An Actor’s Revenge Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“I hate these boring plays,” says a character early on. Perhaps what is on the stage may be stale to some in attendance, but what is presented in the audience is much more enticing, at least to one of the actors.
When he was a child, the mother and father of Yukinojō Nakamura (Kazuo Hasegawa, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL) were driven to suicide by a trio of men–Hiromi-ya (Ejiro Yanagi, DESTINY’S SON), Sansai Dobe (Ganjiro Nakamura, THE END OF SUMMER) and Kawaguchi-ya (Saburo Date, SANSHO THE BAILIFF)–who have walked freely about their city and become quite successful. On opening night, Yukinojō, who became an actor (here, an onngata, which is a male performer who plays female roles in the world of kabuki theater) gets wind that two of the men are in attendance. If that seems coincidence, maybe it is. But it’s also the perfect opportunity for Yukinojō, who also happens to be a gifted martial artist, to plan his revenge.
Yukinojō plots to work his talents as a skillful actor to rope in each of the men that wronged him and his family until he can make the necessary moves. Part of this involves wooing one of their daughters, Namiji (Ayako Wakao, A WIFE CONFESSES). All of this puts several interesting dynamics at play, with characters playing one another (or thinking they are) and significant advancements being made under noses. It is psyhological, deadly and even, at times, funny.
AN ACTOR’S REVENGE (YUKINOJO HENGE in its native Japanese) is a remarkarbly told story, one that seamlessly blends visual richness and a complex protagonist to uniquely tell a tale that approaches timeless themes on a grand, yet often intimate, stage. (“Uniquely” may be a slight exaggeration, considering AN ACTOR’S REVENGE is actually a remake.)
Director Kon Ichikawa (1956’s THE BURMESE HARP, 1965’s TOKYO OLYMPIAD) does wonders with what is onscreen. Collaborating with cinematographer Setsuo Kobayashi (who had worked with Ichikawa prior) and production designer Yoshinobu Nishioka (numerous ZATOICHI entries), Ichikawa creates a visual masterpiece, one that pops with color and sinks its characters in deep blacks, depending on the scene and mood.
At the center is the character of Yukinojō and the performance of Kazuo Hasegawa. Kazuo Hasegawa gives a meaningful turn, giving further texture to his character, a fascinating man playing multiple roles and facing multiple mindsets, often at the same time. It is one of the most admirable and seemingly challenging leading performances in all of Japanese cinema.
While AN ACTOR’S REVENGE stumbles occasionally with some bloating subplots, it is a terrific film, hosting stunning cinematography, an exquisite lead performance and an approach to certain themes that feels unmatched in most other Japanese films of its time.
Video: 2.39:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital restoration was undertaken from a 4K scan of the 35 mm original camera negative by Kadokawa Corporation at Imagica in Tokyo.”
AN ACTOR’S REVENGE looks stunning in this high-definition presentation, with fine details throughout, as well as popping colors and deep blacks.
Audio: Japanese Mono with English subtitles. “The monaural soundtrack was remasterd from the 35 mmm original camera negative at Nikkatsu in Tokyo. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
The film also sounds quite nice, with clean dialogue and SFX.
Kon Ichikawa (57:59): This terrific and thorough 1999 inteview for the Directors Guild of Japan features the filmmaker discussing his early career.
Tony Rayns (13:26): Filmmaker, critic and festival programmer Rayns discusses the visuals and themes of AN ACTOR’S REVENGE.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Sragow and a 1955 article by Ichikawa on the beginnings of his work in an anamorphic widescreen format.