Tokyo Theatres in July

I wouldn’t be able to tell how or when, but it’s already July! Let’s just say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and keep it there 🙂

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Ōji (Kita ward) lately, as I’ve been asked to write a report on the Satō Sakichi Theatrical Festival 2014 佐藤佐吉演劇祭2014+ that has been going on there since June 25th.  For about a month there are twelve theatre companies performing in several venues around the Ōji small theatre 王子小劇場. There have been some very nice stages during the first half of the festival.  Henteko restoran “The weird restaurant”, an adaptation of Miyazawa Kenji’s  Chūmon no ooi ryōriten “The restaurant with many orders”, performed by Kaki kuu kyaku, and Wa Wa Flamingo’s Eiga “Film” are worth mentioning here. The festival will be going on until July 21st with performances by very young units, like Nakanaide, dokukinoko-chan, Momojiriken, Gareki no taiko and others.

Ōji shōzokue no ki Ōmisoka no kitsunebi (Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857)

Ōji shōzokue no ki Ōmisoka no kitsunebi (Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857)

The Satō Sakichi Festival has a very local color to it – in fact, one of its objectives is to contribute to the revival of Ōji, not because it were a deserted place or anything, but because this town has actually a long tradition of being a pretty animated place. You may have heard of it thanks to Utagawa Hiroshige’s work, Ōji shōzokue no ki Ōmisoka no kitsunebi (“The strange fires at New Year’s around the enoki tree in Ōji”) And one of the merits of watching a festival like this is realizing that besides the theatre that is engaged in an international dialogue, there is also a very flourishing small scale theatre in Japan, targeting local audiences. A festival like Satō Sakichi can offer an insight into the traits and potential of this kind of theatre.

Here are some other performances going on this month that I would heartily recommend:

  • lolo ロロ, one of the very promising young theatre companies of the moment, will have their first performance in quite a while, “Embracing the rising sun tonight”『朝日を抱きしめてトゥナイト』(July 11th – 21st at the Komaba Agora Theater) . You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere of this work by watching the short promotion video they created:

 

  • Gotanda-dan, "Nights in Gotanda" (July 22nd -27th)

    Gotanda-dan, “Nights in Gotanda” (July 22nd -27th)

    Gotanda-dan 五反田団, the unit lead by playwright and novelist Maeda Shirō, known in Japan and abroad for works like “Is there no one alive?”『生きてるものはいないのか』, will perform their latest work “Nights in Gotanda” 『五反田の夜』from July 22nd through the 27th at Atelier Helicopter. “Nights in Gotanda” is a play taking on the March 3rd disaster in Tōhoku, an attempt to imagine what people living in Tokyo might have felt when trying to be of help to those affected by the calamity.

 

  • Hamlet”, directed by Sugihara Kunio 杉原邦生, will be performed at Owlspot (August 1st -3rd). I know it’s a bit early to talk about August, but this is one of the most awaited events of the summer and we wouldn’t want to miss it. Sugihara’s “Hamlet” is already on in Kyoto (until July 7th) and will be performed in Toyohashi (Aichi) and Sapporo before coming to Tokyo.

With that said, I’m going to follow the vague but undeniable scent of the holidays, which is already filling the air, and just see where it leads me 😀

Advertisements

Tokyo Theatres in May

It finally became warm in Tokyo and we are right in the middle of the Golden Week, so there is no soul wishing to stay indoors now. The world of the stage this month has some quite interesting events going on. Here is my pick up:

  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Theater is hosting this year’s edition of TACT (Theater Arts for Children and Teens) Festival between the 3rd and 11th of May. Taking to account the companies participating – Corpus (Canada), a unit directed by Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot (Switzerland), L’Immediat (France) and B-Floor Theatre (Thailand) – thought-provoking physical theatre intertwined with circus elements seems to be at the heart of the festival’s concept.

You might ask why I’m mentioning this event on a blog about Japanese theatre. To be honest, I think all theatre lovers here, Japanese or non-Japanese, might well use a breath of fresh air. The variety of theatre forms in Japan is amazing, but a type of performance coming from the outside that could generate a new kind of surprise and a new kind of thought about stage arts is more than welcome. Both for audiences and for local theatre creators the TACT /Festival 2014 promises to be a stimulating experience.

  • One of the most promising young theatre units of the moment, FAIFAI 快快, will present their latest work Henshin (kari) 『へんしん(仮)』(“Metamorphosis”) at the Komaba Agora Theatre from May 9th through the 19th. FAIFAI has been active under the present name since 2008 and has become known in Japan and abroad for pursuing an original type of theatrical expression, one that stays true to the reality of its generation. The unit’s work “My name is I LOVE YOU” has been awarded the ZKB Patronage Prize at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel in 2010 and its’ work Ringo received the 57th Kishida Kunio Playwrights Award. That is to say that their latest work deserves all our attention. For more information please visit the FAIFAI homepage (its English version is one of the clearest and most neatly kept up to date websites I’ve ever seen among Japanese theatre companies).
Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za, "Artaud 24ji ++"

Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za, “Artaud 24ji ++”

  • The string puppet theatre company Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za 江戸糸あやつり人形座 will perfom Artaud 24 ji++『アウトー24時++』(“Artaud at 24 o’clock”) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre from May 29th through June 1st. The work depicts the last day of Antonin Artaud, the man who has played a key role in the history of modern theatre. For such a subject to be approached through the means of the three centuries old Japanese string puppet theatre is an outstanding feat that will demonstrate the actuality and the flexibility of this art. For reference, I described my first encounter with the string puppet theatre in Japan elsewhere.

Having stated my expectations for this month as far as theatre is concerned, I wish you all a pleasant time in May 🙂

Tokyo Theatres in April

With me caught up in this and that, another month has passed without any new updates on this blog. I apologize to my readers. It just happens that I was on vacation 🙂 I spent around two weeks away from the Japanese stage, only to realize how much I would miss it.

And that, in spite of the fact that on the night before my departure I went to see a fabulous dramatization of Terayama Shūji’s Den’en ni shisu 『田園に死す』“Pastoral: To Die in the Country” at Za Suzunari, which gave me enough food for thought over the holidays. Nonetheless, after two weeks the withdrawal symptoms were so acute, that right after landing at Narita, I went straight to KAAT in Yokohama to catch Chiten’s “Demons”. I’m glad to say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done on the spur of the moment.

About Den’en ni shisu and Akuryō you will most surely read again on this blog soon. Let’s see what the month of April has in store for theatergoers:

  • Nylon 100℃ will perform Pan’ya Bunroku no shian – zoku『パン屋文六の思案~続・岸田國士一幕劇コレクション』at the Aoyama Round Theatre from April 10th through May 3rd. The performance is conceived as a collage of several one-act plays written by Kishida Kunio (1890-1954), who is often referred to as “the father” of modern Japanese theatre. This stage is the best occasion to catch up with the latest work of Keralino Sandorovich, the leader of Nylon 100℃ and one of the most notable Japanese artists of the moment. Both a theatre director and a musician, KERA is one of the very few people whose wit and insight manages to give entertainment theatre that twist which transforms every show into a lasting memory.

    Tessenkai Noh (April 11th, Hosho Noh Theatre)

    Tessenkai Noh (April 11th, Hosho Noh Theatre)

  • Among the Noh performances of this month the Tessenkai program on April 11th at the Hōshō nōgakudō might be a good choice. Shitekata Shibata Minoru will perform Oshio 『小塩』, a Noh based on a love story from “The Tales of Ise”, quite rarely seen on stage. After the kyōgen Uo sekkyō 『魚説教』, we will be able see Uzawa Hisa’s Kanawa 『鉄輪』– a Noh about a woman’s jealousy. Strong human emotions such as jealousy become motives in various Noh plays – Aoi no Ue 『葵上』“Lady Aoi” is the most famous example. But in Kanawa the rendering of such emotions gets a bit out of the ordinary, in that there is nothing of the hurt but dignified aura of Lady Rokujō (the main character in “Lady Aoi”). Kanawa shows us a simple woman, invoking magic to take revenge on the one who hurt her. Her wrath can only be tempered by the powerful onmyōji Abe no Seimei. One of the highlights is the mask Namanari 生成, used exclusively for this Noh play.

    Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (April 5-27, National Bunraku Theater)

    Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (April 5-27, National Bunraku Theater)

  • At the National Bunraku Theatre a performance of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami 『菅原伝授手習鑑』 is scheduled for the interval April 5th – 27th. This classic of ningyō jōruri 人形浄瑠璃 puppet theatre, based on legends surrounding the personality of Heian period scholar Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), will be performed in its entirety (tōshi kyōgen), which means that we will have the chance to spend a whole day in the bunraku theatre, enraptured by the magic of the moving puppets.

The first day of April marks a new beginning for most of the people living in Japan. The fair weather and the cherry trees in bloom wouldn’t leave us any other choice than to look ahead with hope and expectations. While keeping an eye on the Japanese stage, don’t forget to enjoy your spring 🙂

Tokyo Theatres in March

For this month there are three stages that I would recommend heartily:

"Demons" by Chiten (March 10th-23rd, KAAT)

“Demons” by Chiten (March 10th-23rd, KAAT)

  • Dostoyevsky’s “Demons” – Akuryō悪霊』in Japanese – is being dramatized by theatre company Chiten 地点in collaboration with the Kanagawa Arts Theatre. It will be performed from March 10th through the 23rd. Responsible for the direction is Miura Motoi 三浦基, whose name guarantees the quality of the work. It is a performance fervently awaited by the Japanese theatre world.
  • At the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater we will be able see Shiftシフト』, a performance by theatre company Sample, from March 14th through the 23rd. Shift is actually one of the earlier creations of director Matsui Shū 松井周, performed in 2007 for the first time. Matsui’s theatre is known for showing human beings in critical situations, constrained to think and to act beyond the social establishment. Shift is a story about a community facing the dilemma of having to choose between preserving its old ways and embracing outsiders in order to ensure its own continuity. I guess it is needless to point out the subtle hints at some problems that Japanese society is facing nowadays. Let me just say that when talking about the frontlines of contemporary Japanese theatre, Sample is a unit which deserves all the attention.

    "The Merchant of Hinemi" (U-ench saisei jigyodan)

    “The Merchant of Hinemi” (U-ench saisei jigyodan)

  • U-ench saisei jigyōdan’s Hinemi no shōninヒネミの商人』“The Merchant of Hinemi”, written by playwright and director Miyazawa Akio 宮沢章夫, will be restaged for the first time in 21 years from March 20th through the 30th at Za-Kōenji 座・高円寺. This work is based loosely on “The Merchant of Venice” and “Hinemi”, the play that brought Miyazawa the Kishida Kunio Playwrights Award in 1993. Hinemi is the name of the fictional town where the action takes place. Amid their daily routine, the characters find something important enough to change their view on life – this is what the play promises to be about.

Spring is almost here, a reason good enough to get ready for a new start 🙂

Tokyo Theatres in February

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the main event in the performing arts world this month is TPAM – The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama, going on from the 8th through the 16th.

The TPAM Showcase consists of about 24 stages for audiences to choose from, presented by artists working in the front lines of contemporary Japanese theatre. Here are some performances which I personally look forward to:

  • Hanako nitsuite “About Hanako”, which is the 7th work in the series of Contemporary Noh Plays produced by Nomura Mansai. It comprises a Butō version of the Noh Aoi no Ue 『葵上』, a contemporary theatre version of the Kyōgen Hanako and a new take on Mishima Yukio’s modern Noh play Hanjo – all under the direction of Kuramochi Yutaka. (Theatre Tram, 5th -16th February)
  • RE/PLAY (DANCE edit). The highly acclaimed work by Tokyo Deathlock director Tada Junnosuke will be recreated in a dance version, in collaboration with choreographer Kitamari. (Steep Slope Studio, 14-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 - Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 – Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

  • “Happy Days” by theatre company ARICA. Beckett’s play will receive a fresh approach through the stunning stage art by Kaneuji Teppei and the performance of former Tenkei gekijō actress Andō Tomoko, which are the promise of a work definitely worth seeing. (Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse No.1, 3F Hall, 14-16 February)
  • “Noise and Darkness” 『騒音と闇』by Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker 革命アイドル暴走ちゃん. This new work wearing the signature of Nikaidō Toko, the mastermind behind the controversial Banana Gakuen, will give us the opportunity to experience at a very physical level how close is absurdity to our everyday lives. (Sotetsu Honda Theater, 14-16 February)

The festival features also an International Showcase with stages by performers from France, China, South Korea and Finland.

The weight given to choreography and bodily presence on stage and the tendency to rely less and less on the word of a script is not only the common feature of all these works, but the most recent trend in Japanese performing arts. TPAM is a great opportunity to witness all this in real time, so don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

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? 😀

Tokyo theatres in November

It happened. A whole month has passed without me posting any reviews on this blog 😐 The good side of all this is that I did see some very good performances in October – it is only the lack of time that didn’t allow me to write about them. And the other good side (!) is that there will definitely come a time for me to post those reviews. I promise it will be worth your while reading them, so stay tuned 🙂

In the meantime let’s see what the Tokyo stages have in store for November.

Festival/Tokyo, which is THE theatre event of the second half of this year, will be starting on November 9th with a program that promises to keep audiences enraptured. The theme of this year’s edition is “Travels in narratives”, giving us the opportunity to think on stories, on what they mean to us, how they change in time and how they transform us, helping us grow. Any place in the world has stories connected to it and theatre is one medium by which those stories can come to the surface. How will the city look like after its stories will be released from the veil of forgetfulness and will take over the quotidian for some time? It’s just a guess, but we will probably witness a transfiguration of the city through the stories that sleep underneath it – this is what I would call the highlight of this year’s Festival/Tokyo.

FestivalTokyo2

For a selection of works that I recommend heartily, please refer to this article on F/T 2013 that I wrote previously. Personally, I’m looking forward not only to the performances themselves, but also to the open events, symposia and talk events, which give us the rare opportunity to hear the artists talk about their works. In other words, I’m seriously considering moving my headquarters to Ikebukuro this month. Too bad that the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre doesn’t allow sleeping in, ha ha ha… 🙂

From the last performances of BeSeTo Festival, which is still going on until November 10th, “Forge/Natsume Sōseki” 『偽造/夏目漱石』of theatre company Jūryoku/Note 重力/Note is worth checking out. Jūryoku/Note’s trademark is the original adaptation for the stage of texts written by established authors. In the past they dealt with Terayama Shūji’s texts in “My job – Terayama Shūji (1935-1983/1983-2012)” or with Elfriede Jelinek’s “Cloud.House.”, a work presented at Festival/Tokyo last year. This time they are turning to a classical figure of Japanese literature, Natsume Sōseki. It will be interesting to see how director Kashima Nobusuke’s special concern towards the text collaborates with the company’s latest experiments with theatrical space in order to project the figure of Natsume Sōseki into our times. “Forge/Natsume Sōseki” will be running from November 4th through 10th at Atelier Shunpusha.

As far as the noh stage is concerned, there will be a rare performance of Ikari kazuki 『碇潜』by the noh study association Tessenkai 銕仙会 at Hōshō nōgaku-dō on November 8th. Ikari kazuki is a play inspired by The Tale of the Heike, focusing on the battle at Dan no ura, where many warriors from both sides, the Taira and the Minamoto clans, have lost their lives. In order to reenact the battle, three boats will be brought on the stage – a rare sight in the case of noh, whose restrained use of props is well known.  A performance of noh Makiginu 『巻絹』and kyōgen Kane no ne 『鐘の音』are also in the program.

Whatever your choice, it is my hope that you’ll enjoy the festive atmosphere of this month with some good theatre 🙂