- Kabuki: 競伊勢物語 (Hade Kurabe Ise Monogatari)
9/15/15 (Tues), Kabukiza
Hade Kurabe Ise Monogatari (A Colorful Rivalry: Tales of Ise) is another convoluted but entertaining piece by Nagawa Kamesuke, the same guy who wrote the classic Meiboku Sendai Hagi (which is playing in the afternoon). The program noted that this is the 1,200th anniversary of the birth of one of the show’s main characters, Ki no Aritsune.
- 杉本文楽:女殺油地獄 (Sugimoto Bunraku: The Oil Hell Murder)
8/13/17 (Sun), Tokyo
This was a second crack at modernized Bunraku by the renowned photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The first, which I saw almost exactly six years ago, was a fuller-than-usual version of the ever-popular Love Suicide at Sonezaki. That show incorporated scenes that hadn’t been performed in centuries, juggled the usual placement of singers and musicians on stage, and experimented with lighting and (naturally) photographic and video projections, among other innovations. Unfortunately, it fell victim to a hall far too large for a puppet drama, chosen presumably to pay for all that elaborate staging; Sugimoto’s many fans got their money’s worth, but Bunraku fans were left short changed. Still, the staid world of Bunraku can stand some shaking up, and the production had some worthwhile ideas. So I was looking forward to what he would do this time, especially in this smaller, more puppet-friendly theater. He chose another of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s big hits, which centers on the brutal murder of a young woman by a heavily indebted youth.
- Kabuki: 駄右衛門花御所異聞 (Daemon and the Flower Palace)
7/18/17 (Tues), Tokyo
This is a rarely seen drama about the real-life gangster Nippon Daemon first produced in 1761 (under the name Akiba Gongen Kaisen Banashi) and apparently drastically rewritten for Ebizo. More accurately, it has been reworked as a vanity piece for the star. A villain has stolen a precious manuscript and magical religious heirloom from a noble family in hopes of toppling it and taking over the country. The rest hardly matters. Continue reading
- Noh: 籠太鼓, 野守 (Rodaiko, Nomori)
7/16/17 (Sun), Umewaka Noh Theater, Tokyo
Rodaiko (The Prison Drum) is a unique piece about a woman who is imprisoned in place of her escaped husband and pressed to divulge his whereabouts. Continue reading
- Bunraku: 加賀見山旧錦絵 (Kagamiyama)
5/20/17 (Sat), National Theatre
A rare Edo piece (puppet plays typically come from Osaka/Kyoto), this is a fuller-than-usual presentation of the Kagamiyama play going beyond the well-known Iwafuji story. Continue reading
- Kabuki: 鼠小僧 (The Rat Burglar)
3/6/15 (Fri), film
I managed to get myself switched to an All Nippon Airways flight to New York when my United flight was suddenly cancelled. One advantage was a good selection of Japanese films, and I was surprised to see some Kabuki selections. I had avoided this particular 2003 production before since I didn’t want to spend money on Noda Hideki, who wrote and directed it. But it was a big hit, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to know what was out there. And at free, the price was right. Continue reading
- Kabuki: 番町皿屋敷, 女暫、黒塚 (Bancho Sarayashiki, Onna Shibaraku, Kurozuka)
1/16/15 (Fri), Tokyo
Bancho Sarayashiki is based on a famous ghost story where the evil samurai Aoyama Harima, having been rejected by his young servant Okiku, tricks her into thinking that she has lost one of the family’s ten valuable Korean dishes, a capital crime. She frantically counts over and over, but only finds nine. He then murders her and throws her down a well. She comes back as a ghost to haunt him, always counting up to nine and then shrieking. That story was evidently adapted into Bunraku puppet theater, where the cruelty factor was upped considerably, and that version was then turned into a short-lived Kabuki piece.
The version this month, though, is a New Kabuki adaptation by Okamoto Kido in 1916, which takes a significantly different approach to the ghost story – for one thing, it has no ghosts. Continue reading