Tokyo theatres in January

The Japanese word for hibernation is tōmin 冬眠 🙂 Apart from some notable noh and kabuki performances this month, there are very few stages I can recommend. I guess everybody is recovering after the very intense last months of the past year or preparing for TPAM – The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (February 8th – 16th), which is the most awaited event of the first half of this year.

After contemplating the idea of introducing some commercial theatre shōgyō engeki 商業演劇 for a change or maybe some popular drama taishū engeki 大衆演劇, which really never rest, I soon concluded it might be too tricky, so I’ll be staying on safe ground with the few titles I’m sure I can trust.

"Okina" (Tessenkai, January 13th 2014)

“Okina” (Tessenkai, January 13th 2014)

The first performance of every year in the world of Noh is “Okina”『翁』, a very special and very old play which is considered to be at the roots of Noh. Closer to sacred ritual than theatre, it is a performance where the actor in the leading role wears the mask of a god on stage – a mask called hakushikijō 白式尉 used exclusively for this play – and performs a dance, which is a prayer for a peaceful and prosperous year.  For more information on “Okina” and stage photos, please visit this page on Noh.com. “Okina” is featuring in the program of the National Noh Theatre on January 7th, however only as chant (suutai 素謡) performed by shitekata Komparu Yasuaki. It will be followed by kyōgen Neongyoku 『寝音曲』and the noh Taema『当麻』. I would actually recommend the Tessenkai program on January 13th, which features the whole performance of “Okina”, but it seems all tickets have been already sold out.

Noh "Koi no omoni" (Yokohama nogakudo, January 25th)

Noh “Koi no omoni” (Yokohama nogakudo, January 25th)

Another very interesting Noh performance will be held on January 25th at the Yokohama nōgakudō, where Kanze Tetsunojō will be performing Koi no omoni 『恋重荷』. It is the story of an old gardener who falls in love with a court lady of high rank. In order to cure him of his passion, she challenges him to lift up a heavy rock, but the task proves to be too much for the old man. He dies and appears again as a vengeful spirit, tormenting the court lady by placing an invisible weight on her shoulders. As she repents, he changes his heart and becomes her guardian spirit. As you can probably guess, it is a Noh play with many subtleties, although the plot seems very simple at first sight.

Meanwhile the world of Kabuki will be celebrating the revival of a work which will be performed in its entirety for the first time in 150 years – Sanzen ryō haru no komahiki 『三千両初春駒曳』(information available in English here). The story brings together Edo period anecdotes about to a plot to kill a shōgun, however transposed in late Azuchi-Momoyama period, when the successors of Oda Nobunaga were fighting over power. The arrival of a beautiful Korean princess brings a charming twist to the story. This work is known to Kabuki lovers for two particular scenes, which are usually played separately. However this time the entire original script has been revised and arranged, as to make possible the staging of the whole play – a kind of kabuki performance known as tōshi kyōgen 通し狂言. Behind this very ambitious undertaking stands Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugurō VII, who will play the lead role. Onoe Shōroku IV, Onoe Kikunosuke V and Nakamura Tokizō V will also be starring. Sanzen ryō haru no komahiki is being performed in the great hall of the National Theatre 国立劇場 from January 3rd through the 27th.

"Tokaido Yotsuya Kwaidan" (Haiyu-za, January 16th-26th)

“Tokaido Yotsuya Kwaidan” (Haiyu-za, January 16th-26th)

Turning our eyes towards contemporary theatre we find… Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kwaidan 『東海道四谷怪談』on the stage of Haiyū-za!! As intriguing as it may sound, Tsuruya Nanboku’s kabuki play was adapted to the modern stage and performed for the first time in this version fifty years ago. We’ll get the chance to see this adaptation again, this time under the direction of Yasukawa Shūichi, in a series of events commemorating 70 years since the inauguration of Haiyū-za 俳優座, one of the places that serves as reference point in the history of modern Japanese theatre. Those of you who didn’t have enough of Oiwa’s story after this year’s Festival/Tokyo could check out the Haiyū-za version of it.

By the way, there is another modern adaptation of a kabuki play by Tsuruya Nanboku – Sakurahime 『桜姫』, performed by Hmp Theatre Company エイチエムピー・シアターカンパニー at AI-HALL in Itami (Hyōgo) from January 31st through February 2nd. This work seems to be the first in a series entitled “The roots of Contemporary Japanese Theatre”, initiated by the company. The concept of this stage sounds very interesting and I wouldn’t miss if I were close by.

I’ll stop here before I bump into more modern stage versions of kabuki or noh plays. Not that anyone would mind, but it starts feeling somewhat… haunting.

Don’t you think? 😀

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New Year’s Resolutions

明けましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year, everyone!

Stepping into the year 2014, I cannot help but feel that it’s the best time for a new start, with new aims and plans. To be honest, what I like most about this time of the year is the holidays! Even one single day spent away from classes or work feels enough to put our thoughts in order.

My new year’s resolutions regarding this blog were clearly set even before the end of 2013, but I’ll post them here anyway. As you might imagine, nothing is more motivating than sharing one’s thoughts, so here I go:

  1. To update more often. (I bet you saw this coming, didn’t you? 🙂 )
  2. To find a better balance between quality and quantity when it comes to information on theatre events.
  3. To keep a closer eye on the work of young theatre artists.

I guess a short explanation would be appropriate here. There are artists whose work was known to me before I came to Japan. To see performances by Seinendan, Chelfitsch, Ninagawa Yukio, Kara Jūrō, Suzuki Tadashi, Noda Hideki, Matsuda Masataka and many others who were mentioned in the theatre theory classes I used to attend was on top of my priority list. I was able to start writing about theatre by using these artists’ work as a reference, because it is obviously easier to write when you have some prior knowledge. However, after spending some time here I realized at some point that what’s happening outside the mainstream in Japanese theatre might be as interesting and important as the work of established names. In most cases it’s about companies with a performing history of less than three years, unknown outside Japan, who are nonetheless doing ground-breaking work. Even local critics are struggling to find a “language”, i.e. proper concepts to use when discussing these young people’s creations. I hope to be able to introduce the work of theatre companies like mum & gypsy マームとジプシー, lolo  ロロ, Okazaki geijutsu-za 岡崎芸術座、hi-bye ハイバイ, mamagoto  ままごと, Arata Mino  三野新, Siberia shōjo tetsudō  シベリア少女鉄道, Wasshoi house わっしょいハウス and others.

4.  To expand the geographical range of the column on upcoming events. (This is a tough one 🙂 )

One of the latest and most positive trends in contemporary Japanese theatre is decentralization – the work of artists who are active outside of Tokyo is attracting much attention towards the theatre scene of other places than the capital. At the same time, performing arts festivals like KYOTO EXPERIMENT, Toga Festival (Toyama) and Edamitsu Theatre Festival (Fukuoka) have reached a scale and a quality that can no longer be ignored by discourses on Japanese theatre. To travel outside the metropolitan area, see theatre and report from the spot is one of my objectives for this year.

5.  To manage doing all the above without neglecting my main research project! Or else I’ll be in big trouble… Well, reporting regularly on this blog on how research is going might also be a good idea. Would anyone like to read about Zeami’s view on incorporating the literary tradition of the Heian period into Noh theatre? 🙂

I’ll stop here, while the list is still within reasonable limits. Of course, I’ll be open to any new ideas that particular circumstances might bring in. Let me just say that I’m very excited to see what this year brings.