|Directed By:||Satoshi Kon|
|Produced By:||Taro Maki|
|Music By:||Susumu Hirasawa|
|Release Dates:||July 28, 2001 (Fantasia)|
September 14, 2002 (Japan)
|Running Time:||87 minutes|
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. It is based on the life of Setsuko Hara.
Chiyoko Fujiwara was a top-star actress, who suddenly quit at the height of her career. Genya Tachibana is a director who is seeking her out in order to produce a documentary on her life. This film serves as a "play within a play". Chiyoko's 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.
Director Genya Tachibana is working on a documentary about a famous actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. Kyoji, Tachibana's cameraman, asks him why they are going to her place, and he replies that Chiyoko withdrew from the public at the height of her career. Before leaving, an earthquake interrupts Tachibana, who is watching one of Chiyoko's movies. Once they arrive at Chiyoko's residence, Tachibana blushes as soon as Chiyoko enters, who is now elderly and frail. Tachibana hands her a key, which shocks her, and replies that she thought she never find it. Then, a minor aftershock interrupts. Chiyoko decides to get started before the next one.
Chiyoko explains that she was born during the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and her father was killed. The shop that he left behind allowed Chiyoko and her mother to live well. Then, Japan fell into fascism and the military took over the country. When Chiyoko was in middle school, a movie director of Ginei Studios noticed her and decided to call her in, along with her mother. He wants her to star in a movie for the soldiers that are fighting in China, but her mother refuses to let her do it, although Chiyoko has other ideas. It is then, that both Tachibana and Kyoji are drawn into her memories. Chiyoko leaves and runs into a man, who is fleeing from police. He runs off into the park, just as the police chief arrives and asks if she saw a man with a suitcase. Chiyoko notices blood on the ground, she quickly hides it under the snow, and points in a different direction. Chiyoko then attends to the wounded man and hides him in the back of her shop. He informs her that he is an artist, who wishes for a better future for Japan, and says that he would like to show Chiyoko his secret. She then falls in love with him.
The next morning, the man is found, and he is forced to flee, again. Chiyoko hears about this from an employee, who helped him escape, and she sees that the man left the key to his suitcase behind and she rushes to the train station. Once she arrives, she spots the man getting onto a train and goes after it, but she slips and doesn't make it. Tachibana realizes that this made Chiyoko go into the acting business, in hopes of finding the man. In her first movie, she meets the bitter Eiko Shimao and the handsome director's son, Junichi Otaki. While on the set of another movie, Eiko says that there's a fortune teller that can help her locate the man she is desperate to find. The fortune teller informs her that the man is in Northern Manchuria and she takes a train ride there. Suddenly, the train is attacked by bandits and Chiyoko escapes.
The scene changes to a kingdom under attack and Chiyoko portrays as a princess. She rushes to the palace, where she finds a man's body on the throne and she begins to cry. She is about to commit suicide, when a ghostly woman appears with a spindle wheel. She offers Chiyoko tea and informs her that it will help her get into the next world. After she drinks it, she realizes that she was tricked, and the ghostly woman says that she will spend many years suffering in the flames of eternal love. After she disappears, a support beam begins to fall, but Tachibana rushes in and saves Chiyoko. He informs that he is a marshal and he will accompany her return home. The two ride away, with Kyoji following behind, but an enemy shots a rifle, hitting Tachibana and the scene ends.
Back in the present, Chiyoko asks if Tachibana doesn't mind portraying the hero, and he shakes his head. The next movie memory is set with Chiyoko as a traveler on a dirt path and she comes across a group of men, taking a prisoner. She attacks and cuts open the traveling prison, believing it would be the nameless man, but it turns out to be Eiko. The two engage in a fight and Eiko's men have the upper hand till Tachibana arrives, playing as a traveling swordsman. He advises Chiyoko to leave, but Eiko follows pursuit and the two continue to fight. Chiyoko takes the upper hand, threatening to kill Eiko if she doesn't tell her where her lover is. Eiko informs her that he is in Kyoto and she disappears in a cloud of smoke.
The scene changes to Kyoto in the Edo period, with Chiyoko as a geisha, begging for mercy from Eiko, also a geisha. Eiko punishes Chiyoko for leaving the okiya and for visiting a prisoner about to be executed and orders a handyman, Tachibana in disguise to look after Chiyoko. Tachibana helps Chiyoko escape from the okiya, disguised as an ordinary citizen. She rushes to the jail-house to discover that several rebels of the government escaped and she continues to look. She then runs into the nameless man, who recognizes her, but he flees, again, and informs Chiyoko to keep the key till they meet, again. Then, the police-chief arrives and asks Chiyoko if she saw a rebel, but he recognizes her and threatens to harm her. Then, Tachibana arrives and saves Chiyoko by offering her his horse and she flees to the country-side.
Chiyoko is caught by the police-chief and is thrown in jail, along with Eiko. Chiyoko refuses to say anything about the man she loves, but Eiko says that feelings in men change. Another cellmate explains that Eiko fell in love with a man and offered money to him, but he ran off with another woman, so Eiko went into a rage and murdered him and his lover. Tachibana arrives and bails Chiyoko out with a lot of money. However, the police-chief says they caught the artist, much to Chiyoko's shock. She runs after the man while going through a long tunnel, but then the scene changes to that of the Tokyo bombing during World War II. Chiyoko is about to run off, when Eiko catches her, slaps her across the face for wanting to risk her life to save someone, and they rush back into the shelter. After the bombings, Chiyoko returns to her home-town, discovering that it also has been bombed. She finds her shop, completely destroyed, and looks around the rubble for something. Then, the sunlight features a picture of Chiyoko as a school student and she is happy, but she suddenly collapses.
In the present, the elderly Chiyoko has collapsed and Tachibana thinks she should get some rest and continue to next day. Chiyoko, however, wants to finish it quickly and continues her story. After Japan surrendered, Chiyoko and the movie studio staff did what they could to survive, but the thought of making good movies kept them going. In the 1950's, it was the peak of Chiyoko's acting career, and she continued in hopes of finding the man. Chiyoko stops and realizes that Tachibana had worked at Ginei Studios, but worked in a minor position. Okati falls in love with Chiyoko, but she never returns his feelings. One day on the set, Chiyoko loses the key and the staff begins to look for it. It turns out that Eiko took it out of jealousy. Chiyoko gives up looking for it and later married Okati. Then, Chiyoko discovers the key, hidden on a set, and Eiko confronts her. She explains that ever since Chiyoko went into the acting business, Eiko wanted to get rid of her.
The young Tachibana interrupts and says there is a visitor for Chiyoko; the now elderly police chief. She orders him to leave, but he offers her a letter from the artist and it mentions Hokkaido. Chiyoko figures that the artist may be in Hokkaido and she takes all means of transportation, but there are obstacles in the way, and she finds a way around them. The scene changes to the moon, where Chiyoko rushes to the top of a hill. She finds a painting and sees the man walking away from her. She loudly exclaims that she will continue to look for him.
However, during the filming of a science-fiction movie, an earthquake strikes and Chiyoko is almost killed. The young Tachibana shields her from falling debris and she thanks him. Then, the apparition of the elderly woman appears in Chiyoko's reflection and she runs off, leaving the key behind. Tachibana takes it for safe-keeping and promises to give it back to her someday.
The elderly Chiyoko says from that day, she withdrew from the acting business and went into hiding. Tachibana then asks why she made that decision. She takes out the picture that survived the bombing and replies that she realized she wasn't the young girl the artist would remember. Chiyoko collapses and at that moment, an earthquake strikes, and Tachibana shields her from falling debris.
Chiyoko is taken to the hospital and the two men follow behind. Tachiban explains to Kyoji about the time the elderly police chief visited Chiyoko and informs that the artist was tortured to death, without Chiyoko's knowledge. At the hospital, Tachibana and Kyoji receive the news that Chiyoko's time on this earth is about to end. They apologize for asking too much about her, but Chiyoko says she enjoyed every moment of it and thanks them for seeking her out. She then dies and the scene changes to a young Chiyoko in a space shuttle, ready to take off. Once it leaves the moon, Chiyoko declares that she will continue to find the man she loves in the next world.