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 😀

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Tokyo theatres in September

Daylight time getting shorter and rain falling almost every day are signs that we are enjoying the last days of summer. However temperatures are still high, good over 30°C, so there is probably no better place than the theatre for those seeking shelter from the heat 🙂

The event that everyone is talking about right now is the SIS Company production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” 『かもめ』Kamome at the Bunkamura Theater Cocoon, running from September 4th through the 28th . Not only does it boast the direction of Keralino Sandorovich, one of the most original theatre creators of the moment, but it also comes with a remarkable cast, featuring names like Ikuta Tōma, Aoi Yū, Nomura Mansai and Ōtake Shinobu, who are best known as stars of the screen.

The performance that I’m personally looking forward to is “Dear Late Summer Sister” 『夏の終わりの妹Natsu no owari no imōto, which is the latest work of U-ench saisei jigyōdan 遊園地再生事業団, the theatre company run by Miyazawa Akio. I had the chance to hear a reading of the play back in July, that’s why I can tell for sure it is worth it. It is the story of Jahana Motoko, a woman born in Okinawa, who moves to Tokyo. She tries to get a license as an interviewer, in order to be able to ask people questions – about the earthquake that hit the Tōhoku region in 2011, about the U.S. military bases in Okinawa, things that the people around here have the tendency to avoid talking about. The whole frame of the story is permeated by the healthy humor and the broad theatrical vision that are Miyazawa’s trademark. It will be running at the Owlspot in Ikebukuro from September 13th through the 22nd.

Talking about play readings, the Kyōto based theatre company Chiten 地点, whose unforgettable staging of Elfriede Jelinek’s “Kein Licht” last year at Festival/Tokyo is stiil vivid in the memory of Tokyo audiences, will be doing a reading of Büchner’s “Lenz” at the Goethe-Institut Tokyo (September 13th -14th). Given the affinity of Chiten’s director Miura Motoi with the theatre of German speaking countries, it promises to be a very original interpretation of the classic. This reading is part of a series of events marking the anniversary of 200 years since the birth of Georg Büchner. A performance of “Woyzeck” combining dance and theatre in an experimental attempt to project this 19th century work into our times, is also part of the program (Komaba Agora theatre, September 13th-23rd). For more information, please visit the webpage of the Goethe-Institut.

From the smaller scale performances going on this month I picked up “Kappore!” 『かっぽれ!夏』of theatre company green flowers, winner of last year’s edition of Ikebukuro Theatre festival, an event organized by the local authorities of the Toshima district in Tokyo. Their prize-winning work Fukigenna Maria no kigen (“The deadline of bad-tempered Maria”) featured the story of Mori Mari, daughter of writer Mori Ōgai, and her inner struggles concerning the publication of her own novels. “Kappore!” focuses on a fictional family of rakugoka, performers of the art of rakugo – a kind of stand-up comedy that thrives in Japan ever since the Edo period. Where there is rakugo, there is laughter, so the play promises to be interesting. It will run from September 6th through the 8th at the Owlspot Theater.

Two performances at the Ōji shogekijo, Hana to sakana (“Flowers and fish”) by theatre group Jūnana senchi 十七戦地 (September 12th-17th), which promises to be a good-taste SF, and Ma-n-da-ra, an adaptation of a three-century old horror story by Gekidan Rokkotsumikandōkōkai 劇団肋骨蜜柑同好会 (September 19th – 23rd), are also among my pick-ups for this month.

Hagoromo © Noh.com

Hagoromo © Noh.com

The most awaited event of the month in the world of Noh is a special performance marking the anniversary of 30 years since the opening of the National Noh Theater, which will be held on September 17th. After the opening act – Tsurukame, a short congratulatory Noh, played by Kondō Kannosuke (Hōshō school), the program will feature Hagoromo “The Celestial Feather Robe”, with actor Tomoeda Akio of the Kita school playing the main role, then a kyōgen piece, Iori no ume, starring Nomura Man, and another Noh play in the end – the very entertaining Shakkyō, performed by Kanze Tetsunojō.

Hagoromo 『羽衣』is the story of a celestial maiden, whose robe of feathers is about to be taken away by a fisherman. As she cannot fly back to heaven without her robe, the maiden promises to perform a celestial dance, so she receives her robe back. After her dance of joy she thanks the fisherman and disappears into the sky. This very simple plot is the subject of various legends that are close to the heart of the Japanese, that is why this Noh play is one of the most often performed ones. The words of the angel – “doubt is a thing of the earth, there is no deceiving in the realm of the sky” – have a special echo and are the highlight of this Noh, besides the dance itself.

Please take the time to have a look at the stage photos of Hagoromo on Noh.com, as they will reveal why this Noh is held dear by everyone who has heard the story of the celestial maiden and her feather robe.