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Japan 1963
Directed by
Kon Ichikawa
117 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Actor's Revenge, An

Kon Ichikawa is not as well-recognized in the West as his contemporaries such as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. Partly this is because he was a director who, unlike his peers, turned his hand to a wide range of projects in very much an anonymous journeyman approach.

An Actor's Revenge which is set in 19th century Edo, is about an onnagata, a male Kabuki actor who plays only female roles, who is intent on revenging the death of his parents many years before. The film, which was intended as a vehicle to mark the 300th screen appearance of Kazuo Hasegawa. who plays the lead character, was a remake of a 1935 melodrama in which Hasegawa had also starred. Given Ichikawa’s credentials this would appear on the face of it to be straightforward commercial project although the director faced the problem that his lead at the age of 55 was far too old for a role which required a beautiful young woman to fall madly in love with him.

The result is a remarkable film that completely rejects naturalism in favour of an eclectic but highly abstracted treatment that moves between Kabuki’s melodramatic theatricality on the one hand and dream-like abstraction on the other, combined in a vivid Cinemascope format underscored with an incongruous mix of traditional Japanese music and '60s Western jazz. Overwhelmed by the stylization, dramatically the story does not engage but for anyone with a taste for classical Japanese aesthetics this will be an intriguing, if perhaps a challenging, experience.




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