Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Satoshi Kon|
|Produced by||Taro Maki|
|Story by||Satoshi Kon|
|Music by||Susumu Hirasawa|
|Edited by||Satoshi Terauchi|
|Box office||$37,641 (US)|
Millennium Actress (千年女優 Sennen Joyū?) is a 2001 Japanese animated postmodernist comedy-drama adventure film co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon and animated by Studio Madhouse. Loosely based on the lives of actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, it tells the story of two documentary filmmakers investigating the life of a retired acting legend. As she tells them the story of her life, the difference between reality and cinema becomes blurred.
Ginei Studios, a prestigious but bankrupt movie studio is being torn down and TV interviewer Genya Tachibana tracks down its best known star, Chiyoko Fujiwara, for a career retrospective interview. Thirty years prior, she retired from acting and has been a recluse ever since. When they meet, Tachibana delivers her a key he believes she lost at the studio, which causes Chiyoko to reflect on her career. As she's telling her life story, Tachibana and Kyoji Ida, his cameraman, are drawn in.
The key was given to her as a teenager by a painter and revolutionary that she helped escape from the police. After his departure, she decides to become a film actress in hopes that he will see one of her movies. This goes on for decades and Chiyoko becomes very famous. Despite not hearing from the mysterious painter, she doesn't lose hope. Eventually, one of the policemen who was after the revolutionary painter, comes to her and apologizes for his war crimes. Genya, who at the time was working as an assistant at the studio, hears from him that the painter was tortured and killed after his arrest. Yet despite not knowing this, Chiyoko abandons her search because she had gotten old and wanted him to remember her as the beautiful girl she once was. During the interview, an earthquake strikes which upsets Chiyoko’s fragile health. On her hospital deathbed, she tells Genya that despite never seeing the man again, she realized that what she loved wasn’t the man but the search for him.
- Chiyoko Fujiwara is portrayed by three actresses during her lifetime:
- Shōzō Iizuka as Genya Tachibana
- Masamichi Satō voices Genya as a young man
- Masaya Onosaka as Kyōji Ida
- Shōko Tsuda as Eiko Shimao
- Hirotaka Suzuoki as Junichi Otaki
- Tomie Kataoka as Mino
- Takkō Ishimori as the Chief Clerk
- Kan Tokumaru as the Ginei Managing Director
- Hisako Kyōda as Chiyoko's mother
- Kōichi Yamadera as the Man with the Key
- Masane Tsukayama as the Man with the Scar
Additional voices were provided by Mitsuru Ogata, Tomohisa Asō, Kōji Yusa, Makoto Higo, Kōichi Sakaguchi, Tomoyuki Shimura, Akiko Kimura, Tomo Saeki, Hirofumi Nojima, Ruri Asano, Hiroko Ōnaka, Yoshinori Sonobe and Yumiko Daikoku.
Following the release of Satoshi Kon's previous film Perfect Blue, Kon considered adapting the Yasutaka Tsutsui novel Paprika (1993) into his next film. However, these plans were stalled when the distribution company for Perfect Blue, Rex Entertainment, went bankrupt. Millennium Actress had an estimated budget of $1.2 million. The screenplay was written by Sadayuki Murai, who used a seamless connection between illusion and reality to create a "Trompe-l'œil kind of film". Millennium Actress is the first Satoshi Kon film to feature Susumu Hirasawa, whom Kon was a long-time fan of, as composer.
When producing Millennium Actress, Kon created a unique combination of both his memories and his imagination, striving to make Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue two different interpretations of the same concept; a story told from two different perspectives. His intention was to have the two films as sister films, both dealing with the Male gaze. In Perfect Blue, the gaze is depicted as a negative, patriarchal one, but in Millennium Actress is projected in a more positive light, allowing Chiyoko to retain her identity untainted. The film also presents various references to Japanese history, including the Edo period and Manchukuo, and gives it a nostalgic aesthetic. It is seen not as a sequence of events unfolding in real time, but rather in a retrospective, lighthearted point of view.
Commercially, the film performed modestly on its US release earning $18,732 on its opening weekend and $37,285 during its full three-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 was favorably received by critics, gaining a 92% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. 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: "It's animated, but it's human and will touch the soul of anyone who has loved deeply".
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.
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