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Film / An Actor's Revenge

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An Actor's Revenge is a 1963 film directed by Kon Ichikawa.

The film is set in 1830 in the city of Edo, which we now call Tokyo. A troupe of kabuki actors has arrived in the city and, at the start of the film, is giving a performance. The star of the troupe is one Yukitaro (Kazuo Hasegawa), an onnagata who plays the female roles, kabuki of the era not allowing women to perform onstage. Yukitaro is a crossdresser who presents as female even when he isn't performing, making himself up as a woman and speaking in a delicate high-pitched voice.

What no one other than Kikunojo the troupe leader knows is that Yukitaro is not at all the meek, gentle person he presents himself as. In fact, Yukitaro has a mission. Twenty years before, three men—Sansai the magistrate and merchants Kawaguchiya and Hiromiya—drove Yukitaro's father, another merchant, into bankruptcy and took over his business. Before that happened Hiromiya issued a Scarpia Ultimatum and got sex from Yukitaro's mother. The result was that first Yukitaro's mother and then his father killed themselves, leaving Yukitaro orphaned at the age of seven.

Yukitaro swore revenge. His mincing effiminate manner masks a badass swordsman who spent years training at a samurai school in order to have his revenge. Yukitaro identifies as the point of vulnerability Sansai's beautiful, romantically inclined daughter Namiji. He decides to seduce her in order to gain entrance to her father's inner circle and destroy the three men who destroyed his parents.

Observing all these shenanigans are Ohatsu, a stylish thief and pickpocket, her sidekick/flunky Muku, and Yamitaro, a dashing Robin Hood-style bandit (also played by Kazuo Hasegawa), who admires Yukitaro.


  • As You Know: At one point Yukitaro hesitates, wondering to Kikunojo whether or not he should go through with his revenge. An incredulous Kikunojo then recounts to Yukitaro and the audience what happened to Yukitaro's parents, going so far as to say names and occupations as part of the Exposition Dump.
  • But Now I Must Go: After having taken his revenge, Yukitaro gives his last performance on the stage, and then retires, disappearing forever.
  • Chiaroscuro: The whole movie, pretty much. Indoor scenes are moodily lit, often with one bright source of light illuminating what is otherwise total darkness. Most of the outdoor scenes are shot at night in the dark and shadows. Sometimes it's so dark that it's hard to tell what's going on, like when Heima first attacks Yukitaro and all that is shown are occasional flashes of swords in the dark.
  • Crossdresser: Although Yukitaro seems to identify as male (he's obviously attracted to Namiji), he dresses as a woman all the time.
  • Death by Despair: Namiji dies from...nothing, really, other than disappointment after Yukitaro rejects her.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Both of Yukitaro's parents in the backstory.
    • And then Sansai at the climax, after Yukitaro reveals who he is and delivers a terrifying Breaking Speech.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Many faces throughtout this shadowy Chiaroscuro movie, like Heima when he first attacks Yukitaro, or Yukitaro when he's revealing his identity to a shocked Sansai.
  • The Faceless: It's either this or Invisible President, depending upon whether the shogun seen in the film is a fictional one or is supposed to be the Real Life Tokugawa Ienari. In any event, in the one scene where the shogun appears, angrily demanding the return of Namiji, he's only sceen from the back.
  • Gun Struggle: A knife struggle after Namiji pulls a dagger on Hiromiya. He's scornful, but the struggle ends with him fatally stabbed.
  • Inner Monologue: We sometimes hear Yukitaro's inner monologue as he plots his revenge, starting with the opening scene where he sees Sansai and Kawaguchiya in the audience and starts formulating his plan.
  • Jidaigeki: Namely, the Edo period, not quite thirty years before the Meiji Restoration. Sansai the sleazeball has pimped his daughter Namiji out to the shogun as a concubine, which gets him in hot water when Namiji leaves the harem for Yukitaro.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Yamitaro robs from the rich and leaves bags of money on the doorsteps of the poor.
  • Kabuki Sounds: The okawa woodblock drum sound is heard throughout, not just in Yukitaro's kabuki performances.
  • Love at First Punch: Ohatsu makes the mistake of thinking that Yukitaro the effiminate actor will be an easy mark for robbery. When he easily overpowers her, grabbing her arm with an iron grip that leaves a bruise, she becomes enchanted with him.
  • Melodrama: A very over-the-top, hammy melodrama, basically In the Style of the kabuki of the film's time setting.
  • The Mistress: Namiji is the shogun's favorite concubine.
  • Ominous Fog: The fog as Namiji is wandering through the forest sets an ominous mood, right before she is assaulted by a crazed Hiromiya.
  • Revenge: It's in the title! Yukitaro seeks revenge for the deaths of his parents.
  • The Rival: Heima, who went to samurai school along with Yukitaro but was overcome with jealousy when the sensei favored Yukitaro. He swore revenge, and tries to kill Yukitaro in Edo.
  • Satellite Character: Ohatsu the thief. Yamitaro the male thief is somewhat peripheral to the narrative but does influence the story a couple of times, like when he saves Yukitaro from being killed by Heima, or when he saves Yukitaro from being killed by Ohatsu, or when he rescues Namiji from some old crone who apparently wants to turn her into a prostitute. But Ohatsu hardly affects the Yukitaro story at all, serving no function other than to banter with Yamitaro or to cast lustful glances at Yukitaro.
  • Staggered Zoom: A staggered zoom out on Yukitaro at the end, lost in a field of wheat, as the narration recounts how he disappeared forever.
  • Title Drop: From Yamitaro, who at one point as he watches the melodrama unfold, says "An actor's revenge certainly is dramatic."
  • Torches and Pitchforks: An angry mob rampages through Edo when rice-hoarding merchants cause a famine in an effort to jack up the price of rice.
  • You Look Familiar: In-Universe, lampshaded. Ohatsu has spent most of the movie lusting after Yukitaro and trying either to seduce him or kill him. At the end she takes a look at macho Yakitaro, notes how he looks like Yukitaro from the side, and begs him to marry her. Yukitaro and Yakitaro are of course played by the same actor.