A 2001 anime film by Satoshi Kon, the director of Perfect Blue (1998) and Paprika (2006), Millennium Actress explores the relationship between art, life, love, and memory. Satoshi Kon co-wrote with his long-time collaborator Sadayuki Murai.Director Genya Tachibana, who has been making a documentary about reclusive (and retired) movie star Chiyoko Fujiwara, manages to secure a rare interview with her. The informal and deeply impassioned interview covers her career from her first movie, made a few years afterthe JapaneseinvadedManchuria, to her retirement in the mid-sixties—along with her love life, including her marriage to (and divorce from) her most prominent director. Much of the story is told using episodes and scenes from her movies, the settings of which span a millennium — from the Heian period (794-1185) to a futuristic space age, with the various scene and era changes lampshaded by Kyouji Ida, Genya's snarky but seemingly imperturbable cameraman. Along the way Kyouji and Chiyoko discover that Genya has much deeper connections to Chiyoko than either of the latter would have any way of knowing.Millennium Actress won a slew of anime awards both in Japan and abroad, some of them shared (or split) with Spirited Away.
Bittersweet Ending: After a strong earthquake strikes Chiyoko's villa, she collapses (possibly from a heart attack) in Genya's arms and is taken to the hospital. She dies there, but not before telling Genya that she will find the man she was searching for in the afterlife, and even if she doesn't — chasing him is more fun, anyway.
Book Ends: Chiyoko taking off in a spaceship. Earthquakes are Book Ends in Chiyoko's life.
Christmas Cake: Played in the world of movies; Eiko Shimao is barely a decade older than Chiyoko, and undeniably beautiful, but after Chiyoko becomes a star, Eiko is only ever cast as the scheming older woman opposing her.
Averted with Chiyoko, who reaches the pinnacle of her stardom in the 1950s, when she is in her thirties, and who is still a wildly popular star in her early forties when she abruptly quits.
Chiyoko. Made explicit with her stubborn journey to Hokkaido.
Genya, with his feelings towards Chiyoko.
The Dulcinea Effect: Both Genya's reverence for Chiyoko and Chiyoko's devotion to the man of her dreams.
Empathic Environment: Up to Eleven: not just the weather, but the historical era itself reflects Chiyoko's emotional state. A Justified Trope, in a sense, in that much of what we see is a mix of Chiyoko's movies with her memories and the imaginations of her and Genya; that is, the "environment" in question really is Chiyoko's emotional state, not a real place that just happens to mirror it. See also Time Travel.
Expy: Chiyoko, especially in her twenties, looks a lot like the young actress Mima from Perfect Blue. (They have the same nose.) However, their personalities are not especially similar.
The Faceless: We never get a good look at the face of the man with the key — in part because the "reality" we see in the "flashbacks" is subjective, and Chiyoko no longer remembers what he looked like.
Fanboy: Genya's main reason for doing the interview.
Arguably a Subverted Trope. As it turns out, Genya knew and loved Chiyoko in real life, and worked with her back at the studio, from about the second quarter of her career not long after the end of World War II. Although he knew and loved her she didn't know he existed; she had been a movie star for nearly a decade, whereas he was just some lowly member of the crew. (Not that she was by any means a snob; but he was too timid to dare intrude into her world.) Then one day during an earthquake he saved her life, and perhaps she would have noticed him after that — but that was the day she fled the movie industry forever, and became a recluse. Besides, she was already In Love with Love.
Fortune Teller: A Subverted Trope: the fortune teller was bribed, and given personal information, by Chiyoko's rival Eiko, specifically to get Chiyoko off the set and thus fired and possibly blackballed from the movie industry. (Given the political situation in that time and place, it could easily have gotten her killed.) For whatever reason, the plot failed in its larger purpose: Chiyoko did not get fired, although she did land in plenty of trouble.
Freak Out: Chiyoko has a few. Perhaps the most fateful is the one that drives her forever from the movie business and into her life as a recluse: after an earthquake that nearly kills her, she abruptly decides/realizes that she is now middle-aged, and thus no longer the girl the artist who gave her the key would be looking for. She quits the movie business, not wanting the man to see her as anything other than a girl. Unfortunately for all involved by that time the man is already long dead.
Generic Cuteness: An Averted Trope. With a few exceptions, only the in-universe actresses and actors are beautiful (and by no means all of them, especially if they play minor characters); the members of the crew and other minor characters tend to be average-looking. A notable exception is Chiyoko's Love Interest, the mysterious artist who gives her the key. But we never see him all that clearly, and to the extent we do, we still mostly see him through Chiyoko's eyes.)
Girly Run: An Averted Trope, although Chiyoko spends a lot of the movie running. In the interview section of the DVD, the director says he shot footage of a girl running specifically for the animators to study, so they could depict Chiyoko running in a realistic — and elegant — manner.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Genya. In the Show Within a Show movies, he (fused with whichever in-universe movie character he happens to be "playing") keeps sacrificing himself, over and over, in order to give Chiyoko (fused with the in-universe movie character she's playing) another chance to pursue the ever-elusive man she loves (fused with Love Interest of said character). Also, as it turns out, more than three decades before the Framing Device documentary takes place, Genya saved Chiyoko's life during an earthquake; thus his role as perennial savior is to some extent justified.
Imperial Japan: The police officer who persecutes Chiyoko is from the Kempetai, Imperial Japan's near-equivalent of the Gestapo.
Meaningful Echo: The movie is saturated with them, some of them verbal, but most of them visual or situational.
Meaningful Name: Chiyoko's surname is Fujiwara. The Fujiwara clan was a powerful political entity during the Asuka (538-710) and Nara (710-794) periods, and they went on to become the dominant political power in Japan during the Heian era (794–1185), freely intermarrying with (and often presiding over) the Imperial House itself. Furthermore, Chiyoko's own name means "Child of a thousand generations" - a thousand Reincarnations?
Genya's surname name is Tachibana. Tachibana was another powerful clan during the Nara and Heian eras.
The Ojou: Chiyoko is from a well-to-do family that doesn't approve of actresses. Chiyoko doesn't necessarily fit the personality — although her mother certainly does — but she has the semi-aristocratic bearing and manners.
Chiyoko is called "ojou-sama" even before she becomes an actress.
She plays (or is) a princess in the Fujiwara clan in a movie set the Heian era. See also Meaningful Name.
Perhaps also Otaki for Chiyoko. Although he does manipulate her into marrying him, for a time — until she finds his Idiot Ball. (On the other hand, there are hints that he views her more as a fine jewel to be collected than as a person to love as an equal.)
White-Dwarf Starlet: For the most part, an Averted Trope. Chiyoko wasn't abandoned by the movie business; she abandoned it. Furthermore, she harbors no illusions about returning to her former glory. Moreover, she was never drawn to the glamor of the movie business; she became an actress in hopes to meeting the artist who gave her the key; she stayed an actress after the war to keep food on the table during Japan post-war devastation, and she chose to accept her role as a star because she hoped it would lead to a reunion with the artist who gave her the key. When she realized she was no longer the girl he had known, she had a Freak Out and quit, because she wanted him to remember her as he had known her. Too bad he was long dead by that time.