Wednesday, 1 May 2013

1,001 Films: "An Actor's Revenge" (1963)

An Actor's Revenge, a spot of odd-bod modernism from the Japanese director Kon Ichikawa, is something like a frenzied soap opera going on in the middle of a Mondrian painting. The intrigue here concerns a noted Kabuki actor, Yukinojo (Kazuo Hasegawa), seeking vengeance for the slight that drove his parents to suicide while he was still a child; the local lord, whom the actor believes is responsible for the tragedy; his daughter, who happens to have fallen for our hero; a scheming court advisor, using the actor as part of a bid to overthrow his master; and a pair of pickpockets who weave in and out of this all-the-world's-a-stage tapestry. Everybody's attempting to deceive someone, or to pass themselves off as something they're not: the actor, for his part, specialises in female impersonation, making him more or less of a threat to the powers-that-be. 

Yet in a further wrinkle, the stage proves every bit as changeable as the players standing upon it, Ichikawa reframing and relighting the action to the point of abstraction. Shots are dominated by vast blocks of colour; the characters appear from/disappear into inky pools of darkness. The camera is used as a blade to divide up the placid space common to, for example, an Ozu movie, while on the soundtrack, a traditional period score gives way to slinking jazz piano. The danger it doesn't entirely avoid is that - as with Joe Wright's recent adaptation/rethink of Anna Karenina - the narrative begins to compel the eye and ear rather less than the bold experiments in film form going on around it. It remains fascinating to behold, though, and - unlikely as it might sound - very much of a piece with such fractured 60s happenings as Tokyo Drifter, La Chinoise and Point Blank.

An Actor's Revenge is available on DVD through the BFI.

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