Before you go through the rest of the review, I must first qualify this one by saying I only watched 15 minutes.
I know of the many praises for this film; that is why I decided to watch it. Director Kon Ichikawa is well known director and is directed over 97 films. Daisuke Itô has written more than 100 screenplays in adaptations. Masaichi Nagata has produced at least 140 titles. Many of the actors are well known to people who follow most of the Japanese movies.
If you follow my reviews, you will notice that I am fairly eclectic and will watch anything as long as it is moving; okay, I will watch it even if it is not moving. Unfortunately, in this case, the film moves too fast to be able to take in its intricacies and read the subtitles at the same time. The only way to get through this film is to either watch it several times, or press the pause button every five seconds.
The subtitles are readable and the actually have super-titles to tell you what the music is all about. All the credits have English imposed over the top of the Japanese. I checked all of the options on the DVD and did not find any English dubbed tracks.
What I did watch did surprise me a little bit as people were describing this in such glowing words, as a Shakespearian type movie. Yet it was very contemporary in its dialogue and I swear I saw most of the actors in sci-fi movies of that time.
The basic story that is based on a newspaper serial is of spots the men responsible for his parents deaths and takes revenge starting with the daughter of one of the culprits. The little of the movie that I did watch, We were inside the actor's head as he was plotting.
All of the elements of a good movie are there but keeping up with the subtitles or guessing at the intent is excruciating. I will wait for the English dubbing or just watch the original film that this is based on.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Kabuki Theatre on a Shakespearean ScaleDec 9 2008
Gerard D. Launay
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This is the ultimate Japanese film...one that was intended to be enjoyed in the unique culture for which it was made. Ostensibly the story is about a Kabuki actor (who plays female roles) who notices his enemies in his audience. Enraged, he contrives a complicated revenge against those who ruined his family decades before. But the manner in which the film is performed is a huge Kabuki play - part stage and part natural world.
On many levels this is an exceptionally stunning color movie...one that influenced even recent films such as "Memoirs of a Geisha." Sometimes, the director focuses his scene with a background of just one intense color - perhaps scarlet red or sky blue or sun yellow. In other frames, the emphasis is on the glorious fabrics worn by the Japanese characters in this period drama of the first decades of the 1800's. The film switches from elaborate stage to the ordinary world effortlessly.
Nevertheless, one should "never" underestimate the humanism of director Kon Ichikawa, a man who is unafraid to challenge traditional Japanese values. For example,a great many films of Japan deal with the duty of an individual to right an injustice against his family, his lover, or his clan. This is understood as the bushido way. But this director is unafraid to rethink these values. In his celebrated movie "The Burmese Harp", Ichikawa adopts the point of view that the Japanese were correct to surrender in 1945 rather than waste - for no good reason - the lives of exhausted Japanese soldiers who had no chance to win the war, let alone a single battle.
In this film, the director ends the film on an ambiguous note - that the revenge was probably wrong ... because the Kabuki player harms an innocent in order to carry out his elaborate scheme to drive his victims to madness and despair. At the very end, we do not even know the whereabouts of the main actor. Perhaps he has joined a far away Kabuki troupe or perhaps he has isolated himself into a Buddhist monastery.
If you are looking for a film that is rich poetry, this is a very good choice to make. Highly recommended.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Seduction, revenge and artFeb. 18 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
The theatricality of Kabuki is always prevalent in Japanese film. Sometimes it is overt, as in the Kabuki-play adaptation Ashura. Sometimes it isn't so obvious, as in the Kabuki-trained movements of Inou Rie as Sadako in Ring. But it is always there.
"Revenge of a Kabuki Actor" (Original title "Yukinojo Henge" or "Yukinojo's Transformation") clearly draws from this traditional Japanese theater explicitly. Not only does the story revolve around a Kabuki actor, an onnagata meaning a male who plays female roles, but also the imagery and style are also heavily Kabuki-influence. Some might still have a hard time with the subject matter. Hasegawa was much younger when he originated the role, and it might be difficult to see why a young and beautiful girl would fall for a 55-year old "drag queen", but that is historically accurate. The onnagata, thought to be the perfect blend of male and female, were often the target of young women's affection.
On top of that, "Revenge of a Kabuki Actor" is actually a re-make of an older 1935 film. This version was created as a celebration of the 300th movie of legendary actor Hasegawa Kazuo. Hasegawa, recipient of the Shiju-hosho, or "Medal of Honor with the Purple Ribbon" that is the highest honor the Japanese government can bestow upon one of its citizens, began as a Kabuki actor. Transferring to films, he played the dual-roles of Yukinojo and the bandit Yamitaro in the original "Yukinojo Henge", which proved popular enough to spawn several sequels. As a tribute to him, Ichikawa directed Hasegawa in this re-make of one of his most famous films.
Fortunately, your guide through this world is grandmaster Ichikawa Kon, one of the "Four Knights" of Japanese cinema, along with Kurosawa Akira, Kobayashi Masaki and Kinoshiita Keisuke. In the hands of a less-competent director, this much history and tradition packed into a film might prove too much of a barrier to viewers not steeped in the subjects. However, as shown in his classic documentary Tokyo Olympiad and war film Burmese Harp, Ichikawa can pull the human element out of almost anything.
Working with Hasegawa, Ichikawa weaves a multi-layered and complex story of a cloth so beautiful it is heart-breaking. He works with traditional Japanese imagery and colors, coming away with a moving painting. This is a true work of art. Ichikawa also puts his imprint on the story. I wouldn't want to give too much away, but the ending is classic, and perfect.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"He's definitely an actor. What an elaborate revenge." Don't expect anything like Harp of Burma from this Kon Ichikawa movieDec 10 2008
C. O. DeRiemer
- Published on Amazon.com
A man playing a beautiful woman playing a love scene with a beautiful woman may seem confusing. It may seem odder when the man playing the beautiful woman is also the actor playing a resourceful, ironic chief of bandits who shares several scenes with himself playing the beautiful woman. It may seem odder still that the actor was 55 years old, one of Japan's acting treasures, and carries off both roles with complete aplomb. And he should. Kazuo Hasegawa played the same roles in the first filming of Yukinojo Henge 28 years earlier.
Stay with this 1963 movie by Kon Ichikawa and you'll find yourself immersed in a story of revenge, humor and clever style that is not only odd but engrossing and amusing. The story is set in 1830's Edo in the world of Kabuki where highly trained male actors, onnagata, play women's roles. By law they must maintain the pretense in manner and dress in private life as well as in public. Yukinojo Nakamura (Kazuo Hasegawa) is a famous onnagata. During a performance he spots the businessmen who, 20 years earlier in Nagasaki, drove his parents to suicide. He was 11 then. Revenge has been his goal ever since. One of the men has a beautiful young daughter, Namiji, who falls madly in love with Yukinojo, as women often did with onnagata. She is pledged to the shogun, and she will be the lever for Yukinojo's revenge. But then there is Ohatsu, a beautiful pickpocket with a lovely face, an impertinent manner and a vocabulary that can make men blush. She falls in love with Yukinojo, too. And there is her boss, the master thief Yamitaro (also played by Kazuo Hasegawa). Yukinojo is calm, sad and remorseless, with a husky falsetto voice and walking with tiny steps. Yamitaro is athletic, confident and even impish, with a growl of a voice. Soon Ohatsu and Yamitaro will be urging Yukinojo on. Adding to the questionable amusement, Yukinojo, Namiji and Ohatsu are all virgins, with Namiji and Ohatsu eager for Yukinojo, so arousing in expensive kimono with his falsetto, to cure their situation,
All of this is conducted by Kon Ichikawa using one of the most stylish, sly mixes of movie making I've ever seen. There are flashbacks, voice-overs, confidences shared in whispers, a slashing sword fight or two, a ghost, elaborate Kabuki performances, a realistic rice riot and visuals that move within a reality as carefully constructed as the Kabuki sets. That's not to mention the jazzy riff that moves in now and then with Yamitaro and a corny melodic line worthy of Fifties' Hollywood. I'm almost sure Kon Ichikawa uses it deliberately. You're never sure how this stylized movie of many movements is going to end. Kon Ichikawa pulls it all together in a fine film that will probably puzzle some but should delight most. Just remember two things: Revenge is real and the innocent can pay. And that Ohatsu realizes Yamitaro has possibilities...he looks a little like Yukinojo.
Central to the story and to the delight of the movie is Kazuo Hasegawa. To cast it in Western terms, think of Russell Crowe not only playing Bud White but also, in a blonde wig and a low-cut, sheer white dress, Lynn Bracken. Well, that's probably a step too far. Hasegawa, at 55 and not denying middle age with a slight, soft double chin, is not only persuasive in both parts, but persuasive with the two completely differentiated sets of characteristics. He was a huge theater and movie star for years in Japan and, early in his career, trained as a Kabuki actor. Part of the humor of the movie, as well as the appreciation that comes from watching talent and skill, is Kon Ichikawa moving quickly from one scene with Hasegawa as Yukinojo to the next with Hasegawa as Yamitaro.
Revenge of a Kabuki Actor (Yukinojo Henge) may or not be a classic. Still, it's strange and it's beautiful. Perhaps it's a strange, beautiful classic. The color DVD transfer is just about perfect. Subtitles are outlined in yellow and easy to read. The Program Notes are a series of written comments about Kabuki, about Japan in the 1830's, explanations of some of the film's references and the importance and credits of Kon Ichikawa and Kazuo Hasegawa.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Visually amazing !!!!!!!!Sept. 23 2008
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I saw this film in the early 90's on VHS and have been waiting for a very long time for it to be released on DVD. Visually, it is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Every shot is like a beautiful painting with colors so intense that you won't believe your eyes. Even though the film was made in 1963, it is surprising how today's films with all their computer generated bells and whistles, cannot match this film's cinematographic brilliance.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Halfway from Kurosawa to Stephen Chow !March 4 2011
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If the title of this review doesn't give you a clue of what to expect in this film, I can almost guarantee you won't like it. I would feel very guilty about recommending it to most of my own friends and relations. It's bizarre, difficult to contextualize and follow unless you start with some understanding of the traditions of Kabuki theater and of the social history of Edo (Tokyo), where Kabuki thrived. Much of the dramaturgy of this 1963 film will be familiar to fans of the classic 'samurai' genre, those films starring Mifune Toshiro and Nakadai Tatsuyo that made such glorious 'westerns' when Clint Eastwood and Jack Palance played the same roles. The visuals are gorgeous; in fact, the film won the Mainichi Film Concours prize for Art Direction. On the other hand, the musical sound track is ineffably dissociated, Reno cocktail lounge shmaltz. But that's only the fringe of the weirdness of a gender-bending melodrama that makes baroque Opera and its castrati seem utterly staid.
Yukinojo Henge, of a touring provincial kabuki company, becomes a sensation in Edo, acting entirely in female roles. We slowly discover that Yukinojo was the only son of a prosperous Nagasaki merchant who was betrayed and ruined by his partners. Both of Yukinojo's parents went mad and committed suicide. Yukinojo was raised by his father's friend with the overweening goal of vengeance, and it just so happens that the three objects of his hatred are now powerful wealthy men in Edo. Yukinojo's feminine personality on stage persists in his offstage demeanor; his voice and movements are strangely feminized, yet he turns out to be an indomitable swordsman and a man of sexual charisma for the two real women in the film, one of them the beautiful daughter of his enemy and concubine of the Shogun, the other a beautiful notorious pickpocket and 'boss' of a criminal gang. If that sounds goofy and involuted, don't worry ... in fact the film is goofier and more involuted than a mere synopsis can suggest.
As I said, I'm NOT recommending this film to anyone who hasn't been enchanted by Japanese cinema before, as I have been. I lived in Japan for a year, spent lots of afternoons and evenings at the Kabuki, Bunraku, and Noh theaters of Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. I learned to speak execrable Japanese and to play passable shakuhachi flute. In short, I kinda knew what to expect with this film. Even so, the kinky humor and the lurid atmosphere took me by surprise. It's nowhere near the freakishness of current Japanese and Chinese 'martial arts' films, let alone the total chaos of a Stephen Chow film like "Shaolin Soccer" or "THe God of Cookery". Seen in retrospect, however, it was plainly a harbinger.