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One of the Best Anime Flicks You Might Have Missed: How to Stream Millennium Actress

Satoshi Kon's reality-warping love-letter to cinema is streaming now. 

By James Grebey

Peacock is not lacking in quality animation, but in addition to all the great, kid-friendly DreamWorks movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda, an incredible film from one of the great masters of anime who died far too soon is available to stream as well. Millennium Actress, the trippy 2003 love letter to cinema from director Satoshi Kon, is well worth your watch. 

For those unfamiliar with Satoshi Kon, the late great is up there with Hayo Miyazaki when it comes to legendary anime creators — or at least he should be. Kon died far too young, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 46 in 2010. Before he died, he made four mind-warping, incredible films, and an acclaimed TV show. Perfect Blue, his 1997 debut, is a psychological horror-thriller about a pop star whose sense of reality begins to warp as a stalker pursues her following a switch to acting. Next came Millennium Actress in 2001, followed by 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers, a sweet story about three homeless people who find a baby in the streets of Tokyo one Christmas night, and then 2006’s Paprika, about a woman who explores people’s dreams.

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Why Millennium Actress Is One of Anime's Hidden Gems

Chiyoko Fujiwara watches as a rickshaw driver dives in Millennium Actress (2001).

Millennium Actress doesn’t have quite the sense of dread or horror that Perfect Blue and Paprika have — to say nothing of his TV show, Paranoia Agent. Instead, it’s a story about one woman’s life through film. Chiyoko Fujiwara, a once-famous actress who has since retired and has been a recluse for the past 30 years, agrees to give an interview about her life to a TV reporter and his cameraman. What elevates Millennium Actress beyond just being a drama is the way in which her life story is told. 

Kon, a master of interesting and dreamlike editing, has Chiyoko’s story come to life through the movies she starred in over her career. As we learn about her life — and how her desire to become an actress started when she fell for an artist and political dissident opposing the Sino-Japanese War — the tale seamlessly shifts genres and settings. One minute she’s in a samurai movie, the next a period drama. She’s even in a Godzilla-like movie at one point. It’s a reality-bending trip through personal and cinematic history, the two so intertwined as to be functionally the same thing. Her story is fascinating and poignant; the way it’s told is mind-blowing. 

For lovers of movies, especially Japanese cinema, Millennium Actress is an absolute feast, full of allusions and references in the spirit of celebration of the medium. For lovers of animation, some of the scene transitions and feats of illustration in Millennium Actress need to be seen to be believed. Millennium Actress is a puzzle for mystery fans, too, as Chiyoko’s career is a chase in search of someone — something — that she can’t quite seem to catch. 

If you watch Millennium Actress, you will also be left with a sense of loss. Millennium Actress isn’t necessarily Kon’s best film — Perfect Blue and Paprika tend to get the most accolades. But, of his far-too-small filmography, it might be the one that will make you the saddest that there aren’t more films like it. It’s a singular story about a life making art, told through that very art. That Kon didn’t have decades more time to make more movies like it is a tremendous loss. At least there’s Millennium Actress. 

Millennium Actress is streaming on Peacock.

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