Millennium Actress (2001) explained: facts / fiction?

I hate you more than I can bear. And I love you more than I can bear.” (Millennium Actress)

Millennium Actress

Millennium Actress (2001) is an animated movie, blending reality with fiction. It tells the story of a retired actress via an interview for a documentary featuring her. The movie is a collection of drama, mystery, and elements of fate. The director, Satoshi Kon, conveys the story in a peculiar manner quite opposite to his movie Perfect Blue.

Brief summary (Millennium Actress)

Millennium Actress tells the story of a retired actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. She was at one time at the peak of Japanese cinema. But she suddenly retired and now lives in seclusion. After a long time comprising a few decades, two men come to find her. Their aim is to interview her and make a documentary about the legendary actress in tribute to the old Ginei Studios. The interviewer, Genya, is coincidentally a huge fan of Chiyoko. He is greatly devoted to her and cherishes her almost like a deity. He has previously helped Chiyoko in certain ways besides being an ex-colleague at Ginei Studios.

The interview starts and the story passes like a speedy bullet train through the memories of Chiyoko. Her memories and fantasies are mixed with reality and her career highlights. This intermixing is a key point of this movie. Chiyoko takes the two interviewers on a stormy ride across her memories. They find out that she has had an incredibly scenic past. Her acting career, they find out, was forged on the basis of her first love; a painter. It has been well established that she followed a man, and to find him, she even joined the entertainment industry.

But her search was in vain. She never finds out about him until on her deathbed in the hospital.

Chiyoko staring at the panting, (Millenium Actress)


Millennium Actress is a movie with several varied elements. It blends the borderline between reality and imagination. The movie paces through the confused memories of Chiyoko. As the movie progresses, the boundary between the reel and the real becomes unclear. Genya, as well as his assistant, reside somewhere on the sidelines in the memories of Chiyoko. However, sometimes, we can see Genya “interfering” in those memories by helping her out.

The movie cuts through several eras, but the protagonist has only one true goal. In any era, we observe that she chases behind her unknown lover. She was searching for her lover through all these events. The threads of fate bind them, but the same fate is cruel to her. At some point, it becomes difficult for her to recognize truth from fiction. It was her fate to burn in embers of unrequited love forever.

Millennium Actress - chase is a theme

Her journey is admirable. From just a teenage girl to a renowned actress just for the sake of love is unique. She is bold enough to reveal the truth of it. Her charisma may have hooked millions of hearts, but her own heart was fixed only for one.

Other than this main theme,

The movie depicts in a positive light the relationship between an admirer and a matinee idol. The relationship between Genya and Chiyoko is an ‘idealized’ relationship between a fan and an actress. It is also the more light-hearted, funnier aspect of this largely melancholic movie. Millennium Actress is not just about these relationships but also the rise of cinema in Japan. Chiyoko performed mainly in films shot during the era of the Second World War, thus fanning the patriotic fire of her compatriots. The expansion of the Japanese entertainment industry is a pivotal point. It also signifies the fact that animation itself is a very significant part of Japanese cinema – through which Millennium Actress filters the celluloid past.

Wheel of fate - Millennium Actress
The wheel of fate (Millennium Actress)

Facts (Millennium Actress)

The movie is inspired in part by the enigmatic life of the legendary post-war Japanese actress, Setsuko Hara. Chiyoko stands in for Setsuko, her personality, and acting career. Kon wanted a fantastical plot – a plot that never appeared. So the script is based on a retired actress telling her past but confusing the reality amidst her acting roles. Chiyoko’s life is sculpted from Hara’s as she lives more or less like Hara lived. Her career, her retirement at the peak, living like a hermit, etc. Although Hara never married and lived alone, Chiyoko marries but still pursues her love. In the end, she lives alone on a mountain.

The movie takes into account real historical events of World War II, the Japanese involvement. One of the bigger facts is the improvement of the Japanese entertainment industry for the sole reason of raising the morale of soldiers. Other factors are the social customs, like women expected to live for the sake of families and not to set foot in cinema or publicity. But it all just fades away, when Chiyoko decides her future. She represents the working woman of those times. Japan’s national fate from the war and Chiyoko’s fate intertwine; at times they seem to coalesce, and at times they are at loggerheads.

Time and fate, fantasy and reality
Time and fate; fantasy and reality


Millennium Actress is a tender and mysterious movie. We never get to know the painter, and his last memento is a key. The key never opens a ‘real’ box but only the memories of Chiyoko. Whether or not Chiyoko chases an illusion is insignificant for that is what adds meaning to her life. She realizes, that it is this chase for an elusive love that she desires the most. Even the astronautical theme of journeying to the moon which is her most personal ‘role’ underscores this heady mix of romance, fantasy, cinema, and reality.

” It won’t appear tomorrow, but I like this moon better. After the full moon begins to wane. But after fourteen nights, starting tomorrow, I hope to see it again. I gotta go”

mystery painter (Millennium Actress)

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