A rich tapestry of deception, greed, and vengeance, Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge is a film with familiar themes seen in many revenge stories, detailing, in-depth, the human condition's self-serving nature and the collateral damage left along any trail driven solely by self-serving interests, no matter how justified they may be. The story is centered around Yukinojo, the leading female impersonator in a touring kabuki troupe, who tracks down the three men responsible for his parents suicide many years ago. He uses his status to befriend these powerful men in society, imploring seduction and a coercive nature to ruin them financially, physically, and spiritually, and in doing-so, he essentially becomes them due to the tragic death of one of their daughters, an individual whose only crime was falling in love. From start-to-finish, An Actor's Revenge is simply stunning, as Ichikawa uses this tale to deliver powerful assertions about vengeance; the most interesting being the monolithic, all-consuming nature of revenge. The three men Yoshinojo seeks to destory are all men from positions of power and authority in society; They are businessman and individuals with political power, who through coercion oppress the merchant & lower class, which our main protagonists parent's were members of. Yet in Yoshinojo's quest for vengeance he destroys the young daughter of one of these men; a woman whose only crime was her proximity to her father. An Actor's Revenge is captivating from start-to-finish and emotionally affecting, but what separates this film from others dealing in similar themes is its craft, as it finds Kon Ichikwawa at the top of his game, delivering an impressionistic melodrama which conforms to the artistry of the stage play, whenever possible. An Actor's Revenge is crafted in a style which draws heavily from the stage play, imploring the efficient economics of these productions, where light and darkness are an ally, used to inform the viewer and/or heighten the tension and the visceral nature of the spaces these characters inhabit. Perhaps the best example of this is Ichiwawa's use of overhead lighting, a device he uses to call attention to the internal workings of his characters, whether it be a sinister idea which arises in their head or a subtle realization, the lighting informs the audience in a way mise-en-scene alone simply couldn't accomplish with such impressionistic detail - the economics of stage play production implored cinematically. Kon Ichiwawa's An Actor's Revenge is a rich and compelling story of vengeance, a film which may be the celebrated Japanese filmmakers greatest achievement, one which exhibits the emptiness of revenge through its complex, engaging narrative.
Challenging and complex, both in its formalism and its thematic ideals, Ermek Shinarbaev's Revenge is a rigorous meditation on the grandiose effects of trauma, detailing the perpetual nature of violence and vengeance through the prism of a young Korean boy, who from an early age was raised to avenge the death of his father's first son. Spanning decades, Ermiek Shinarbaev's Revenge is an existential study of humanity's obsessive nature, being a film which manages to encapsulate the short-sighted effects of emotional-based decision-making through its story. Displacement and cultural conflict are larger themes built into this young boy's story, as Ermiek Shinarbaev's Revenge was one of the first films to exhibit the Korean diaspora in Central Asia; an inciting incident of sorts, which sets the stage for the young boy's obsessive desire for revenge. The aesthetic of Shinarbaev's film evokes an other-worldly quality, cranking up the contrast in a way that evokes the spiritual aspects of its thematic ideals. The way light interacts with the earth itself and the characters of this story are singular in execution; with Shinarbaev's muted dramatic style being perfectly counter-balanced by this impressionistic cinematic choice. Draped heavily in taoist philosophy, Revenge is not a comfortable or easy watch, yet it is a rewarding one once the credits roll, crafting a grandiose tapestry of the evil that lurks in every day life among humanity.
A quietly raging, meditative work, Med Hondo's Oh, Sun is a powerful deconstruction of the far-reaching effects of European colonialism and imperialism on the African people. Impressionistic, personal, and expansive, Oh, Sun tells the story of a native of Mauritania, who is delighted to learn that he has been chosen to work in Paris by his superiors. Energized about the potential to learn in France, and parlay his experiences into a better life for himself, he is soon met with extreme prejudice and utter racism; as he quickly discovers that his educated background is not all that is required for success in this foreign land. Effective in its ability to capture the hypocrisy and double-standards of Western Civilization and liberalism when it comes to African colonization and black bodies, Oh, Sun showcases how the paramount tenants of liberalism, freedom and meritocracy, aren't exactly shared among those they wish to extort for capitalistic gains, with Africans not given nearly the same treatment as their white European counterparts. While the film is draped far too much in Marxist's simplistic dogma, specifically placating how all of this struggle can attributed to class, Oh Sun's assertions related to capitalism are astute, relevant, and justified, as the film angrily showcases the hypocrisy of Europe. A region which raised industrial and economic capital through its use of migrant workers in Africa, Oh Sun exhibits how Europe itself reaped most of the rewards with the predominately white country showing little interest in providing the same meritocracy to those who look, and have a culture and way-of-life that is different than their own. This oppressive economic policy is fueled not by live-and-let live; or meritocracy; but by indoctrination, with Europeans forcing their culture on others, so convinced of their cultural superiority that is reinforced by racism, one in which they serve their bourgeoisie sensibilities through the hard work of African migrants. The "black invasion" feared by the white European working class is eerily similar to present day fears of migrants; as it's eerily familiar in terms of the language used by those who wish to protect their native interests instead of encouraging the market itself to work independently, free of coercive government policy or capitalistic hierarchy. When our main protagonist first arrives in France one of the first people he interacts with is a young, white french girl. This scene may seem superfluous in the grand scope of this film's dense socio-political commentary, but it's a paramount sequence, one in which unadulterated kindness is captured. This child, this individual who has yet to be corrupted by societal collectivist bias, extends extreme kindness to our main protagonist, treating him like just another human being, one which has no ethnic identity, but only shares a natural sense of empathy and humanism towards her fellow man. An extremely important which is an impressionistic nightmare in which a filmmaker expresses his frustrations and turmoil through the cinematic arfform, Med Hondo's Oh, Sun is a startling achievement; and one which should be seen by all individuals who truly say they want to live in a free society.
Set in 1812 following a young Mohawk woman who are pursued by American soldiers intent on revenge, Ted Geoghegan's Mohawk is part exploitation film, part revenge story, a lean-and-mean film which pays homage to the mass murder of the Native American people through a low-budget, ultra-violent, sensationalist lens. Exploitative in nature, Mohawk effectively plays out as a revenge fantasy for the Native American people, one in which Indian mysticism and grindhouse sensibilities combine to deliver a flawed but tightly constructed story. Mohawk is a film that really struggles from and writing standpoint, as there are far too many pieces of dialogue that feel forced, inorganic, or didactic, often slowing down the film's pacing by proxy. The film's score on the otherhand is one of the high points, from a technical/creative perspective, and the filmmakers seem to know it, as they use it to built a palpable tension throughout. The finale of Mohawk is pure revisionist fantasy in the best possible way, where defiance and vengeance are carried out by the oppressed, with the hunters soon becoming the hunted courtesy of our main protagonist. While the finale of Mohawk is certainly the best part, the journey to get there was not nearly as enjoyable by comparison, due in large part to some cringe-worthy dialogue, making Mohawk an interesting but flawed film which should appease genre fans all the same.
Atsuko Hirayanagi's Oh Lucy is a meditation on loneliness, emotional isolation, and internalized pain; an intricate character study of Setsuko, a lonely, middle-aged office worker in Tokyo, who finds herself becoming infatuated with John, her English class instructor. When John leaves Japan unexpectedly, Setsuko sets out on a quest to find him, traveling to the United States, hoping to find him in sunny, Southern California. Featuring a tone that balances light-hearted comedy with piercing drama, Oh Lucy manages both aspects well, using its comedic moments to alleviate some of the more heavy thematic assertions related to depression and self-worth. Oh Lucy is a character study that unravels itself slowly and methodically, revealing a woman who is deeply damaged in Setsukio; a character who has effectively been beaten down by and life and feels portrayed by her family - most notably her own sister, who betrayed her in the past. She is a lonely character who doesn't fit-in to Japanese society;, an outcast in both her family and work life, the two most important things in this culture. Her pursuit of John is earnest at first, yet as the film's narrative unravels it becomes apparent how much internalized emotional trauma this character is in, as we witness her conflate sexual desire & cordial relationships with love. Through this character study, Atsukio Hirayanga delivers a powerful plea for more empathy, compassion, and understanding in Japanese culture, one in which self-expression and individualism are restrained. Oh Lucy is plea for more empathy and understanding of those who suffer from depression in a culture that pays little credence to such things asserting that Lucy is just one of many who struggles to find happiness under the social expectations of society.
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