ACTORS’ REVENGE (YUKINOJO HENGE)
Japan, 1963, 113 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kon Ichikawa.
Kon Ichikawa began his directing career immediately after the end of World War Two, in 1946. He made eighty-six feature films over many decades, even filming Big Momma in 2000.
Ichikawa’s films ranged over all the genres of Japanese storytelling. This one focuses on the Kabuki tradition of travelling actors. The leading character is a female impersonator who discovers the people responsible for his mother’s death twenty years earlier and proceeds to take his revenge on them, seducing the daughter of one of them and ruining the other financially.
The film is set in rural Japan, draws on the traditions of justice and revenge. It is beautifully staged, especially may of the performance sequences.
Ichikawa achieved some international fame in the mid-50s with his film The Burmese Harp, a memoir of World War Two. Other prominent films with international acclaim included Enjo, 1958, and Fires on the Plain in 1959.
1. An interesting and entertaining Japanese film? For Japanese audiences. audiences not familiar with Japanese theatrical styles, way of life, customs?
2., How contrived was the film? How realistic? Was the plot plausible in itself? A presentation of issues dramatised - revenge?
3. The significance of the title and the working out of fate and feelings? Which dominated fate or human emotion? The interplay of the two within the Japanese context?
4. The use of colour, wide screen, the scenes in the Japanese theatre, with their particular artificial style? The recreation of the period? The focus on the variety of people - of the theatre, the pickpockets, the merchants, the rulers? Mingling in this Japanese world? The special effects - sword fights? The artificiality of the photography with its light and darkness, colours? The musical score blends of eastern and western music? The choreography?
5. Audience interest in Kubuki theatre? The dramas performed, the actor, the styles, the staging, music, the effect on the audiences?
6. Audience response to Yukinojo - as seen in the theatre, his imagination, his not going to the house of those on whom he wanted revenge, his decision to go? His antagonism towards the father? The fascination with the girl and the love? The assistant rival and his leading him on? Yukinojo's wiliness, his strength - as achieved in these sword fights? The complications of his revenge and the effects on him - and their destruction of others, of himself? The strange blend of masculine feminine in appearance, voice? Its effect on others? The significance of his being an actor - taking male and female roles, dress, manner? Highlighting the similarities, the differences?
7. The portrayal of evil, business evil, political power, revenge? Yukinojo's parents? and misfortune? Wealth and greed?
8. Social evil, individual evil? Emotions as the villain - those who were victims of revenge and the violence of their deaths?
9. The sub-plot of Yukinojo and the martial arts man who was jealous of his skill? His pursuing him, the frights and the rivalry?
10. The sub-plot of the thieves, and their ordinariness, in the theatre, their territories? The girl and her not loving her boyfriend, her fascination with Yukinojo and helping him? The tenderness of their scenes together and the ironic scenes of being pushed into the water and the boyfriend rescuing?
11. The tramp, and his revenge? The effect of this?
12. The social issues and the discussion of these, the religious issues, issues of revenge? Yukinojo being forced to consider these in terms of conscience and feeling?
13. The death of the girl and its effect on Yukinojo and the furtherance of his revenge? His final performance, his disappearance? His fellow actor and the discussions?
14. A presentation of basic emotions at different levels of reality, the complexities of emotion and moral judgment?