An Actor’s Revenge (15) | Home Ents Review

Dir Kon Ichikawa, Japan, 1963, 113 mins, in Japanese with subtitles

Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Fujiko Yamamoto, Ayako Wakao

Review by Colin Dibben

A sumptuous if stolid melodrama with a big reputation, this restored version looks wonderful. But it’s hard to engage with at an emotional level, despite the story of revenge, love, guilt and death.

Yoiji (Hasegawa) is a kabuki performer, a female impersonator, in the 1830s. He has a cunning plan to kill the three men who tormented his father to death. His plan involves getting the beautiful Lady Namiji (Wakao) to fall in love with him, but a female thief Otashu (Yamamoto) also wants a bit of that paunchy performer pie.

It’s best to ditch following the story and concentrate on the array of pastiched visual styles on display here.

To begin with – and throughout – the film looks utterly beautiful: there’s bold use of vibrant Eastmancolour and a patented widescreen ratio that mimics the dimensions of the traditional kabuki stage (think: wiiiide and looong).

The ultra-stylised theatrical sets also hark back to theatre in general and kabuki in particular; and there are camera angles so sharp that they could be out of a comic strip.

The music highlights rapid changes of tone in the film – lush strings, smooth jazz and avant-garde bleeps and bloops – but they mark nothing. The film’s ironic detachment means that there are no significant mood changes at all. The film feels resoundingly claustrophobic.

An Actor’s Revenge flirts with classic status, with its Hamlet-style tragedy and lowlife chorus of thieves; but something is subtracted by the ironic, almost Pop Art, approach to film form.

Most weird of all, the paunchy 55-year old Hasegawa is returning to a part he first played at 27, when his feminine attributes were probably more persuasive and his lovemaking and swordplay better too.

There are some great extras:

  • New audio commentary by critic, programmer and Japanese film expert Tony Rayns
  • 100 Years of Japanese Film (Nagisa Oshima, 1995, 52 mins): the award-winning director of In the Realm of the Senses (1976) explores the first century of Japanese cinema
  • Oriental Splendour, Japan Pays Homage, Japan. To Rid Their Souls of Evil, and In Old Japan (1927-1930, 4 mins): four rare archive films documenting Japanese life, from the Topical Budget newsreel

An Actor’s Revenge is out in a special dual-format edition on 26 March 2018.

Colin Dibben

Author: Colin Dibben

Share This Post On