I was supposed to go on a trip (my first!) to Canada to visit friends and attend TIFF a couple weeks ago, but instead I got you-know-what. I’m fine now. But I had been looking up things about Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose film The Woman King (2022) debuted in Toronto, and who I knew as the director the wonderful Love & Basketball (2000); in this way I came to watch her enjoyable Criterion Closet Picks video, and saw comments there noting that the last movie she picked, at random, was one of director Ichikawa Kon’s best. I’d never heard of it, but as long as I was on youtube anyway, I decided to type the title into the search bar and found this lovely video from a cool and new-to-me channel called Pitching Room.
That made me sure I wanted to watch the movie, so last night Kat and I did, and I loved it. Here is a list of my current top ten favorite movies, as of today, in no particular order except for the first one:
- Hackers (1995)
- Brick (2005)
- Magic Mike XXL (2015)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
- Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
- The Matrix (1999)
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Out of Sight (1998)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Tampopo (1985)
- Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
- Your Name. (2016)
- Alien (1979)
- Moonlight (2016)
There’s a separate shortlist of movies that might get promoted when I watch them a second time, which I should really do, and An Actor’s Revenge (1963) immediately joined them. One thing I think the above entries mostly have in common is that they have genre devices they use for stunts, literal or figurative; one I think they all have in common is that they put up a strong conceptual framing and fucking commit to it, without backpedaling or compromising. Even the places where Tampopo (1985) explicitly winks at the audience are a device to prod the viewer deeper into the movie’s world, not an apology or excuse.
In its first fifteen minutes, An Actor’s Revenge (1963) establishes itself as gorgeously stylized, theatrical, liminal, serious about its stakes, and brazenly queer. It throws grand plots, competing thieves with cool sobriquets, hidden weapons, stage-lighting scene transitions, night fights, soliloquies, a jazz-meets-kabuki score, and secret scrolls from martial arts masters at you right from the start. But the most impressive thing to me was its central performance, and the way that performance was framed. The protagonist, Yukinojō, is an onnagata, a stage actor who uses masculine pronouns but whose presentation is consistently high-feminine, in or out of the theater (and indeed, Kat reminded me, even during internal monologue). Hasegawa Kazuo, who played the same character in the original 1935 version of the movie, was in his 50s by the time this one was shot; there are not a lot of movies I have seen where a middle-aged person of what can be fairly described as mincing affect is portrayed as a total badass, eminently desirable and desired, heroic, and internally tormented—but never tormented over gender presentation or sexuality. Even though Hasegawa also plays another character in the story—a fact I didn’t realize until Kat pointed it out—the film never makes that contrast into a joke, or anything else about Yukinojō either. It’s busy doing so many other cool things!
In 2022, even with filmmaking technology and distribution more nimble and fluid than they ever have been, it seems like the people making movies still have to pad their queer stories with explanatory commas and self-conscious asides. An Actor’s Revenge (1963) was shot, as you may gather, sixty years ago, and it never bothers with any of that. As of today, it’s available on the Criterion Channel, and if you like the same things I like—with the content note that it includes a brief depiction of suicide—then I bet you’ll enjoy it a lot.