Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyū) is an animated Japanese movie that was written by Sadayuki Murai (Perfect Blue) and co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue). It was first released in 2001 by the highly acclaimed Studio Madhouse. It is, like so many things that come out of Studio Madhouse, a not your typical science fiction, blood and gore or silly-type anime. It is, instead, a poignant tale about looking for love for a lifetime.
Genya Tachibana, a movie director, is there when they tear down an old, famous movie studio. Inside the studio, a key is found. The key is one of the last links to the famous actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. Chiyoko had seemingly disappeared over thirty years before, but after the key is found, Genya decides to track Chiyoko down to talk to her. He is interested in the famed actress’s life and brings a camera man along with him to do a biography.
When Genya gives Chiyoko the key, her mind whisks back into her past, when she was a young teenager who gave a rebel shelter. After she hid him from his assailants, the young painted gave her a key and told her that she was to never lose it. “It is the most important thing there is,” he said. Chiyoko vows to never lose the key and watches as the mysterious painter rushes out of her life as quickly has he had rushed in.
Chiyoko is then discovered as an actress and, against her mother’s wishes, starts acting. She is determined to use acting as a way to find the painter, whom she has convinced herself she has fallen in love with. Chiyoko ends up playing many roles, from a samurai to an astronaut and beyond, she takes on many fantastical roles. As she tells the story to Genya, the line between reality and fantasy starts to blur. Genya himself starts reliving the past through her words. As a fan, he finds himself from the outside looking in, and then jumping into the stories himself. He and the camera man are seen constantly rescuing Chiyoko in her stories, usually in a very comical way.
Chiyoko suffers through a terrible marriage and divorce, among the other things that any great actress has to deal with. Yet she never manages to find her true love, the mysterious painter who appeared and disappeared so suddenly. The ending of this movie leaves viewers sitting back, shaking their heads, and starting the movie all over again.
It has been noted by fans of the movie that the main character, Chiyoko, is similar to a famous Japanese actress named Setsuko Hara. Setsuko was a huge actress from the 1940’s to the 1960’s who also retired and seemed to drop off the face of the earth. The director, Satoshi Kon, has admitted that there is a similarity between Chiyoko and Setsuko, but has said that Chiyoko was really meant to be a “universal” character, and not meant to shadow Setsuko’s life.