The more films I see by Kon Ichikawa the more impressed I become by his directing style and versatility. The latest film to impress me was his 1963 remake of Yukinojo Henge, An Actor's Revenge (1963). It has been suggested that Ichikawa was assigned this film by his studio to mark the 300th performance of Kuzuo Hasegawa, the most famous actor of that time period. It is the story of an onnagata (female impersonator) Kabuki actor who takes revenge against a trio of businessmen responsible for the death of his mother. The visual aspects of the film linger after the viewing: a sword fight in the dark background, an impressive fire scene, another where otherworldly fog ensnares the actors. Ichikawa does an excellent job of using light and dark, colors, and has great set pieces throughout the film. This excerpt from Strictly Film School sums up several of the elements that I found impressive in the film:
An Actor's Revenge is a stylistically bold and irreverent satire that seeks to reconcile the familiar, traditional elements of Japanese culture with the modern vitality of Western influence in contemporary Japan. Kon Ichikawa uses a performance within a performance perspective to create a union of distinctive artistic influences through the dual role of Hasegawa: the Kabuki onnagata as performed by Yukinojo, and cinema actor as performed by Yukinojo's alterego, the omniscient thief, Yamitaro. Ichikawa's recurrent fragmentation of images reflect the voyeuristic relationship between spectator and performer: obscured, extended fight scenes witnessed from rooftops, seamless visual transitions between theatrical dramatization and off-stage, real-life events, framing of actors through doorways or other visual occlusions that seem to underscore the intrusive, keyhole perspective of the audience. The old-fashioned script for the tragic melodrama (shimpa) popular in early Japanese cinema is infused with irony, social satire, and subversive visual double entendres. The audaciously eccentric fusion of traditional and modern Japanese art forms are further exemplified through an eclectic soundtrack that combines folk music, jazz and avant-garde ambient sounds. Ultimately, An Actor's Revenge becomes an audacious and infinitely fascinating exercise in straddling the fragile equilibrium that interweaves cultural past and present, East and West, theater and cinema.