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Millennium Actress (2001)

Cast: Miyoko Shoji, Miyoko Shoji, Hirotaka Suzuoki, more...
Director: Satoshi Kon, Satoshi Kon
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: DreamWorks
Genre: Anime, Foreign, Anime Feature Films
Running Time: 87 min.
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English, French
    see additional details...

Following up on his highly acclaimed animated psychological thriller Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon spins this mystery about a documentary filmmaker and a legendary actress. In honor of Gin Ei studios 70th anniversary, a small production house run by Genya Tachibana is selected to make a commemorative documentary. Genya decides to focus his film on actress Chiyoko Fujiwara, a massive star who at the height of her popularity retreated from public life. Accompanied an eager young cameraman, Genya doggedly tracks her down to discover her living a hermit-like life of charmed isolation. He also learns that in spite of her advanced age, she has lost little of her famed charm or elegance. As he interviews her, Genya learns of Chiyoko's troubled past and eventually the reasons for her sudden retirement. ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide

Special Features:

  • The Making of Millennium Actress: Interviews and Commentary with Satoshi Kon
  • U.S. Theatrical Trailer

GreenCine Member Reviews

Something my mom would like by hneline1 March 14, 2004 - 11:33 PM PST
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Millenium Actress (Sennen Joyuu) is a beautiful, cinematic experience that just happens to be animated. Director Satoshi Kon creates a "glimpses in the life of" story in the tradition of It's a Wonderful Life and Forrest Gump, except that this life follows real history in Japan rather than in the U.S., from before World War II to around the 1960's. Animation gives Kon the freedom to seamlessly merge reality with memories to reinforce the film's exploration of the relationship between truth and dreams.

This is a great film to see if you're interested in Japanese culture, 20th century Japanese history or the Japanese entertainment industry. Unlike many other anime, this film does not rely on violence or magic or cutesy antics -- it's definitely a character-based, adventure drama intended for an audience who can appreciate chasing one's dreams and the passage of time. It's something that I would like to take my mom to see if it ever shows in U.S. theaters again, because she grew up during those same times in Japan and Millenium Actress does a beautiful job of depicting the reality and hopes of those eras... although I think she'll cry. What a powerful film to make grown ups remember their experiences in the flow of history.

Sidenote: For expanded GreenCine member coverage and opinionating on this film, read this most excellent thread.

Madam Quixote by kiume December 21, 2003 - 3:21 PM PST
7 out of 10 members found this review helpful
Millennium Actress begins four hundred year in the future. At a lunar base buried beneath a crater on the Moon, an astronaut is boarding a spacecraft on a dangerous mission. Her ground chief attempts to dissuade her. "You may never return," he protests.

"I said I'd go to him," she replies. "I promised."

As the rocket lifts off, the camera pulls back to reveal the scene playing on a monitor in the office of Genya Tachibana, a documentary filmmaker. Tachibana's cameraman, Kyoji Ida, pops in to say it's time to go. Tachibana hits a button on the machine and the tape starts to rewind, flashing a montage of images across the screen.

We have just watched the ending of the movie we are about to see.

Tachibana has arranged an interview with the subject of his documentary, the reclusive actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. And though she is now in her seventies, long out of the public eye, he is a nervous wreck at the thought of meeting his childhood idol. But when they arrive, the unassuming Chiyoko welcomes them warmly.

Ida sets up his camera and lights and the interview begins.

As Chiyoko speaks, we are transported (in typical documentary form) back to the sepia-colored recollections of her youth. Chiyoko has been offered a part in one of the many propaganda films being churned out to cement public support for Japan's overseas colonies. Her mother refuses categorically, and Chiyoko herself has little enthusiasm for becoming a "movie star."

Not long afterwards, while she is walking home, a mysterious young man runs into her and bowls her over both physically and emotionally. Though he is being pursued by the police, Chiyoko hides him away in a warehouse behind her family's shop.

The young man is an artist and a dissident, two dangerous occupations in the Japan of the 1930s. He carries with him an unfinished painting of a winter landscape, a golden key on a chain around his neck, and the locked case to which it belongs. When Chiyoko asks him about it, he replies, "It is the key to the most important thing there is."

"Tell me what it is," she implores him.

"Tomorrow," he agrees, and they seal the promise with the locking of pinkies, the Japanese equivalent of "cross your heart and hope to die."

But by the next day, the police have caught up with him and he has fled, dropping the key in the snow. Chiyoko finds it, fastens it around her neck, and races to the train station to catch up with him. But she is too late.

It seems the poignant, if romanticized, retelling of a first love lost, until Tachibana bawls, "I LOVE this scene!" And, indeed, there is the same shot of the train disappearing down the tracks in a publicity poster for the movie.

Biography has dissolved into fiction. But before we can stop to scratch our heads and wonder which is which, Chiyoko has talked her mother into allowing her to take the promised part. She couldn't care less about making movies, she tells Ida's camera. But the shoot is in Manchuria. That's where the young dissident said he was going, so that's where she is headed, too.

Later, traveling north through Manchuria, the train is derailed by Chinese Nationalists. And from the other direction they are attacked by an army of . . . samurai warriors. We step though a shattered train door . . . and into the siege of a medieval Japanese castle.

The title of the movie, Millennium Actress, refers to the 1000 years of history her roles will cover, from the 15th century to the 25th. The second third of the film is a frenetic bop through Japanese cinema of the first half of the 20th century. Soon Tachibana has shed all aesthetic distance from his subject and is jumping into the male roles opposite Chiyoko.

Following the devastation of the war, the story darkens, the boundaries between fiction and life become increasingly blurred. Chiyoko describes a domestic argument and that is what we think we are watching, until the camera pulls back and reveals a set on a sound stage, and then pulls back further to show Ida documenting the scene.

It is a play within a play within a play. Or perhaps the scene really did take place in real life; it simply took place on a movie set.

Kon is building upon the style of his first film, Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller (also about an actress) in which he plays on the audience's assumption that seeing is believing. In Millennium Actress, though, he is performing something more than a cinematic slight-of-hand. He is arguing that memory is largely a fantasy fashioned from perception.

It is through the context of these fashioned histories that we assign import to any object. But that does not in any way diminish its value. So we follow after the key as it is lost, found, stolen, retrieved. Chiyoko is contacted by a repentant policeman who had once jailed the young dissident, and she sets forth once again to search for the owner of the key.

This time her train is derailed by Godzilla, suggesting a career that has begun to wane. Her last film is that which the movie begins with. When a set collapses during the filming and she loses the key, she does not go back to look for it.

Tachibana, then a young production assistant, discovers it amidst the wreckage. Decades later, the interview provides him the opportunity to return the key to its now rightful owner, in time for her last journey north, in her quixotic quest to find the author of an unfinished painting and the contents of a locked box that contains "the most important thing there is."

Once is Never Enough! by NLee December 8, 2003 - 4:12 PM PST
11 out of 11 members found this review helpful
Millennium Actress is a wonderful movie that will both confuse you and fascinate you the first time around. You really need to watch it twice to understand what's going on. Then after that, you may want to watch the movie again and enjoy it even more.

Unlike Perfect Blue (which were made by the same team of director, screen writer and character designer), Millennium Actress is aimed at very different audiences. It is a beautiful and fascinating drama, with something for the whole family: romance, comedy, tragedy, action and suspense. What the two movies have in common, however, is director Satoshi Kon's unique talent in blending the character's real life with stage life, and in connecting reality with imagination.

Millennium Actress is about the life of Chiyoko, from the time she was 15 till 75. At first, the movie was presented as flash-backs narrated by Chiyoko, but soon it turned into some sort of "The Making of..." documentary, through the point-of-view of film maker Genya and his camera man Ida. Chiyoko's story in real life is interleaved with scenes from her movies, as she continues her search for a nameless lover. Genya and Ida actually appear in every scene to film the story. Genya was so into the play that he participate in various roles to assist Chiyoko in her movies, while Ida stands there, mouth open, filming the whole scene in disbelieve.

The boundary between history and fantasy is further blurred, as scenes abruptly hop back and forth among different time and space. Villains in real life repeatedly appear in vintage film footage... or maybe it was the other way round? Why does Chiyoko spend her life searching for some stranger she only met once? What is the stranger's key really used for?

But perhaps it doesn't matter. After all, it is the searching for answers part that I really love... (You'll know what I mean when you finish watching the movie)

Final piece of advise: watch the "Making of Millennium Actress" bonus segment before your second viewing. It will help to bring out a lot of details you previously missed.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.72)
311 Votes
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