Chiyoko Fujiwara has a long and celebrated career as an actress behind her when she agrees to do a documentary with interviewer Genya and his cameraman Kyoji. Genya gives her a key she lost years ago, not realizing just how important it is to her and how much it’s been a part of her life.
Chiyoko starts telling the men the story of her life, but she doesn’t just talk about the career side to it. As a young woman on the cusp of becoming a professional actress, she had a chance encounter with a painter who was also an activist against the Second Sino-Japanese War. This was in the 1930s, and he could be punished for this activism. Chiyoko saves him from capture, and during their brief time together, he shows her a key that opens “what’s most important.”
After the two are separated, Chiyoko has the key, and she’s determined to return it to him. She’s also convinced she’s in love. This begins her lifelong obsession of both the man and the key. As she tells the story, Genya and Kyoji start appearing in her past, though no one can see them and they still have their camera. Before long, they’re not only in her past but also in her movies. The two provide comic relief to many serious scenes, and the mixture of past, present, reality and cinema fantasy are all interwoven. Director and co-writer Satoshi Kon was known for surrealistic, dreamlike work, but this isn’t just being odd for the sake of being odd. While it’s a little jarring at first, eventually the mixtures of scenes starts to feel right for the story, and by the end of the movie it feels very powerful.
Unfortunately, Kon passed away from cancer in 2010, eight years after Millennium Actress first came out. However, the re-release of Millennium Actress will hopefully bring new fans to his work. The movie has a 4K remaster and new dub from ELEVEN ARTS. The dubbed version will be playing at Fathom Events throughout the United States on August 19, so check out a theater near you!
Danica Davidson, along with Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya, is the author of Manga Art for Intermediates. In addition to showing how to draw manga character types in detail, the book describes how professional Japanese manga creators work, including common techniques and what drawing utensils they use.