Kazuo Hasegawa (left) delivers Revenge Of A Kabuki Actor.
Revenge Of A Kabuki Actor (AnimEigo, 1963) D: Kon Ichikawa, w/ Kazuo Hasegawa, Ayako Wakao. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
If you know Kon Ichikawa as the director of the brutal realistic war drama Fires On The Plain (1959), Revenge Of A Kabuki Actor (aka An Actor's Revenge) will come as a shock. It's a playful, stagey exercise in pure style that undercuts the conventions of Japanese revenge tragedy but still delivers an emotional punch.
Yukinojo (Kazuo Hasegawa), a famed kabuki actor specializing in women's roles, arrives in 1837 Tokyo (then called Edo) and sees the men who, 20 years earlier, destroyed his family. He launches his revenge by seducing Namiji (Ayako Wakao), the daughter of his most powerful foe. At the same time, he's pursued by an envious former colleague and a female thief angered that he spurned her advances.
Custom in 1837 dictated that onstage cross-dressers had to assume women's clothing and behaviour in their private lives as well.
Hasegawa was kabuki-trained from an early age and does a perfect job as a simpering woman, but he's clearly a man and considerably older than co-star Wakao, which adds a very strange eroticism to their scenes together, but there's nothing camp here. Acting and story are
unabashedly melodramatic but played perfectly and effectively straight.
Ichikawa mixes stage and screen conventions freely in stark compositions that emphasize empty space, and fluid action and cameras keep things moving to their inevitable conclusion.
AnimEigo goes from general background to detailed line explanations to deliver its usual fine job of clarifying the story for those of us unfamiliar with feudal Japan.
EXTRAS Widescreen. Japanese, English subtitles.