Millennium Actress

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Millennium Actress Movie Poster Image
Arty Japanese animated drama has complex plot, violence.
  • PG
  • 2002
  • 87 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Though an overarching theme is the artifice (or reality) of moviemaking and the crossover of Chiyoko's ever-heartsick characters with her real life, the film's actual message is about the power of love -- or, in Chiyoko's case, love withheld, a hopeless girlhood crush that consumes a lifetime (maybe longer).

Positive Role Models & Representations

In a switch from actress-diva characterizations, unspoiled Chiyoko claims no interest in movie stardom -- she just takes roles to pursue her mystery man. Though the plot romanticizes it, there's the hint she's allowed obsessive love to ruin her chance for a normal life. Another female character fits the jealous-aging-starlet stereotype. Genya is a stalwart, semi-comical defender and helper of Chiyoko in both reality and fantasy. Either way, he never wins the love game either. Sigh.


Battlefield rifle fire (including giant monster-attack mayhem) and flaming arrows. Swordfights with dead bodies. Some bloodshed, mostly impressionistic. A dead body (mostly covered) of a feudal hari-kari suicide is shown. Earthquakes cause damage.


Nothing objectionable, despite a love-centric plot.


"Damned" in the cursed sense.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One (unsympathetic) character smokes a cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Japanese animation is no simplistic Speed Racer adventure but an intricate, surreal plotline that blends the make-believe of filmmaking with the "real" life of an actress. Kids may be confused by the multiple levels, shifting time-periods, and the ambiguous, bittersweet ending (which is a tenderly metaphorical death from old age). There is studio-set violence -- war, ninja fighting -- that overlaps with the real deal, but never graphically. The heroine considers killing herself with a knife (in a role). Talk of another character dying under government torture.. Swordfights with dead bodies. Some bloodshed, mostly impressionistic. A dead body (mostly covered) of a feudal hari-kari suicide is shown. Earthquakes cause damage. Be prepared for Japanese language with subtitles, rather than English-dubbed editions.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJohn A. August 16, 2020

Rated PG (mild violence, threat, bloody images).

SEX/NUDITY - The central plot revolves around a distant romance, however there are no sex references or nudity. VIOLENCE/GORE - There are some scenes of mild vi... Continue reading
Adult Written byT J November 17, 2018
Teen, 13 years old Written byTonii February 7, 2021

I cried a lot on this one ;')

This film is amazing! I will never understand why it's so overlooked!
The movie isn't as violent as some of the reviews on here say. I mean, there i... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLedZepFan98 October 2, 2012

Anime Best for Older Kids

This is truly one of the greatest anime films of all time. The plot centers around Chiyoko, a 70-odd year old actress, when the film studio that see worked with... Continue reading

What's the story?

As a Japanese movie studio demolishes its old soundstages, blustery exec Genya and irreverent young videographer Ida start a documentary on one of their stars, actress Chiyoko Fujiwara, who retired at the height of her career. They find the reclusive Chiyoko -- 70, the same age as the studio -- gracious and hospitable. Her memories of growing up against the rising Japanese fascism of the 1930s are so vivid that Genya (who, comically, has a lifelong infatuation with Chiyoko) and Ida find themselves back in flashbacks with her, dutifully videotaping the girl's childhood brief encounter with a handsome, nameless artist running from Japanese authorities. This fugitive gives Chiyoko a gold key to "the most important thing there is" and disappears. Discovered by a talent agent, Chiyoko turns film actress to track her mystery man to Manchuria, where a propaganda drama is to shoot. During this, the two-man documentary crew reappears as observers/characters in Chiyoko's films -- historical pageants of thwarted love and romantic yearning, set amidst samurai, ninjas, and 20th-century soldiers. Truth and fiction blend in Chiyoko's life, career, and unending search for her nameless first love.

Is it any good?

It would be hard to imagine how to successfully realize the movie's dazzling premise outside of animation. There are three timelines, one spanning a thousand years (and extending into the space-travel future), the other Japan's last hundred years or so, and finally the arc of Chiyoko's own 20th-century life -- or reincarnations of several lives. Or re-enactments for the film-studio cameras. Or all of the above. Yes, it helps to have a knowledge of Japanese history, culture, and cinema (even a Godzilla lookalike cameos), but even without noticing the recurring lotus-flower or crane visuals, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS works beautifully as arty drama and a bittersweet, if rather rosy, picture of obsessive first love.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the meaning of the film and its complicated structure. Ask kids if they had trouble following the multi-faceted storyline. What do they think is "the most important thing there is?"

  • What are the "hot" Japanese titles in animation and comic books at the moment, and why?

  • Chiyoko suffers throughout the movie from an adolescent crush. Ask kids how deep they've gotten with hopeless love, and whether they think what Chiyoko puts herself through in this movie is even healthy.

Movie details

  • In theaters: September 14, 2002
  • On DVD or streaming: October 28, 2003
  • Cast: Miyoko Shoji, Regina Reagan
  • Director: Satoshi Kon
  • Studio: DreamWorks
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Topics: History
  • Run time: 87 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG
  • MPAA explanation: thematic elements, violence and brief mild language
  • Last updated: March 14, 2020

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