The Footprint Princess (足跡姫)

  • 足跡姫 (The Footprint Princess)

3/2/17 (Wed), Tokyo

Ashiato-hime (The Footprint Princess) is the latest concoction by writer/director Noda Hideki. I keep promising myself not to see any more of Noda’s shows and then get suckered into them anyway, this time on the strength of glowing reviews by two good friends. I never learn. 

The show involves a female performer in the early Edo Era who has taken the name Okuni III/IV after the famed dancer said to have founded Kabuki. The authorities have banned female Kabuki, which has devolved into coarse events often involving little more than stripping (the show uses the English word), and Okuni’s company has to struggle to stay one step ahead of the authorities. The frantic story takes in Okuni’s brother Saruwaka (in real life, Kanzaburo’s ancestor), who is digging a hole to reach the other side of the earth; a dead body, which comes alive and insists he is a ghost writer (ha-ha); a doctor who wants her dead body back; someone plotting to kill the shogun; a man who emerges from Saruwaka’s hole in search of the shogun killer; and many other dubious creations. Okuni is possessed by the spirit of a fictional character created by her brother and earns great success as a dancer, even performing for the shogun. However, she gradually becomes consumed by the spirit and, determined to expel her from her body, stabs herself. She and Saruwaka end up in a theater. He hopes that this is all just a show, but she ultimately dies. The show must now go on without her. (This is supposedly a tribute to the Kabuki great Nakamura Kanzaburo, Noda’s good friend, who died suddenly in his prime several years ago.)

As usual, Noda wrote, directed and appeared in the show. It had all the hallmarks of his works: tedious and anachronistic wordplay (references to Lady Gaga and such, wacky character names, Kumagai Jinya quote that was off by 100 years), meaningless and unnatural movement, strange line deliveries (especially by Noda himself as the woman), a frenzied opening and a quiet wannabe-profound closing, plot developments for their own sake, no convincing characterizations. He is basically playing to his fans, who admittedly are legion — my friend noticed several famous actors and artists in the audience, and the entire run is completely sold out. The show makes no attempt to reach to a wider public and is grating for those of us not in on the joke. I don’t get it. At all.

The show did boast strong sets and lighting. Acting-wise, the standout was Kabuki actor Nakamura Senjaku, who interestingly gave the only naturalistic performance of the night. Miyazawa Rie and Tsumabuki Satoru, both of whom I normally like, were sucked into the Noda style, making it impossible to evaluate them on their own merits. So depressing to see this posing as serious theater.

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