Kazuo Kasegawa -- beefy and fluttery in full geisha regalia -- provides the satirical center, though Kon Ichikawa has several other plates spinning: Cymbeline, Yoshitoshi scrims, Yojimbo in drag. (Kinugasa’s original is thoroughly stepped on.) It’s a comedy of schisms, the rectangular proscenium is flaunted only to be filled with cinematic flurries. Kasegawa is the leading female impersonator of 1800s Edo, the ersatz stage snow gives way to superimposed iris-balloons when he spots in the audience the ruthless merchant (Ganjiro Nakamura) responsible for his parents’ deaths. Miming maidenly modesty both on and off the stage, the vengeful thespian minces his way into his enemy’s lair; Nakamura’s business partner (Eijiro Yanagi) and daughter (Ayako Wakao) are beguiled, a salty, "man-hating" pickpocket (Fujiko Yamamoto) bobs in and out of the intrigue. The camera cranes away from a romantic encounter in the garden to the rooftops, where Kasegawa (doubling as an impish thief) comments on his own theatricality: "That’s an actor for you. He knew just how to end that scene." There’s a visual slash every minute. Red tatami mats are photographed from high, sharp angles, so that the resulting blocks of color rhyme with the ruby gem Nakamura a scene later pushes across the screen in a foreshortened diagonal. Rooms are lit golden like pavilions, a meeting at night is encircled by skinny black trees and a crooked sliver of blue horizon. A stage direction ("Fifteen minutes to curtains!") seems to cue a swordfight outside (blades flashing in the dark). Once masculinity and femininity are revealed as mere role-playing, all other absolutes become liquid: East and West, theater and cinema, long takes and furious editing, traditional Japanese ballads and ‘60s jazz trumpeting. Ichikawa’s world in flux is a procession of painted backgrounds, order is a performance. (Sartre: "Acting is happy agony.") The greatest analysis is by Jerry Lewis in The Big Mouth. Cinematography by Setsuo Kobayashi. With Eiji Funakoshi, Narutoshi Hayashi, Chusha Ichikawa, and Jun Hamamura.
--- Fernando F. Croce