An Actor's Revenge

An Actor's Revenge

Rating: 7/10
Year: 1963
Genre: Drama
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Ayako Wakao, Raizo Ichikawa, Shintaro Katsu

Kon Ichikawa is one of the most important filmmakers in Japan. He is famous of his fancy use of montage, elaborate visual jokes and fantastically colored sets. In this film, he shows us the definition of wide screen aesthetic.

This film is about the revenge of a Kabuki actor called Yukinojo. Yukinojo's parents are driven to a misderable suicide by three men when he was young. Twenty years later, Yukinojo has grown up and becomes a leading female impersonator in a kabuki troupe. During his tour, he comes across these three murderers. He decides to take revenge and ruin their lives. With his carefully conceived plot, he starts out by seducing the daughter of one of them...

Kazuo Hasegawa, the protagonist of this film, plays two roles in this film. He is Yukinojo, the Kabuki actor who seeks revenge; He is also Yamitaro, a famous bandit who acts like Robin Hood. What makes the two roles of the actor in this film remarkable is not the diverse acting ability of Kazuo Hasegawa, but Kon Ichikawa's choice of doing so. A sense of self-relexivity is shown through the depiction of the two characters. Yamitaro is like a relexive figure of Yukinojo. He is always monitoring Yukinojo at different moments throughout the film. He is aware of Yukinojo's intention and action and he will give comments occasionally or engage in monologue that seems to tell the viewers what Yukinojo is thinking at various moments in the film. His function is somewhat similar to the character of the commoner in Rashomon. While both of them act as a kind of meta-diegetic character who seem to exist outside the diegesis, they will suddenly jump into it at certain moments. Since Yamitaro knows all the secret of Yukinojo and can even reads his mind precisely, he is actually a representative of the dark side of Yukinojo. That is, the aspect unknown to Yukinojo's enemies, the aspect that is hidden behind a "mask" of acting.

Another remarkable characteristic of this film is the revival of benshi. In 1963 when this film was made, the system of benshi is not as popular as before. But the monologue of Yamitaro and the voice-over narration at the end of the film keep reminding us of benshi performance. I think Ichikawa makes this arrangement on purpose in order to correspond it with the setting of the films, a world where benshi is popular and Kabuki/Noh play is the major entertainment for the public.

As one of cinema's great meditations on life and the theatre, this masterpiece is truly a must see for all Japanese movie lovers.

VHS (US version) - I believe it is a letterbox wide screen transfer. The English subtitles are pretty well translated. I am not sure if DVD is available for this film. But if it does, I am certain that is the version you should look for.

Cool guy(s) - Kazuo Hasegawa

Reviewed by: Kantorates