An Actor’s Revenge is the final of the three films by Kon Ichikawa on the 1001 list that I had yet to see. Previously I was impressed by his take on the sport documentary in Tokyo Olympiad and now consider his World War II drama The Burmese Harp among my favourite films. With An Actor’s Revenge I am, yet again, seeing Ichikawa deliver something completely different – a revenge drama with a female impersonator as the protagonist.
A bit of background (that I wish I had) for this film. An Actor’s Revenge marks the 300th film that lead actor Kazuo Hasegawa had a role in; plus it is a remake of a film he made nearly 30 years earlier. This explains the key discrepancy that took me out of the moment somewhat, the fact that he was able to have two young women fall for him. Looking at him at the age of 27 and in the same make-up, I kinda get it – but not so much at 55.
Casual ageism aside (apologies for that), An Actor’s Revenge makes for an incredibly interesting watch. From the get go, where we watch onnagata (female impersonator in Kabuki theatre) Yukinojo engaging in a theatrical performance and bewitching the crowd in a beautifully done snow scene.
The rest of the film feels like it never leaves that theatre with Ichikawa using many theatrical (rather than cinematic) style tricks to compose set pieces and light his actors. This, combined with the use of whites and rare flashes of colour, make An Actor’s Revenge an incredibly stylish and visually interesting film to watch. What backs it up is rather unusual story of reluctant revenge.
You see, Yukinojo has sworn revenge against the three men that ruined his parents – which led to their suicides. In the years since losing his parents, he has become a renowned Kabuki actor in Osaka and finds himself in Edo based on a tip that this is where he will find the focus of his vengeance. However, he doesn’t want to just run them through with his sword Lady Snowblood style, but rather completely ruin them.
I say that Yukinojo is reluctant since, at many points, he is conflicted about certain actions that he has to take to reach his goal (mainly because it involves the manipulation of an innocent party to fully realise his vengeance). There are also a few times where he is clearly looking for an out, claiming that certain events mean that the gods must be against him and so should stop. I mention this because I really liked this more unusual take on a revenge protagonist – someone who, although smart and very driven, is still undeniably human.
From here on out I now have less than 300 films left before reaching my end goal of completing this list. It feels like I am really making some progress now (which was in part down to my husband’s work trip abroad) and this should grant me the impetus to try and fit in some more films whenever I can. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to cross this whole thing off completely in the next 3 years.