Millennium Actress (2001) (PG)

As a former film studio is torn down and an era in cinema ends, two film makers are eager to interview the, now demolished, film studio's biggest star, an actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara. She was the shining light of the studio, they were kind to her and vice versa.
But after disappearing near the peak of her career, Chiyoko became a mysterious starlet of the past. Now, the visual destruction of the studio she was partnered with brings minds back to her. The two film makers are determined to gain an audience with the elusive actress. One of them informs her that he intends to bring her something should she chose to be interviewed. She obliges. When they arrive, the one man presents her with a box containing a key.
Then we spiral back into her memory. She takes the two film makers with her to the past: a world which is convoluted and complicated. Witches, wars, and lost loves abound in her memory.
Starting from when she got her first film offer, Chiyoko shows the two men her life played out through her film career and actual life.
There are two Chiyokos in "Millennium Actress", the real person and the characters she plays. Some people have fallen in love with both women—the flesh and bone, and the transformations of the script,
We see Chiyoko as a little girl, so do the film makers. They travel back in time and stand in the same rooms as the young actress. They make comments that are supposed to be funny, like: "I though this was supposed to be a documentary".
The audience is just as confused as the cameraman, who keeps getting thrown from one scene to another. It takes a while to get used to this movie.
Not only is it a trick of memory and time, some of the moments are purely fictional. Are we supposed to be watching a movie of a movie? Is this the biography parts?
I was never really sure.
A chance meeting with a wounded thief pierces Chiyoko's heart with Cupid's arrow. The thief wears a key around his neck, telling Chiyoko that is goes to the most important thing in the world.
Before she has an opportunity to learn what the most important thing in the world is, the man disappears, pursued by officers.
Chiyoko finds his key and becomes determined to return it back to him even if it's the last thing she ever does.
"Millennium Actress" is a very intimate picture, seeking to draw the audience into the mind of an aging star.
The conceit that so many associate with divas is not present in Chiyoko. She is gracious and even fragile.
The recent film "Salinger" proved that audiences love this kind of story—find the recluse and make a documentary about them. But this film is a story about the story: the process of bringing Chiyoko's life to the screen.
By the end of the film, you could argue that the footage the men capture will never be had some unknown effect on them.
In the course of the storytelling, the men's positions shift. They become are able to talk and interact with the memories of Chiyoko. They are no longer observers, they are influencers. I really didn't like this turn. It would have been fine if they stuck to being spectators...but that didn't happen.
This film feels slightly like "Cinema Paradiso", in the way that it could be viewed as a love letter to cinema...that and the 'lost love' aspect that the movie clings to desperately.
Using real events and real years, "Millennium Actress" feel vaguely realistic and plausible.
The anime drawing isn't perfect, but this is one such movie that could only exist in its original format. I doubt anyone could adapt it to live action...but hey, go ahead and try.
It's a sweet picture. Though nothing incredibly special.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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