"Chiyoko Fujiwara: even her names evokes 1,000 years of Japanese history beginning with the Fujiwara clan who dominated Japan a millennium ago as she dominated Japanese movies. The story begins with an elderly actress who recounts her life and career to a Quixotically worshipful producer and his Sancho Panza-like cameraman. Film juxtaposes with reality; and the triumphs and tragedies of one actress meld into those of Japan itself; objectivity and fantasy mock each other and dance with one another. At one moment the cameraman is making a pungent comment about cornball emotions, and the next moment he is dodging burning arrows from one of her movies. Perhaps, Chiyoko really is a woman cursed or perhaps blessed to endure 1,000 years of unrequited love. Perhaps the mysterious "human-rights activist" that she pursues through the centuries, and through one movie after another, represents an ever-receding ideal of love, truth, and human dignity that is yearned for by individuals and nations alike. They met just briefly, he gave her the key to "the most important thing in the world," and Chiyoko and the film characters she plays spend the next 1,000 years and the rest of her film career and the rest of her life trying to return it.
"Millennium Actress" and the techniques of animation were made for each other. Live-action could not possibly have created this stunning plunge though the centuries nearly as well, nor have depicted the transformation of a beautiful young women into a beautiful old woman. So-called live-action movies would have buried a live actress under layers of Yoda-like plastic to achieve the same effect.
Presumably you will be watching this on DVD; after you have watched this movie through once or twice, go back and select scene 12 and just watch that: it begins with an apprentice Geisha, (as played by Chiyoko), risking everything to pursue the human-rights activist (in this generation he is a rebel Samurai.) A merciless Javert-like pursuer barges in to ruin everything, but a Quixotic stranger rescues her for sake of idealistic love and sets her free to ride through the land of Japan to continue her search. She rides through Hokusai landscapes and through the battles of 19th-Century Japan. She continues undaunted even though the wheel of her curse keeps turning and is symbolized by increasingly modern modes of transportation: carriages, trains, bicycles; the splendor and tragedy of Japanese history whizzes by and still her journey continues. Her eternal quest for freedom turns into a freedom in itself, and -- by the way -- the medium of animation gives a mighty leap from the Saturday-morning ghetto to which American imaginations has confined it and shows off freedoms that live-action could never do as well.
This movie is action-filled but never manic; emotional but never overwrought; thought-provoking but never airy. The unpleasant little word Surrealism comes to mind -- it's unpleasant because it often evokes elitism, self-indulgence, and confusion. But "Millennium Actress" is never neurotic, never smug, and always invites the audience to join in the fun of mixing up film, memory, history, and desire, in surprising ways. There are enough delightful coincidences and plot twists to entrance an admirer of Shakespeare or Dickens. The musical score is excellent. The quality of animation is excellent, and these characters have more originality, life, individuality, and heart than in many movies being made in Hollywood." (tedne, IMDb)
English subtitle included.