An Actor’s Revenge (1963)

14 01 2008

Kon Ichikawa, unfortunately, has a bit of a reputation as a completely technical director. He has been criticized by many people as having no true interests in what he films. Instead, he shows more interest in understanding all the complexities of film-making. Many claim that there is no thematic consistency in his films. The Burmese Harp and Fires on a Plain show a interest in the “horrors of war through pathos” type statement but that seems a bit critical. There’s a lot more to those films than just “war is bad!” Both films were novels adapted into screenplays by Ichikawa’s frequent collaborator and wife, Natto Wada and both were my introduction into Ichikawa. Perhaps, Ichikawa himself, shouldn’t be shunned for the eclecticism in his films. Instead, he should be praised that he is viewing certain themes and topics through his very own vision.

My problem with An Actor’s Revenge (a remake of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1937 film of the same name) has nothing to do with it being consistent with the rest of Ichikawa’s filmography. In fact, I would almost go as far as to say that everything great about the film can be attributed to Ichikawa’s very particular and very beautiful visual style. It takes a very special director to photograph a film that, at least seems to take place on a built set. There’s a self-conscious “theatrical” vibe flowing through the whole film. Not different to Kurosawa’s Lower Depths, actually. I could never say I’m a fan of such over the top, forced drama but it is a neat way of connecting the main character (who is a Kabuki actor) to the film’s style.

Even with the far fetched occurrences and melodramatic acting, this is a very beautiful film. I knew from watching Fires on a Plain and The Burmese Harp that Ichikawa had a great eye for visuals but this is ridiculous. Cinemascope, technicolor, tightly framed, and wonderfully composed. It’s as though Ichikawa and his cinematographer, Setsuo Kobayashi, tried to fit in as many new photographic ideas in a shot as possible. The stylistic flourishes in the opening sequence cannot be explained by words and yet, this feels intrusive. I could say that the cinematography is “too good” for the story being told here and it really is, but at the same time, it perfectly compliments the time period of which the story takes place.

I suppose I could take time to explain narrative, even though it makes me feel like I’m mocking the film. Yukinojo, a kabuki performer, spots the three men that are responsible for both of his parents’ suicide. One of these men, Dobe, has a daughter infatuated with Yukinojo. This is how he begins to carry out his revenges. That’s it really. There’s a few secondary characters that appear and die, a few subplots that share a similar fate too. I guess, in a way Yukinojo’s relationship with Dobe’s daughter is interesting, if not completely befuddling. The scene where they confess their love for each other is so bad, but I’m pretty sure it’s suppose to be. Because of this, it’s hard to really see Yukinojo’s personal feelings, which makes him intriguing enough. Don’t go in to this expected a nuanced relationship-type drama. You’ll probably have better luck just enjoying the very nice visual composition and wacky humor.