Kabuki Meets ’Scope in Kon Ichikawa’s Masterpiece

Over the course of a remarkable sixty-year career, Japanese director Kon Ichikawa refused to be pigeonholed, eventually coming to master an extraordinarily wide range of subjects, forms, and tones. At the peak of his productivity, during the decade between 1955 and 1965, his versatility was on stunning display: he followed two wrenching antiwar masterpieces (The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain) with, among other films, a number of sophisticated comedies, a landmark sports documentary (Tokyo Olympiad), and the stylistically adventurous revenge drama An Actor’s Revenge. A brilliantly staged remake of a 1930s serial, the latter film stars Kazuo Hasegawa as a nineteenth-century onnagata—a male kabuki performer of female roles—seeking retribution for the deaths of his parents. In order to bring the traditional theatrical form to the screen, Ichikawa shot the movie using an expansive anamorphic-widescreen format, allowing the dimensions of the image to emulate those of the kabuki stage. The above clip, drawn from a supplement on our new edition of An Actor’s Revenge, features critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns delving into the innovative intermingling of modernist and classical styles in the film’s compositions. Key to Ichikawa’s bold experimentation is the fact that the onetime animator “approached cinema as if it were a graphic art rather than a dramatic art,” according to Rayns.

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