Well worth seeing: Uzumasa Limelight
A backstage drama about a backstage drama. I like it, partly for the interplay between their role selves and their real selves. And which is the “real” self, and all that. The Japanese word kirareyaku refers to the actors in samurai cinema who do the sword fighting. Even though many are extras, they are skilled in swordplay, which is choreographed much as a dance, built from learned patterns, and the best of them gain acclaim and recognition at their skill in fighting and “dying.”
This movie has kirareyaku as protagonists, including an ambitious novice learning from an aging master. The movie also has some recursion: the actual actors in the movie are portraying characters who are actors who portray characters in a movie. So we see the characters in the movie rehearsing a scene, and of course those rehearsals of the scene were rehearsed before being shot. The result in watching the characters in the movie play their roles in the movie-with-the-movie is that we become conscious of the actual actors who play the roles of the actors in the movie: it’s like a parallel mirrors view of acting, since our conscious observation of the movie character’s acting brings into focus the acting that manifests itself in the movie character. The meta aspects are reminiscent of things we see in the novel Don Quixote, another work about fiction vs. reality.
Update: I just finished watching 13 Assassins (Amazon streaming; also available on Netflix). This was a totally traditional (but also superb) samurai movie with lots of work for kirareyaku. Well worth seeing, and I have to say that I saw the sword fights with new eyes after having watched Uzumasa Limelight. It lacks the recursive character of Uzumasa Limelight, and though excellent as a story, doesn’t have the meta aspects of the other movie. It has actors playing characters, not actors playing actors playing characters. I see some echoes of Seven Samurai in it: the fortification of the town, for example, and the character and fighting quality of the uncouth mountain hunter, not a samurai, who shows them the shortcut over the mountain and fights with them, similar to the farmer’s son (played by Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai).
Trigger warning: some scenes depict graphic violence: directed by Takashi Miike, after all.
Note that there’s a version of 13 Assasins from the 1960s. You want the one directed by Takashi Miike.