The character of Chiyoko herself is somewhat reminiscent of Setsuko Hara, a famed Japanese movie star of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, who likewise withdrew suddenly from public life. Satoshi Kon has recognized this influence in an interview, also citing Hideko Takamine, but insisting that Chiyoko is primarily a universal human character.
The filtering of Chiyoko's life through film history allows the setting, characters, and the visual style of the film to change suddenly. Some of the scenes are reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, while others evoke Akira Kurosawa movies (particularly Throne of Blood). Satoshi Kon has acknowledged the influence of Throne of Blood, but says that for the most part there are no specific references in his segments. Instead he drew on a vague general impression of the history of Japanese filmmaking and visual art for his different styles and stories; Kon insists that historical film was actually not a subject he had much familiarity with before he made Millennium Actress. He studied the settings and costumes carefully, however, and learned a lot in the making of the film, such as the history of the kimono.
Various photographic effects of aging are used in order to make the Chiyoko's films seem old: were filmed separately and passed through different laboratory and telecine processes from the rest of the film, no CG effects were used.
Commercially, the film performed modestly on its US release, earning $37,285 during its 3 week release. The film was shown almost exclusively in New York and Los Angeles, and received a minimal advertising campaign from Go Fish Pictures.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film indicates that the Chiyoko's life was linked to earthquakes: she was born during the Great Kanto Earthquake, so her birth date is September 1, 1923; She gave up her career after another great earthquake, perhaps based on the Niigata earthquake (occurred on June 16, 1964), and Chiyoko dies during another earthquake: The Western Honshu earthquake (occurred on October 6, 2000).