan, Nobunaga is a demon bent on conquering the world. I think. I’m actually not sure what he’s after. The story doesn’t have enough time to bother with something as trivial as the objectives of the main villain. But whatever he’s trying to do, it involves the massacre of the protagonists’ hometowns, which obviously unites them in an unstoppable ninja team-up out for revenge.

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Stephen reviews: Cybernetics Guardian (1989)

cyberneticsguardian_1Cybernetics Guardian [聖獣機サイガード Seijuki Cyguard (Holy Beast Cyguard)] (1989)

Starring Takeshi Kusao, Hiromi Tsuru, Hirotaka Suzukoi, Kiyoshi Kawakubo, Shozo Iizuka, Tessho Genda, Wakyo Sogabe, Yusaku Okura

Directed by Koichi Ohata


This is just a short little action romp. It’s not a very special anime, but then it isn’t trying to be one. It has a very B-movie feel to it. The creators basically threw a bunch of cool stuff into a pot and mixed it up hoping for something awesome. The story is pretty minimal, but still manages to be convoluted thanks to all the random ideas they used.

A robot test pilot named John gets his big trial run sabotaged by Adler, a jealous scientist who wants his own projects to succeed instead. Then some random demon worshipers show up and kidnap John. They do some bizarre black magic science experiment and turn John into the robot avatar of their evil god. Demon John goes on a rampage across town, which only convinces Adler to hate the guy even more. Meanwhile, John’s hot scientist girlfriend tries to fix everything, and the cops run around getting ripped apart by the monster.

The film operates solely on the premise that demons, giant robots, explosions, and hard rock are cool. The plot is nothing more than the mortar that holds those bricks together. It’s not really all that well put together either. Obviously the character development is pretty shallow, but the action scenes don’t have a lot of visceral impact to them either. The film gets by because the creators were right: giant demon robots blowing stuff up to a rock soundtrack is in fact pretty damn cool.

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