An Actor’s Revenge Screen 13 articles

An Actor’s Revenge


An Actor’s Revenge Poster
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    Film Comment: James Widdicombe
    March 03, 2018 | March/April 2018 Issue (p. 75)

    The use of theater conventions and widescreen helps to plumb the psychological depths of its character types and creates a space for formal play. Yet An Actor's Revenge takes a more flexible approach, and the striking voiceover conveys a sense of double consciousness. Criterion's excellent release not only introduces viewers to a remarkable outlier in Ichikawa's filmography but also to a most colorful performance.

  • Kon Ichikawa's mind-blowing An Actor's Revenge is concerned with doubles and triples, with nesting forms of art and identity, and with history as a circular and self-devouring string of miseries. . . . In lockstep with his protagonist, Ichikawa fashions a deliciously fluid aesthetic that's irreconcilably bleak and sensual. An Actor's Revenge suggests punk art that's been disguised in traditionalist's clothing.

  • In Ichikawa’s hands, even the shape of the screen seems changeable. He breaks up the space with exhilarating audacity, whether by adopting an artful version of picture-in-picture or literally spotlighting his characters (in the theater or in the street) or dissolving boundaries so that a snow-blanketed stage stretches out in all directions like a vast Arctic landscape. The story runs the gamut from farce, soap opera, and action-packed chanbara all the way to heart-crushing tragicomedy.

  • Visually, An Actor’s Revenge brings to mind the films of Seijun Suzuki, Ichikawa’s contemporary, with its stage-like lighting, overlaid images and brightly colored flourishes. There is a stunning fight scene in a foggy forest, where Namiji must defend herself with a timidly brandished knife, bloodless but devastating. And the Kabuki performances that bookend the film are gorgeous testaments to Yukitaro’s power as a female impersonator.

  • Ichikawa was a master at composing within wide frames, a talent he used to great effect whether he was staging a family melodrama, a tale of religious obsession, or a story of a man at sea. . . . Brilliant colors and dynamic jazz music interact within epic set pieces that unfold against rolling abstract backdrops. The film depicts, within a world of boundless creativity, a quest for revenge that offers only limiting returns.

  • Once masculinity and femininity are revealed as mere role-playing, all other absolutes become liquid: East and West, theater and cinema, long takes and furious editing, traditional Japanese ballads and ‘60s jazz trumpeting. Ichikawa’s world in flux is a procession of painted backgrounds, order is a performance.

  • The influence of the cartoon, and of painting, is visible throughout his career, in the artificial mise en scène of such films as Ten Dark Women (1961) and An Actor’s Revenge, the former intensifying the stylistic tropes of film noir into a manga-like pastiche, the latter iconoclastically blending influences from animation, ukiyo-e and the traditional theatre among whose practitioners its story unfolds.

  • As a punitive assignment for a string of meticulously perfectionist but commercially unsuccessful films, Kon Ichikawa was tasked with the re-adaptation of an outmoded novel by Otokichi Mikami entitled An Actor’s Revenge, and consequently, together with his wife and frequent collaborator, screenwriter Natto Wada, turned the banal pulp shimpa melodrama into a delirious, highly stylized, and idiosyncratic spectacle.

  • Veteran actor Kazuo Hasegawa gives astonishing twin performances as Yukinojo, the fluttery performer, and Yomitara, the burly thief who befriends him. Ichikawa juxtaposes naturalistic scenes with obviously painted sets, making superb use of widescreen. This campy and fascinating study of opposites—illusion/reality, masculinity/femininity—made in 1963 and set in the mid 1800s, is the most modern show in town.

  • Ichikawa's breathtaking use of 'Scope becomes central to his conception because of the horizontal sweep of the Kabuki stage, which serves as a kind of baseline on which he builds his inventions. . . . (Most Hollywood 'Scope films, apart from Samuel Fuller's, tend to avoid quick cutting, on the theory that it takes a viewer longer to "read" a wide-screen image; Ichikawa's refusal to follow this princlple--or, rather, his personal alteration of it to suit his own ends--is often refreshing.)

  • That's the least one can say for Ichikawa's snazzy tour-de-force—at once a sophisticated jape and, with its confluence of illusionism, ritual dress-up, and revenge, a resonant evocation of primal theater. . . . The first version, evidently lost, was directed by Tennosuke Kinugasa, a filmmaker during the 1920s and himself a former oyama. Thus, the cultural cross references embedded in An Actor's Revenge are no less tricky than Ichikawa's mise-en-scene and just as baffling as his intentions.

  • One of the first important instances in the Japanese cinema of the conjunction between an objective 'Brechtianism' of the traditional stage and the influence on the modern cinema and theatre of traditions as diverse as Brecht, Elizabethan drama and the comic strip. As we shall see, this encounter was to have a significant posterity.

  • Ichikawa produced a tour-de-force, willfully scrambled stage and screen, tried every color experiment he could think of, and created one of the most visually entertaining films ever to come from Japan.

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