Posts Tagged ‘歌舞伎座’

In my last post, I talked about my first visit to the new Kabuki-za, a few weeks back. The show that night was Yotsuya Kaidan, probably the most widely known ghost story in kabuki, featuring the wronged wife Oiwa. This was, if I remember correctly, my first time seeing a tôshi kyôgen (“going through the [whole] play”). Usually, only certain select scenes are performed, combined with scenes from other plays to form an evening’s program. So, I went into the theatre that night not realizing the program was roughly four and a half hours long (including several intermissions). But, it was fine, because the program was excellent.

Above: A woodblock print depicting Oiwa and her baby, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1836), featuring Onoe Kikugorô III in the role, ten years after he appeared in that role in the premiere.

Since it was a tôshi kyôgen, there was plenty of plot, and more than enough characters for me to become thoroughly confused. For those interested in the fuller plot, you can check out the wonderfully thorough description on Kabuki21.com. According to the description there, the play usually includes a section in which a stage guard comes onstage, between scenes, and explains who is playing each role, who each role is, and their relationships to one another. I sure could have used such an explanation.

But, basically here’s the key bits: Oiwa has a baby with her husband Iemon, but Iemon’s basically a bad guy, and he hates his marriage. And there’s a Naosuke, and a Kohei, and an Osode, and I’m really not sure how they all fit in… But, Oiwa, and/or the baby, are kind of ill, and need some medicine. Then the Itô family, who figures into this somehow (I think Iemon is in love with their daughter?), gives Oiwa some horrible poison, telling her it’s medicine. And, so, long story short, she gets horribly disfigured, and then accidentally kills herself and becomes a vengeful ghost, and that’s where the shit really hits the fan.

Yikes. That’s terribly unfortunate. This is what happens when you take poisons thinking it’s medicine. (Image thanks to I Can Haz Cheeseburger.)

Okay. So, the first few acts, I’m sorry to say, did sort of feel like they dragged on. As with basically all things in traditional Japanese arts, kabuki follows the form of jo-ha-kyû – a slow build-up (jo), a break (ha), and then a rapid and dramatic conclusion (kyû). I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the earlier parts of the play – if one claims to appreciate the art, or aims to appreciate the art, then one must strive to appreciate more of it, more facets, and on deeper levels. Such as the skillful acting, and the restrained emotional scenes. But, I just have to say, more so than perhaps any other play that I’ve seen, in this play, wow but the kyû is amazing.

That said, throughout the play, including in the earlier sections, there were some great action scenes, the costumes were beautiful of course, and the sets incredible as well. While many kabuki plays use rather colorful, bright, clean-looking sets, Yotsuya Kaidan was acclaimed even in its own time, for its relatively realistic, down-to-earth depiction of a dirty, run-down, low class home. The shôji is stained, and poked through with holes in some places; and the lantern’s run out of oil. It could not be more perfect for such an emotional, such a tragic story. And such a creepy, frightening ghost story, too. But we’ll get back to that.

A model of the stage set for the final scene at a temple retreat. This isn’t quite the same set (or scene) as Iemon & Oiwa’s rundown house, but it gives the impression, I hope, of the aesthetic of the show.

Returning to my not-so-step-by-step run through of the play, we come to Oiwa’s transformation scene, after taking the “medicine,” that is, the poison given her by the scheming Itô family. I was surprised at how long the transformation took, but, I keep rethinking about it, because this drawing-out, combined with a near absence of music or percussion, also allowed the emotion, and the tragedy, of the scene to really just hang there in the air for a long drawn out moment. I have heard on numerous occasions, including from my own kabuki choreography/dance teacher, as well as in reading an interview with the late Danjûrô himself, that it is in the pauses that so much actually comes through, and is conveyed. And, so, as Oiwa very slowly, gradually, begins to feel the effects of the poison, the actor, and the audience, are given ample time to really focus in on the complex emotional tenor of the scene – Oiwa’s hope that this medicine will make things better, her love for her child, her frustration and sadness at her baby’s unhappiness or discomfort, and at her own situation, living in this run-down house with an abusive husband; we see as she begins to feel strange, and to worry about what the medicine is doing to her, before she finally retreats into the back room, the drums booming, raising the tension and foreshadowing what is to come.

Right: ©Nihonhaiyukyokai/Aoki Shinji, from web-japan.org.

Her husband returns home, and Oiwa emerges from the back room carrying her child, and clutching her face. She eventually lets down the handkerchief, and he sees her disfigured visage. Iemon leaves, taking basically everything of value – that means, chiefly, all Oiwa’s kimono, and even the baby’s swaddling wrap. Oiwa still doesn’t know exactly what’s happened to her… and, when the servant finally offers her a mirror, she realizes what has happened, realizes the Itô family has betrayed her, and in another famous and very sad, tragic scene, she tries to comb over her hair to make herself presentable, to go visit the Itô house and confront them. Sad, and tragic, because of the impossibility of the act, her appearance having been so disfigured by the poison. The hair comes out in clumps, and blood drips onto the floor. In the process of combing out her hair, too, of course, she lets it down; this, combined with her increasingly angry, vengeful disposition, have taking on even more so the appearance of the ghost, even before she accidentally kills herself, slicing her throat on a blade that somehow became lodged in one of the pillars of the house earlier.

In the next scene, Iemon meets with the Itô family, and is tricked by the ghost into killing several of them… the scene ends dramatically with green flame and ghostly hands reaching out towards him. I actually was using my opera glasses at that moment, to look more closely at some secondary thing happening on the other end of the stage – my sensei, thankfully, poked me, and when I saw the green will-o’-wisps, wow… this is really a ghost play!

Kabuki normally takes a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief. It takes place in a different aesthetic world, and you just have to go with it, and immerse yourself into it, and not get hung up on the absurdity or unfamiliarity of the costumes or speech patterns. In a way, it’s actually kind of like watching cartoons – you need to put aside how colorful they are, how unrealistically they’re drawn, and indeed the idea that they’re drawn at all, and just take them as characters, as people, connecting to their emotions, and to the world and the plot, the storyline they live in. Yotsuya Kaidan is not your typical kabuki, though. I came into it thinking, okay, sure, it’s a ghost play, but I’ve seen fox plays and god plays and samurai plays, and they were all more or less the same – this one will be too. No. With Yotsuya Kaidan, as a ghost play, as a horror story, they do it up right. At various points in the play, with all the lights out, the only light in the entire theatre being a few lanterns on stage, and the set being the dingy, sketchy, creepy setting that it was, I must admit I was never truly, actually scared, per se, but, you could absolutely sense the atmosphere they were creating, the creepy atmosphere, that sends chills down your spine – chills, which is precisely what you want during the heat of summer, which is why most of the greatest ghost plays take place during summer, and are performed in the summer.

Ukiyo-e woodblock print diptych by Utagawa Toyokuni III/Kunisada (1786 – 1864). Image of this public domain object, from FujiArts.com.

There is another intervening scene at the riverbank, which I am assured is especially famous, and contains some really famous & popular moments, including a skillful hayagawari (quick-change) as a single actor transforms from the role (and hair and costume and face) of Oiwa into that of Kohei in mere moments. But, it is after that scene, finally, during the kyû, that all hell really breaks loose. If they’d shown just these scenes (and maybe the transformation scene through Oiwa’s accidental death to lead into it) at the National Theatre, what a brilliant, captivating introduction to kabuki that would have been!

Iemon seeks refuge at a temple. As he lights a small lantern to light his way, a large one behind him starts to glow, brighter and brighter until it bursts into flames – yes, full actual flames on stage – destroying the lantern, and revealing the ghost of Oiwa, who flies out of it at him. I can’t remember precisely how each step of this final scene goes, as the Kabuki21 summary isn’t quite that detailed, and as the classic 1956 version I’ve been looking at on YouTube to refresh my memory cuts out this entire last scene. But, suffice it to say there are some incredible moments, as the ghost reaches out from behind the wall, through a scroll hanging inside the temple, to grab one of the devotees and pull him through the wall, into darkness, where he is never seen again. A group of people rush into the temple, fleeing something outside (perhaps, the ghost herself), but once they are inside, Oiwa steps out from amongst them – she was truly hidden, I nearly jumped when she appeared from behind that group – and flies around the room. The people huddle together, and try to form a circle to protect themselves, but she swoops down and grabs one of them, tossing him too into the darkness.

From that same model/display at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. A mirror reveals bits backstage, showing how the various special effects (keren) are accomplished. Frankly, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were trying to show, but, maybe you can, and then you can explain it to me in the comments. ;)

And so Oiwa’s tragic tale ends. She gets her revenge, killing Iemon and several others, while the rest of her betrayers (the Itô family) are all killed by Iemon himself – the synopsis on Kabuki21 says the ghosts trick Iemon into doing it, but I like the possibility, too, that Iemon himself is so wracked by his guilt, that he is, in a sense, tormented by his own demons, in the figurative sense of the term, seeing Oiwa and Kohei, whose deaths he caused, everywhere he looks, and so when he lashes out against these demons, these spectres, these visions from his own imagination, he ends up killing those he loves, and destroying everything the schemes were meant to create for him.

I’m hoping to see some more kabuki before the end of the summer, as I leave Japan in just a few weeks, but I suppose we shall have to see how things work out…

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For the third installment on my mikka-renzoku (three days in a row) Kabuki-filled weekend, it’s about time that I finally get around to writing about finally visiting the new Kabuki-za for the first time!

Sadly, I’ve got to say, whether it’s just that my memories are too vague of precisely how the old one looked and was arranged, or whether it’s simply because most of the changes are kind of cosmetic (ooh, new escalators! woo!), I’m not sure how much I really have to say about it. Firstly, as excited as I was to get to see one of the “grand opening” kokera-otoshi1 performances, I’m not sure I noticed them doing anything at all particularly special. Maybe back in April, for the first day, first week, and/or first month, I would hope they did something extra special, but, even with the kokera-otoshi name on the program, that day’s performance contained no special grand opening announcement, ceremony, or the like. Which is a tiny bit disappointing, but, no big deal, as the production itself was pretty incredible.

I arrived through Higashi-Ginza subway station, which I thought they said they were going to transform into a whole sort of kabuki-themed shopping arcade or something. Turns out that’s not quite the case; the subway station itself remains unchanged, but it leads directly into a small, but very cool shopping area in the basement of the theatre, done up all in reds and filled with paper lanterns with the Kabuki-za crest, and stands selling kabuki merchandise, along with a 7-11 and several tea/coffeeshops. Back in the Edo period, every major theatre had an attached teashop, called a shibai jaya, closely connected to the operations of the theatre – if I remember right, owners of shibai jaya often became playwrights or theatre managers, and a number of kabuki actors were adopted out of shibai jaya families. None of that is presumably going on these days, but, it was fun to see the name, at least, and the basic concept, of the “shibai jaya” returned.

Heading up the elevator, we find a couple of upper floors (above the theatre itself) of galleries, fancier teashops, a photo studio where for a pretty hefty price you can get your picture taken in kabuki costume and makeup, more shops selling kabuki merch, and, a surprisingly small rooftop garden. Feels more like kazari (decoration) than a space you’d actually spend any time in. But, in any case, it connects to an outdoor staircase, with beautiful vermillion-painted columns and rails, that allows a nice view of the traditional-style roof tiles. I’m told that on the seventh end-tile from the right, the phoenix (of the Kabuki-za crest) is facing backwards. What the symbolism or in-joke is on this, I don’t know. But tons of people were looking for it, and pointing it out to one another. Galleries on this floor included a small display on the history of the different incarnations of the Kabuki-za, and on a whole bunch of the major/famous actors of the last 120+ years since the opening of the first Kabuki-za in 1889.

Following that adventure, I headed back downstairs to get a look at the facade, and the theatre itself on the inside. They absolutely came through on their promise, that the theatre building itself, especially the facade, would be pretty much a reproduction of what came before, with the only major change being the addition of an office tower behind it. I can appreciate people’s reactions at the previous one being torn down, and especially because it did contain the history of post-war kabuki – this was the room where Danjûrô practiced, and this was the room where Kanzaburô dressed, and this was the stage where so many great events and great performances took place. But, all things considered, the building was only from the 1950s, a reconstruction of something that dated back only to 1889. So while the 1950s Kabuki-za is most certainly “historic” in some important senses, it’s not a precious artifact of historical architecture that needs to be preserved, like an 18th century samurai home or something.

The interior of the theatre looks much as it always did, I think, I suppose. New escalators. Probably rearranged where the restaurants were. I think the seats might be a bit roomier. Nothing stands out as a betrayal of the tradition, or the history, or anything, and why should it? Many casual fans were upset at the destruction of the old building, but you didn’t honestly think that the actors, and their managers, and everyone else involved, would have stood for something in violation of the spirit or the tradition of kabuki? Right?

I was sitting back further than ever before, and so I decided to buy and try out opera glasses. Does owning opera glasses make me a total theatre nerd? Maybe. But, the curtain went up (or, rather, to the right), and I peered through my glasses, and could see everything right up close, as if I were watching on TV. Actually, it was too much like watching on TV – the interposition of something additional between me and the stage made it feel like I wasn’t even there at the theatre, like I might as well be at home watching it on TV. In short, the opera glasses are problematic. So I’m not sure if I’ll use them next time, or how often, or for what parts… on the plus side, they were cheap.

And then the ki clacked, and the curtain was pulled back, and the show began… In my next post, I’ll summarize the famous ghost play Yotsuya Kaidan, which I was seeing for the first time, and some of my thoughts/reactions.

(1) Kokera-otoshi, 杮落とし or 杮葺落. The building is so new, the roof shingles (杮 or 杮葺) are still falling off (落とし)? I don’t get it.

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歌舞伎座完成! The new Kabuki-za, under construction since 2010, is now complete, and ready to open in April. The previous incarnation was constructed in 1950, and lasted throughout the post-war, until now – this is the first time in history that the Kabuki-za was intentionally taken down, rather than being destroyed by earthquake or fire. Why did they dismantle it and built it anew, from the ground up? I don’t know. They say it was in order to install better, newer, systems for protecting the building from earthquakes. This is purely a hunch, a gut feeling, but it sounds to me like a cover-up sort of answer, like there was some other reason for doing it.

In any case, now that it’s complete, plenty of blogs, news sites, and the like are covering the event.

*The blog Kokera-otoshi 13 is dedicated entirely to the topic of the rebuilding; there are only a few entries that have been posted, but they’re quite beautifully done. I expect that now that the building is complete, we should be able to expect more new and exciting posts in the near future.

A number of YouTubers have posted simple walkaround videos showing what the new building looks like. We’ve been seeing concept drawings for quite some time, and now we get to see the real thing. My main reaction? It’s very white. Looks almost unreal, it’s so perfectly clean. Kind of recalls for me the white, clean, aesthetic of, well, I don’t know the word for it, but of a particular brand of post-modern / ultra-modern architecture. Actually, what I think it reminds me of more than anything else is a reproduction – its perfect, brand-new, so-clean facade reminds me of the Hawaii Byodoin, an extremely clean- and new-looking full-scale replica of the actual Byodoin, in Uji (near Kyoto), which, by contrast, looks old, historical, authentic. Ah, but the new Kabuki-za will look and feel authentic before too long. We’ll all get used to it.

What’s really important is that, contrary to some people’s fears, yes, it does indeed look just like it always has – they didn’t omit or dramatically alter the 1889 Imperial Style pseudo-Azuchi-Momoyama facade – and, the skyscraper, in my opinion, really doesn’t look like it detracts at all. Even if it isn’t really, the skyscraper tower looks like a separate building, behind the theatre. It almost sort of melts into the background, amid the other skyscrapers of Ginza.

What do you think?

*Meanwhile, Jiji Press has published a photo of a massive snow sculpture replica of the Kabuki-za, exhibited at this year’s Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri).

*And, here, from Shôchiku themselves, a brief article (in Japanese) on the raising of the yagura earlier this week. The yagura (lit. “tower”) is the purple cloth cube hung above the entrance to the theatre announcing, or indicating, that the theatre is open and featuring productions that week/month. Unlike the castle-like architectural style of the Kabuki-za, this is a tradition going back to the Edo period, and extremely similar yagura can be seen hoisted above the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, Yamamura-za, and Morita-za in ukiyo-e prints from the time.

Grand Opening performances, called kokera-otoshi (“falling shingles,” implying the building is so new the shingles are still falling off.. or something?), will last for six months. I very much hope that I get to go visit Japan this summer and get to see some of these performances.

In the meantime, as I come across more news, pictures, and video, I’ll keep updating about it.

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The old Kabuki-za, as seen in 2008.

Shôchiku has just announced the programs for the first several months of shows at the rebuilt (renovated) Kabuki-za, scheduled to open in April 2013, including, of course, some rather special performances for the occasion. Sadly, I won’t be able to see the shows in April or May, but I am very much hoping to make it out to Tokyo in June or July. In total, there will be a full year of these kokera otoshi performances, celebrating the opening of the new theatre.

The April program opens, appropriately, with a celebratory Crane dance called Kakuju senzai (鶴寿千歳), performed to welcome the new Kabuki-za, and to mark its opening in an auspicious manner. I had the pleasure, in January 2008, of seeing this dance performed by the late Nakamura Jakuemon, then the oldest kabuki actor still-active; he passed away earlier this year at the age of 91.

The program then continues with Omatsuri (lit. “Festival”), a piece often performed in celebration of the return to the stage of an actor who has been long absent due to illness. This April, however, it will be performed in honor, in memory, of the late, great, Nakamura Kanzaburô, who passed away earlier this month.

Other pieces to be performed in April include, among other pieces:
*Kumagai Jin’ya, featuring Tamasaburô, and Kataoka Nizaemon as Yoshitsune
*Benten Kozô (Hamamatsu-ya through riverside scenes, the most common selections), featuring Kikugorô as Benten Kozô and Danjûrô as Nippon Daemon, a one-two punch I have had the pleasure of seeing before.
*Kanjinchô, with Kôshirô as Benkei, Baigyoku as Yoshitsune, and Kikugorô as Togashi

Of course, the sense of which plays are “big name,” or to put it more truthfully, which plays I have personally heard of, is exceedingly subjective. Nevertheless, for what it is worth, the May performances are almost exclusively those with which I am familiar:
*Tsurukame, an auspicious crane & turtle dance.
*The Terakoya scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami
*Sannin Kichisa, starring Danjûrô, Kikugorô, and Nizaemon as the three Kichisas.
*Meiboku Sendai Hagi, also known as The Ten Roles of the House of Date (Date no jûyaku), a play featuring the sorcerer Nikki Danjô, and a giant rat. I’ve never seen this play, but have seen it referenced countless times in ukiyo-e prints. Featuring Matsumoto Kôshirô as the sorcerer, and Sakata Tôjûrô as Masaoka. This play is famous for featuring a single actor in ten roles, performing numerous quick-changes between characters, though I am unclear as to which actor will be the one to do this.
*Kuruwa Bunshô, feat. Nizaemon and Tamasaburô
*Dôjôji, a most special opportunity to see the great onnagata Tamasaburô in the leading role

Finally (for now), the June performances, which I just might get to see, include:
*Shunkan, a story based on the 1177 Shishigatani Incident, in which the monk Shunkan is exiled to a remote island.
*and, Sukeroku, one of the most popular plays, and one which I’m really glad to have seen, though it would be wonderful if they were showing a big-name show I have not yet seen in person, such as Ise Ondo.

A 1962 performance of Sukeroku, featuring Ichikawa Danjûrô XI as Sukeroku, and Nakamura Utaemon VI as Agemaki.

Meanwhile, the Kanamaru-za in Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku – the oldest still-operating kabuki theatre in the world – hosts performances only in April every year. This year, the shows include shûmei performances for Ichikawa Ennosuke IV, formerly Ichikawa Kamejirô, who took on that name roughly six months ago, as Ichikawa Ennosuke III became Ichikawa En’ô. I don’t know if this will be his first performance, his debut, in the role of the fox Tadanobu in Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, a role for which the former Ennosuke is quite famous, but in any case, debut or not, the afternoon program this coming April at the Kanamaru-za includes scenes from Yoshitsune, with Ennosuke in that role. The evening program includes a formal announcement (kôjô, 口上) of his name-taking (shûmei), along with Kyô ningyô and Ôshû Adachigahara, two pieces with which I am not familiar, though I’m sure they’re great.

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No, I haven’t visited yet. I wish. It doesn’t open until 2013. Just, watching a very PR-laced video about the plans for the new Kabuki-za. I’m sad to see the old one go, and still sad that I never got to attend the sayonara performances/ceremonies. But, I’m glad at least that I can say that I’ve experienced the old one (whereas my potential former students, for example, will not be able to).

While a video like this certainly makes me feel all dirty and commercialized and advertised-to, at the end of the day, I think the new theatre is going to be nice. There would be no point in ruining it in any way, and I’m sure that the actors, or someone else representing the view of the traditional arts and such, have been consulted extensively. I’m not saying I’m totally onboard, like “woohoo let’s knock everything down and rebuild it all super fancy pretty,” but, given that you and I had no say in it, and it’s been done, I do look forward to going there for shows again, and seeing the new gallery, International Culture Center, and rooftop garden. From what little I’ve read/seen, it sounds like some of the most major changes to the visitor experience are simply the installation of greater handicapped access, more toilets, more direct access into the theatre from the subway (through a new underground basement lobby), and such.

Mainly, the real point of this post, is to say that watching a video like this, or otherwise thinking about Kabuki-za (or other theatres) really makes me feel like I want, someday, to be enough of a bigshot professor or curator or whatever that I will end up spending time backstage or in the offices not as a special guest on a one-time tour (though that would be awesome), but in some more regular way. I wonder if that’s too much to hope for. I wonder how many times James Brandon or Julie Iezzi have been backstage at Kabuki-za.

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It’s time to get 2011 started on the right foot, with a blog post about Kabuki!!

For anyone who has been to Japan (actually, let me qualify that – anyone from the US or certain other countries not including the UK), you’ve seen how absurdly expensive DVDs are there. A movie that might cost $15-20 here in the US will typically cost 3500-4000 yen (read: roughly $35-40, give or take a bit for fluctuations in the exchange rate). Now, Brits who are used to paying upwards of £20 for a DVD might think nothing of this, but that’s double the price I’m used to.

Sadly, DVDs of kabuki performances are even more expensive. This copy of Sukeroku Yukari no Edo-zakura is currently going for nearly 4000 yen on Amazon.jp, marked down from nearly 5000. Count in shipping and the obligatory markup, and you can be guaranteed to be seeing pricetags for roughly $60, if not more, for these DVDs at the Kiinokuniya on 41st and 6th.

A terrible shame, really, as I would love to own a collection of kabuki performances on DVD.

But, ranting aside, I just found out this morning about three kabuki-related DVDs or DVD sets that I wish I could afford.

First is a ridiculously huge box set of the 16 months of “sayonara” performances produced in anticipation of the closing of the Kabuki-za in April 2010 and its subsequent demolition. They look like really nice sets, with full-color booklets, and hopefully a fair number of other extras. Each of eight volumes covers (presumably) two months of performances, so, roughly 12 plays – three in the afternoon, three in the evening, times two months – and costs a whopping 26,250 yen (US$323.24 at the moment according to Google’s exchange rate calculator). Or you can buy the whole set for 210,000 yen ($2,585). Or, you can do what I’m going to do, and just sit here and cry about it. … There is the possibility of the university library acquiring such a thing, though I don’t believe I can in good conscience put in a request or recommendation for it, given the library’s limited budget.

Maybe someday, I’ll get really lucky and just happen upon these at a flea market, or in a clearance bin somewhere, secondhand at BookOff or something (though even at BookOff, even second-hand, Japanese DVDs tend to be upwards of $30…).

The second DVD I’m looking forward to getting my hands on is that of “Ô-Edo no Living Dead.” I remember back in 2007, when the Heisei Nakamura-za came and performed in New York and Washington DC (so hoping they’ll come again soon…), I read in an interview with Nakamura Shichinosuke (I think it was; unless it was his brother), that he was thinking of putting together a kabuki play about zombies. That is to say, an adaptation of the zombie movie to the kabuki stage. And, here it is. One of a great many plays to be shown in movie theatres throughout the country and released on DVD as part of the “Cinema Kabuki” series, it was released in theatres in Japan this past October, and should be coming out on DVD any day now… Enjoy the trailer for it, below:

Finally, Waga kokoro no Kabuki-za (The Kabuki-za of Our Hearts), a documentary about the history of the Kabuki-za, the chief kabuki theatre in the world, which closed this past April and was subsequently demolished; construction is underway on the fourth incarnation of the theatre, if I’m counting correctly, which was originally established in 1889, and has been destroyed in the past by earthquake and fire, and by Allied bombs, but never before intentionally in this manner.

This opens in theatres in Japan on January 15, so it may be some time before we see the DVD (that is, as if it matters – I’m sure they’ll be asking too much money for it).

I think it could be quite fun and quite fascinating to see the top actors talking about their memories and experiences and thoughts, to get a peek behind the scenes, and just to feel a part, in whatever tiny way, of having experienced being there – vicariously through the video – as this incarnation of the Kabuki-za prepared to shut its doors for the last time.

The trailer:

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I totally wish I could be there to see it, and totally regret missing out on kabuki when it was in Paris a few years back. Ichikawa Ebizô will head a troupe offering 12 performances of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (“Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees”), one of the most popular/famous of all kabuki plays, and easily one of my favorites.

It’s got everything one could ask for – samurai heroes Yoshitsune and Benkei, the ghosts of the Taira clan, a princess, a magical fox spirit, some awesome fight scenes…

(A scene from the play, from a recent performance in Osaka. Videorecording is not allowed in the theatre, and I neither encourage nor condone it, but am happy to be able to share this with you.)

And the prices seem quite reasonable, too, tickets ranging from £12 – £52.

There will be earphone guides available, but for the full experience, ditch the distracting headphones, and listen to the real thing. You’ll have no trouble understanding it because you will have read the synopsis at Kabuki21.com, or the full text as translated by Stanleigh Jones.

More details at Sadler’s Wells sleek website.


Meanwhile, as the Kabuki-za is being destroyed next month, they are turning the roof tiles, bearing the crest of the theatre, into clocks, and putting them up for sale to the fans! I would *love* to have one, to have a real actual piece of the old Kabuki-za, but at 3万円 (about US$300), I’ll pass.

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