Thursday, 30 December 2010


Hyoroku and Senpei are two actors whose ‘big break’ comes in the form of a role as the front and back halves of a horse in a baffling pantomime production. Despite the relative unimportance of their role, the two men are desperate to prove their mettle, discussing their trade as if they were revered professionals and showing off to geishas. When their theatre manager books in a live horse in their place for a performance in a rural area, the show becomes a bigger hit than expected, and the actors are informed that they will soon be replaced. Beaten at their own game by an animal, the men are left to fight a battle for their self-esteem.

Sharing the same playful but sincere comedy as Mikio Naruse’s earlier Wife, Be Like A Rose! , Travelling Actors is a gentle meditation on serious issues. Though ostensibly a comedy, it is clear that Naruse has a motive in championing these hack actors over the locally conscripted soldiers. The men’s role as the horse appears to consist simply of resisting the instruction of the owner, an act tirelessly portrayed performance after performance. This by extension is Naruse’s own conscientious objection, and an attempt to underline the importance on the arts in reflecting a nation’s status. Naruse occasionally throws in a shot of the men’s legs, as if to remind us that this is all the audience sees of them, whereas of course we as a film audience witness much more. A minor treat.

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