Millennium Actress (千年女優 Sennen Joyū?) is a 2001 Japanese anime by director Satoshi Kon and animated by the Studio Madhouse. It tells the story of a documentary filmmaker investigating the life of an elderly actress in which reality and cinema become blurred.
The narrative style is complex and interwoven in the style of "play within a play".
The film depicts a director, Genya Tachibana, who is working on a documentary about a famous actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. In her old age, Chiyoko has withdrawn from public life, but Tachibana slowly draws her out. As he talks to her, the story of her life, from teenage schoolgirl to middle-aged superstar, gradually unfolds, illustrated through flashbacks interspersed with segments from her films. Her life spans the tumultuous period surrounding World War II, while her characters in movies span a time period from the Sengoku period to a futuristic space age.
As a child in the 1930s, at the time of the fascist government, Chiyoko helps a dissident artist escape from the military. She becomes attracted to him; however, the next day he is forced to flee again. She finds that he has left behind a key to his suitcase of art supplies and she becomes an actress to travel to different lands in the hopes of finding him and returning the key. Although she never finds her lost love, she insists on continuing the search. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Chiyoko's love had already been caught and tortured to death by the military. Tachibana knew this, but has never been able to tell Chiyoko. As Chiyoko finishes her story, an earthquake occurs, injuring her. Tachibana takes her to the hospital, where she reveals that "it was chasing after him" that she truly loves. It is implied that she dies at the end of the movie, continuing her quest to find him in the next life.
However, this story is complicated by the fact that most of the stories from Chiyoko's life are illustrated with a scene from one of her films, rather than a true flashback, so that it is difficult to distinguish reality from fiction. In addition, Tachibana and his cameraman appear in films, and actually participate in their events in various guises. Tachibana always casts himself in her memories as her self-sacrificing protector, a role he played in real life during an accident on the set that nearly killed her.
Style and influences
The filtering of Chiyoko's life through film history allows the setting, characters, and the visual style of the film to change suddenly. Some of the scenes are reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, while others evoke Akira Kurosawa movies (particularly Throne of Blood). Director Kon has acknowledged the influence of Throne of Blood, but says that for the most part there are no specific references in his segments. Instead he drew on a vague general impression of the history of Japanese filmmaking and visual art for his different styles and stories; Kon insists that historical film was actually not a subject he had much familiarity with before he made Millennium Actress. He studied the settings and costumes carefully, however, and learned a lot in the making of the film, such as the history of the kimono.
The character of Chiyoko herself is somewhat reminiscent of Setsuko Hara, a famed Japanese movie star of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, who likewise withdrew suddenly from public life. Kon has recognized this influence in an interview, also citing Hideko Takamine, but insisting that Chiyoko is primarily a universal human character.
Millennium Actress was very favorably received by critics, gaining a 94% "fresh" rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan said of the film "as a rumination on the place movies have in our personal and collective subconscious, Millennium Actress fascinatingly goes where films have not often gone before". Kevin M. Williams of the Chicago Tribune gave the movie 4 stars and put his feelings for the film this way: "A piece of cinematic art. It's modern day Japanese animation at its best... It's animated, but it's human and will touch the soul of anyone who has loved deeply".
Box office performance
|Source||Gross (USD)||Number of Screens|
|United States Opening Weekend||$18,732||6|||
Commercially, the film performed modestly on its US release, earning $37,285 during its 3 week release. The film was shown almost exclusively in New York and Los Angeles, and received a minimal advertising campaign from Go Fish Pictures.
Millennium Actress received the Grand Prize in the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival, tying with Spirited Away. Additionally, it won the awards of Best Animation Film and Fantasia Ground-Breaker at the 2001 Fantasia Film Festival. It was awarded the Feature Film Award at the 8th Animation Kobe. The movie took home the prestigious Ofuji Noburo Award at the 2002 Mainichi Film Awards, and was honored with the Orient Express Award at the 2001 Festival de Cine de Sitges in Spain. The film was nominated for four Annie Awards in 2004, including Outstanding Direction and Writing. It was also promoted by its studio as a contender for the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but it was not nominated. The film is ranked in the Top 50 Animated Films on the Internet Movie Database and has consistently remained within the Top 25.
|Chiyoko Fujiwara||Miyoko Shōji (old)|
Mami Koyama (adult)
Fumiko Orikasa (young)
|Genya Tachibana||Shōzō Iizuka|
Masamichi Satō (adolescent)
|Kyōji Ida the Cameraman||Masaya Onosaka|
|Eiko Shimao||Shōko Tsuda|
|Junichi Ōtaki||Hirotaka Suzuoki|
|Manager of the Ginei Movie Theater||Kan Tokumaru|
|Chiyoko's mother||Hisako Kyōda|
|Man of the Key||Kōichi Yamadera|
|Scarred man||Masane Tsukayama|
|Additional voices||Mitsuru Ogata|
- "Rotten Tomatoes - Millennium Actress". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- Turan, Kenneth. "Millennium Actress Movie Review". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2007.
- Williams, Kevin. "Movie Review: Millennium Actress". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 September 2007.[dead link]
- "IMDb Sennen joyû (2001) - Box office / business". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "IMDb Best / Worst "Animation" Titles". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- Animax's official website for Sennen Joyū (Millennium Actress) (Japanese)
- Chiyoko, the Millennium Actress
- Millennium Actress at Keyframe - the Animation Resource
- Millennium Actress at the Internet Movie Database
- Millennium Actress at Allmovie
- "千年女優 (Sennen Joyū)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-21.