I’m not sure what’s strangest about An Actor’s Revenge, but my leading two candidates are Ichikawa’s direction, which intentionally tries to make it feel stagy, or Mochizuki Tamekichi and Yagi Masao’s score, which alternates between jazzy and melodramatic. Both make Revenge a peculiar viewing experience and, while Ichikawa definitely has some talent as a director, his approach puts the film’s narrative back a bit. There’s always artifice.
The story is appropriate for stage, of course. Hasegawa Kazuo is an actor–the greatest female impersonator in Japan–who comes to a city on tour. Only he’s secretly there to extract his revenge on some bad guys who led to his parents’ deaths (through greed). Supposedly Hasegawa has a plan, but the way Wada Natto’s script is constructed, it never really matters. It does matter the viewer never finds out about it because it would inform Hasegawa’s character, but it doesn’t matter for the narrative. Wada serves up more and more melodrama until it all shakes it through coincidence.
There’s some good acting in the film–Yamamoto Fujiko is great as a local thief who falls in love with Hasegawa, but he’s already romancing the daughter of one of his targets, played by Wakao Ayako. When the film’s dealing with Wakao and Hasegawa, it feels like Shakespeare and Ichikawa’s stylistic choices make more sense. When it’s dealing with Yamamoto and the other thieves–this city is beset with thieves who give to the poor–it feels like slapstick. Ichikawa does a better job with the thieves, even though they’re pointless.
They shouldn’t be pointless either, as Hasegawa also plays the master thief. Is there some great comment on duality? No. An Actor’s Revenge is actually at its most interesting in why Hasegawa, as the actor, picked female impersonator, but no one dwells on it, not Ichikawa’s direction or Wada’s script.
A lot of Nishida Shigeo’s editing is fantastic. Kobayashi Setsuo does well with all the stylistic lighting. It’s visually stunning maybe fifteen percent of the time, but Ichikawa doesn’t do anything with it. He alternates between visually stunning and over-stylized to visually boring and over-stylized.
There are a lot of good pieces to An Actor’s Revenge, but they were poorly assembled.
Directed by Ichikawa Kon; screenplay by Wada Natto, based on a script by Itô Daisuke and Kinguasa Teinosuke and a newspaper serial by Mikami Otokichi; director of photography, Kobayashi Setsuo; edited by Nishida Shigeo; music by Mochizuki Tamekichi and Yagi Masao; production designer, Nishioka Yoshinobu; produced by Nagata Masaichi; released by Daiei Studios.
Starring Hasegawa Kazuo (Yukinojo the Actor / Yamitaro the Thief), Yamamoto Fujiko (Ohatsu), Wakao Ayako (Namiji), Funakoshi Eiji (Kadokura Heima), Hayashi Narutoshi (Mukuzu), Yanagi Eijirô (Hiromi-ya), Ichikawa Chûsha (Nakamura Kikunojo), Date Saburô (Kawaguchi-ya) and Nakamura Ganjirô (Dobe).