An Actor's Revenge is absolutely, strikingly gorgeous. Every scene of the movie is skillfully filmed, perfectly staged, and suffused with a diverse array of vibrant colors. Beginning with a sumptuous presentation of a moment from a Kabuki play being performed by Yukinojo's troupe, which is so enchantingly realized that the viewer is likely to be astonished by the sensitivity with which it has been brought to the screen, Ichikawa proceeds to unveil a dreamlike world charged with an almost painful beauty.
This loveliness is made all the more affecting by the film's artificiality. Rather than moving from the rarefied landscape of the stylized play which is presented in its first scene to that of ordinary experience, An Actor's Revenge maintains a feeling of unreality throughout. Ichikawa never tries to trick the viewer into believing that he is looking at some place in the real world by mimicking the objects of ordinary experience, but rather allows the moviegoer to relish the innate beauty of each of the film's elegant sets. The viewer is, consequently, always reminded that he is watching a movie and not looking through a window at the doings of ordinary persons. Being so able to engage directly with the film, he is transported to and immersed in a world of uncanny loveliness.
This intoxicating sense of otherworldliness is further heightened by the director's having Kazuo Hasegawa appear not only as Yukinojo but also as a thief named Yamitaro, with whom the former frequently interacts. Not content so to divide one man between two roles and, thereby, blur his individuality, Ichikawa also blurs the line dividing his actors from his audience. To do so, the director often places Yamitaro on a rooftop or atop a wall overlooking the other actors so that, while he remains a participant in the story, he is also able to watch them as though he were an outside observer. Ichikawa even allows the moviegoer to participate in his characters' inner lives by having the actors speak the thoughts of the persons they are playing.
By presenting the viewer with such a complex, liminal world, the director, rather than conjuring up some unstable illusion and trying to use it to fool the viewer into identifying with imaginary persons, instead allows him to engage directly with the work of art he has crafted. We can, consequently, approach the film's characters immediately, rather than as shadowy creatures being used only to indicate some supposedly real persons in whose existence elsewhere we are meant to believe. The movie is all the more affecting as a result.
The feelings of sorrow, indignation, hatred, and wrath that are intensified by this approach are, themselves, consistently skillfully evoked. Ichikawa is able to engage the viewer with Yukinojo and the other persons appearing in An Actor's Revenge so that he experiences not only the protagonist's suffering and anger, which have resulted from the wrongs done to his family when he was a boy, but also his uncertainties. We are made aware of the character's doubts about going through with his revenge when we see how he regrets the hurts he himself is doing others as he carries out his plot. We are even allowed to feel the passions and sufferings both of the innocent persons Yukinojo is harming and of those guilty individuals who, in the past, had caused him so much pain. Having been shown, for example, how the daughter of one of the men Yukinojo desires to destroy is seduced by him, and how, having been made to love him, she is herself brought to ruin, we are able to experience not only her ardor and her sorrow, but Yukinojo's regrets and feelings of guilt as well.
An Actor's Revenge is one of the most profoundly affecting and stunningly beautiful films I have ever encountered. It is a true masterpiece.
Review by Keith Allen
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