The 2022 edition of the Chicago Japan Film Collective will run from May 21st to May 30th, presenting motion pictures connected by the theme of “Love.” The film Actress Montage, directed by Monzo Minakuchi, perfectly projects this feeling. In this case, it is addressed to the unconditional passion for a profession that allows women to use empathy as a tool to impersonate others: acting.
Red carpets, flashes, glamorous lifestyles are associated with the acting profession by the general public. However the journey to reach the top is disseminated with hurdles and scum. Actress Montage portrays the compromises and uncomfortable situations a struggling woman can face to enter or get back in the game.
The movie is a multi-plot narrative, operating as a network of related events played out by four core characters: “a woman who wants to be an actress,” “a woman who wants to be famous as an actress,” “a woman who gave up being an actress,” “a woman who continues being an actress.” Three of these aspiring thespians are in the prime of life, whereas the one who is in her middle age tries to rekindle with the seventh art since she had set it aside for the sake of motherhood.
Minakuchi brilliantly blends realism with oneirism, as the independent stories of the four floundering women intertwine, overlap, some of the secondary characters jump in between the four distinct universes, but the protagonists never interact with each other directly.
The teen idol, part of the “Onigiri Girls” band, feels overwhelmed by the system of pitfalls that jeopardise her budding career, when a simple act of naiveté seems to ban her from the world of entertainment. Meanwhile, a theatrical debutant battles with her director’s bullying. His pretentiously avant-garde approach to Chekhov penalises the entire theatrical troupe, but the girl’s ingenious performative initiatives will turn things around for the whole company. The housewife who renounced her acting aspirations for domesticity seems to get a second chance in life, until fate puts her in the condition of having to make a choice again. Ultimately there’s the small-town girl who looks up to the big city with starry-eyed wonder, and moves from the countryside to Tokyo with a suitcase full of dreams and falls victim to a predatory industry. Each of these characters, who represent different archetypes of womanhood, present the sacrifices and adversities that come with the job they are trying to conquer.
On one side there are the mundane chores and calamities these women tackle during their plight, on the other there is the hypnagogic touch provided by Monzo Minakuchi that comes through the form of a mystical light. The sudden appearance of this bright flash, that is contextualised in a scientific circumstance that affects all characters, conveys a philosophically epiphanic moment that allows the four aspirants to acquire a new understanding of what course they want to undertake.
After traversing the female-gaze montage of what it takes to become an actress, the ultimate message of resilience and hope is comforting. Especially because it brings utmost lucidity, by erasing the romanticised ideal of a career that instead is characterised by great pressure, fierce competition, and very seldom leads to stardom. Actress Montage sets the record straight on what it takes to reach the spotlight, as some of the characters finally choose to step out of the limelight.
Final Grade: B+