Cocoon Kabuki: The Summer Festival (夏祭浪花鑑)

夏祭浪花鑑 (The Summer Festival) (Cocoon Kabuki)

As my fourth straight show in the annual Cocoon Kabuki series (held at Shibuya’s Theatre Cocoon), this had a very familiar ring. I’ve seen this much-performed show in both its Kabuki and Bunraku versions, and remember especially vividly the great climactic scene, where the guy murders his father and quickly disposes of the body in the mud as the festival procession approaches. I ended up with seats on the floor – literally on the floor in traditional style, since there were no normal seats left for the afternoon show. But for all the discomfort, it’s more fun to be down close to the stage, and these particular seats, evidently the house seats (exactly the same as last year), are right at the equivalent of the key 7-3 spot on the hanamichi. So I wasn’t too unhappy with the arrangements.

The show was as fun as ever in its usual crowd-pleasing style, and the production was professional. But I had a slight feeling of déjà vu, a feeling that this was becoming somewhat formulaic. The show and characters are all different, but with the same core of actors, the jokey presentation, the limited scenery and the usual high jinks, it’s vaguely like watching a rerun. Maybe it’s the fact that he chose another show with such low life and sensational scenes; it would be interesting to see a Kumagai Jinya or such to see how a more formal work plays in this format. As it is, the show is so dramatic even in its Kabukiza style, it doesn’t seem to benefit as much from the Cocoon rendering.

That said, it was still perfectly enjoyable and very well adapted, and certainly anyone seeing this format for the first time should be happy. The cast was uniformly excellent. Kanzaburo was in his element as Kurobei, with an able rival-turned-friend in Hashinosuke as Tokubei plus an excellent Sasano Takashi as the father Giheiji. Shichinosuke also turned in a memorable O-tatsu (the one who scalds her face and mars her beauty to prove her loyalty), and Kantaro kept up his string of fine performances as the young Isonojo (the kid who has to go into hiding over a financial scandal). The only cast members I could have done without were the two thugs, who seemed overly farcical, though this may be how they were directed.

The director spared no blood or mud in the famous murder scene, which was appropriately gruesome. One nice touch was after Kurobei has just managed to pull himself together after the murder when the candles used for the eerie lighting go out, and the lights suddenly flare up to reveal the festival all around him at its bacchanalic peak. I’m not sure I prefer this version as it seems way too abrupt – the revelers literally appear out of nowhere – but it’s an interesting take, which is what Cocoon Kabuki should be doing.

In another notable variation, the fight scene at the end used miniature sets that made for some funny action; at one point, Kanzaburo and his pursuers disappear behind a house, and little puppets popped up on the roof in their place, which made my friend virtually fall out of her chair laughing (virtually, since we had no chairs). I loved when they burst through the back wall to escape – not least because the graffiti on the wall included a large “Gary” – but I wish they’d cut the ridiculous police car at the end. I remembered seeing a brief scene on a DVD from the Lincoln Center production some years back, where they had the NYPD rush on and yell, “Freeze!” It was embarrassing then, and no better here.

It’s hard to complain when the production is so well acted and confident, but I did get the impression that they were working a bit too hard. It would be more impressive if they took something less outlandish next time and adapted that to the Cocoon crowd. Nevertheless, it’s still an experience that’s worth the money. I’ll be back next year.

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