Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress anime movie cover art
Millennium Actress

Movie Overview

Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyuu / 千年女優) is the second anime film directed by Satoshi Kon. If you’re interested in the first, I reviewed Perfect Blue last week. And, I’ll say upfront that I didn’t like Millennium Actress nearly as much as Perfect Blue. But, this movie still does some pretty cool stuff.

So, the basic premise of the movie is that two filmmakers are creating a documentary about an actress. Chiyoko Fujiwara is getting pretty old and has never told her life story before. Genya and Kyouji want to capture that story before it’s too late.

But, Genya also wants to return something to Chiyoko that she lost decades ago. And it’s this item, a key, that represents everything Chiyoko has been through in her life. That key is why Chiyoko became such a famous actress. And the day she lost it is the day she quit acting forever.

This seems like a good enough time to discuss the title of the movie. What does Millennium Actress mean? Well, the movie released in 2002, not long after the turn of the millennium. So, that event could have influenced the movie. But, that event in itself isn’t why the movie’s called Millennium Actress.

Chiyoko is the titular Millennium Actress because of the roles she played in her many films. Throughout the movie, we see pieces of every film Chiyoko was in. And each of the movies takes place in a different period of the last millennium. You may also notice that all of Chiyoko’s movies are in chronological order.

The first movie Chiyoko stars in takes place in feudal Japan. And the last movie she stars in is a sci-fi story about going into space. But, the most interesting part of her movies is how they parallel her own life.

A Story Told Through Stories

Like Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress also blends fantasy and reality. But, it does so in a very different way. In this movie, we always know what’s fantasy and what’s reality. What makes it cool, though, is that fantasy mimics reality.

The entire movie tells the life story of Chiyoko. Even the parts that follow Chiyoko’s acting roles are still telling her story. For example, Chiyoko decides to go to Manchuria in an attempt to find the man who gave her the key. While there, she gets a role in a movie that perfectly matches her own life at that point.

She plays a girl who’s chasing after the man she loves. But, this isn’t the only movie this applies to. Every one of Chiyoko’s movie roles matches what she’s going through at that point in her life.

Chiyoko Fujiwara playing a role in a movie from the anime movie Millennium Actress
Chiyoko Fujiwara playing a role in a movie

Without a doubt, the way Millennium Actress blends fantasy and reality is cool. But, this is also probably why I liked it less than Perfect Blue. You see, I don’t usually like it when anime do this.

Think about how most anime use this technique: school festival plays. And if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may know how much I hate school festival plays in anime. I’d always rather see main plot points play out in “reality” than in a fantasy.

Of course, some anime still do this well. Millennium Actress is one of them. And another one is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. But, these seem to be the exceptions to the rule. Even when done well, though, I’m still not really a huge fan of the style as a storytelling technique.

Tragic Twist

My favorite part of the movie is the tragic twist that came toward the end. We find out that the man Chiyoko was chasing after died long ago. In fact, Chiyoko even knew this was likely the case. But, she convinced herself it wasn’t true so she could keep on living.

Everything Chiyoko had done since she was a high school student was so that she could be reunited with him. If he was dead, what was her purpose in life? Who was she meant to be? Where was she meant to go? And what was she meant to do?

During the war, Chiyoko actually witnessed the moments before her “lover” died. She saw a prison guard dragging him into an interrogation chamber. But, despite knowing what that meant, she chose to believe he was still alive somewhere after the war.

Chiyoko Fujiwara in the ruins of a city after World War II from the anime movie Millennium Actress
Chiyoko Fujiwara in the ruins of a city after World War II

The revelation that the man Chiyoko loved did, in fact, die during the war is only one of two tragic twists. The second is Chiyoko’s realization that she’s no longer the person she was when she first met him. Decades have passed and Chiyoko has changed both inside and out.

She first realizes this when she finds a painting of herself on a wall of a destroyed building after the war. She immediately recognizes it as the work of the man she’s looking for. But, she also recognizes that the girl in the painting isn’t who she is anymore.

The longer it takes for her to find the man, the more likely it becomes that he won’t recognize her. And that’s something that scares Chiyoko. In a way, it was for the best that Chiyoko never got the reunion she dreamed of. Reality doesn’t usually mimic fantasy.

Conclusion

Millennium Actress is a 7/10. It’s a good movie. But, I wouldn’t say it’s the most groundbreaking. It has a lot in common with the movie In This Corner of the World. But, considering that’s my favorite anime movie, Millennium Actress doesn’t really compare.

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