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A movie studio is being torn down. TV interviewer Genya Tachibana has tracked down its most famous star, Chiyoko Fujiwara, who has been a recluse since she left acting some 30 years ago. Tachibana delivers a key to her, and it causes her to reflect on her career; as she's telling the story, Tachibana and his long-suffering cameraman are drawn in. The key was given to her as a teenager by a painter and revolutionary that she helped to escape the police. She becomes an actress because it will make it possible to track him down, and she spends the next several decades acting out that search in various genres and eras.
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The US Region 1 release was only in Japanese with subtitles.
The UK Region 2 release added an English dub, which made changes to when the characters were speaking, and what they were saying.
Unfortunately there's only one set of subtitles which are for the English dub, so if you are watching in Japanese they are often out of sync with the audio, and it is obvious even without speaking Japanese that it is not a proper translation.
For example, sometimes a character will just say one or two words, which will result in a long sentence of subtitles.
See the attached image for a comparison of the same scene in both versions.
If you are planning on watching in Japanese, I don't recommend the UK release.
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The story is simple and at the same time ambitious. A documentary filmmaker interviews the legendary Japanese actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. Now a 70 year old lady, Chiyoko's career has nevertheless spanned a millennium from period drama to science-fiction drama - but it's a single incident from her childhood that serves as a common thread through all her films and is also the key (literally as well as figuratively) inspiration that makes those performances so great.
The animation then is fully put to the service of the story, Chiyoko's real-life and the documentary filmmakers all coming together into the landscape of her filmmaking career, the animation fluidly blending between them all, serving to add subtle emotional resonances - and sometimes not quite so subtle it must be admitted, but perfectly in tune nonetheless with the dramatic nature of the subject. In this way, Millennium Actress becomes a tribute not only to Japanese cinema, but to the nature of cinema as a whole, to the necessity of drama and the creation of fiction to make lives all the more vivid and meaningful. Magnificent.
It also has has an epic soundtrack.