Millennium Actress (2001)


Millennium Actress is a rich film about love and life through the history of one actresses’s career and memories. Now in her seventies Chiyoko Fujiwara reminises on her life for a documentary on her life. She remembers an encounter as a young girl with an injured rebel painter who she sheltered from the police. They knew each other for barely an evening, but the encounter haunted her for the rest of her life, as she would eventually spend all her time onscreen and off trying to reunite with her lost love. The film evocatively marries fantasy and reality, bringing together the past and present as film meets life. Even the filmmakers who seek to bring her life to screen appear in her flashbacks, not only as spectators, but as active characters in her films and past. The story remains cogent, and her goal never veers from her focused path.

This technique works very well, despite feeling somewhat clumsy in the beginning as the two filmmakers feel too intrusive in Chiyoko’s life. It feels, if only for the span of a few minutes that the director did not feel enough confidance in the audience to understand the marrying between the two world, and how they interelate.

Overall though, the style is inventive, and while touched on already in the arts (Arcadia comes to mind), the worlds rarely interrelate, and the characters stand as outsiders to the events that are taking place opposed to active participants. Also, creating a cohesive narrative from clearly different films from many different eras could easily have been redundant or forced, but the timelessness of the story lends itself to so many eras and journeys. The archetypes of storytelling never really become old, and this film matches themes from some of the oldest stories we know. I think the film is a wonderful case for the collective unconscious, which essentially is the idea that all people, from all eras have an innate understanding of the same basic storylines. The most common is a story of creation, and while there are differences between stories most share commonolaties that trascend simple coincidence. Millennium Actress brings together two of these stories in one, as not only does the film work as a quest, but is a tale of forbidden love.

In context of the film, both narratives cannot be mentioned without the other as both are so clearly intertwined. The forbidden nature of her affection for this mystery artist is directly tied to her long journey through time and space to find him. There even comes a point, when Chiyoko herself realises that she has moved so far from the person she once was that she no longer ressembled in body or spirit the girl she once was. Her movement forward instead of bringing her closer to her goal had theoritically the adverse effect. However, in her own journey through her past, she comes to realise that she was defined by her actions and quest for the man she loved, and the ending becomes bittersweet as one realises that as long realises that as long as we have our memories, nothing is truly lost. For me at least, this is perfectly defined by a stunning and poignant montage towards the end of the film, bringing together Chiyoko’s journey through life and film into one sequence. The film also ends on a beautifully literal note, as we move back to her last film, as she ventures into space all by herself.

5 responses to “Millennium Actress (2001)

  1. I really think I should watch this again… I’ve liked the director’s other works, so why wouldn’t I like this? I think I was probably just distracted when I first saw it, so maybe if I gave it another chance my view on it would be more positive.
    I’ll watch it again sometime in my life <– I keep my expectations low 🙂

  2. You should see it again, i think you’ll like it a lot more this time. You might’ve been just a little young when yo ufirst saw it, and not as familiar with the medium as a whole. Give it another go!

  3. Lovely review. I love Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, and I like Perfect Blue, but I still haven’t seen this one. Gonna have to track it down.

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