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 🙂

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Tokyo theatres in October

Before we knew it, it is already autumn – although still a bit early for the beautiful red leaves. Here is a very small selection from what the Japanese theatre scene has to offer this month:

"Ihatōbo no gekiressha" by Komatsu-za (2013)

“Ihatōbo no gekiressha” by Komatsu-za (2013)

At the Kinokuniya Southern Theatre, Komatsu-za will be performing Ihatōbo no gekiressha『イーハトーボの劇列車』”The theatre train from Ihatov” from October 6th through November 17th. Written by Inoue HIsashi, one of the most influential and prolific contemporary Japanese playwrights, the play is based on Miyazawa Kenji’s biography. To be more precise, it is the story of Miyazawa’s move to Tokyo from his hometown in Iwate prefecture, focusing on the years 1918, 1921, 1926 and 1931 of the writer’s life. In his series of biographical plays Inoue is weaving elements of a writer’s literary works into his or her biography, turning the subject into a character of his or her own fictional world. In this case the title itself is an allusion to Miyazawa’s probably most famous work, Ginga tetsudō no yoru (“Night on the Galactic Railroad”). Music, warm humor and an amazing amount of vivid imagination are all traits of Inoue Hisashi’s style. Their combination with Miyazawa’s romantic fiction promises to be a very rewarding theatrical experience.

Speaking of Inoue Hisashi, another play of his, “Musashi” – which gained wide acclaim in London and New York back in 2009 – will be running until October 20th at the Sai-no-kuni Saitama Arts Theatre. The performance is directed by Ninagawa Yukio, the one who brought many of Inoue’s plays into the attention of the Western public, and boasts a gorgeous cast, in the most part the same as four years ago. It will be a joy for many theatre goers to see this particular work on stage again.

Another surprise brought by the theatre scene this month is the restaging of Terayama Shūji’s play “La Marie Vison” 『毛皮のマリー』。This performance is part of a series of events dedicated to the memory of Terayama, who passed away prematurely 30 years ago. Better known in his home country as a poet and writer, Terayama was a key figure in the small theatre movement of the sixties and seventies in Japan – a cultural movement that challenged established theatre practices in the search for new spaces and new meanings to theatre as an art. You can read more on Terayama Shūji and his unit Tenjō sajiki, whose works have been a turning point in Japanese theatre history, in this very insightful article on Tokyo Stages: The Occupation of Street Theatre . Through the story of a transvestite risen to celebrity through his excentric lifestyle, “La Marie Vison” explores the borders between reality and illusion in the spirit of that paradoxical approach to life which is so typical of Terayama’s style. It will be performed at Nakano Theatre Bonbon from October 2nd through the 6th.

The 20th edition of BeSeTo Theater Festival has already started, giving the unique opportunity to audiences to see theatre from China, South Korea and Japan performed in various locations in the country. After an auspicious start in Toga, Toyama prefecture – the holy land for experimental theatre in Japan, and a short stop in Tottori, the festival will reach the Tokyo stages in mid October. Chekhov’s “Three sisters” featuring an android actor, performed by Seinendan, a Chinese version of “King Oedipus” and a Korean version of “Peer Gynt” are just a few examples of what this festival has in store for the audiences.

"Komachi fuden" by Engidan Koripe (2013 BeSeTo Festival)

“Komachi fuden” by Engidan Koripe (2013 BeSeTo Festival)

From the amazing program of BeSeTo festival, the show I personally look forward to most is Komachi fūden 『小町風伝』”The Tale of Komachi Told by the Wind”, performed by theatre company Koripe from South Korea, under the direction of Lee Youn-Taek. Drawing heavily from Japan’s cultural memory about Ono no Komachi, a court lady and poet from early Heian period (794-1185), the play was written by Ōta Shōgo and first performed in 1977 on the Noh stage of Yarai nōgakudō. It was one of the first experiments of the silent theatre that later became the trademark of director and playwright Ōta Shōgo. Komachi fūden will be hosted by Komaba Agora Theater from October 17th through the 20th. [Update: it was a great performance! I wrote a review on it here (JP)]

At the National Noh Theatre there will be a special event on October 24th entitled “Zeami and the Flower”. After a demonstration of “tatehana”, one of the oldest forms of ikebana, by Kawase Toshirō, Kanze-ryū actor Asami Masakuni will be performing Tōru, a Noh that embodies Zeami’s ideal of that elegance of spirit which gives birth to poetry. In his treatises on Noh, Zeami compares the success of a performance to the charm of a flower, that is why this collaboration between Noh and ikebana is most welcome, for these two arts reflect each other in a very subtle way.

As I review this month’s selection, I cannot help but notice that it features no new productions, but only restagings. For sure, only autumn is to blame for this “classical” mood, which makes one wish to see again works that won acclaim in the past, in the hope that a fresh directorial approach will render them anew.