Kabuki: Money Talks (人間万事金世中)

  • 人間万事金世中 (Money Talks)

5/13/18 (Sun), Tokyo National Theater (Zenshinza)

A rare full-length production of the 1879 Kabuki adaptation of Bulwer Lytton’s 1840 comedy Money by the prolific Kawatake Mokuami, who reset the piece in modern-day Yokohama. Between those years, Japan had undergone a momentous change from centuries of military rule to parliamentary rule (constitutional monarchy) in 1868, and the wrenching effects this had on society were ongoing as Mokuami took up his pen (or brush).

Mokuami learned of the play second-hand (I doubt he spoke English or actually read the script) and follows the broad outline, such as names reminiscent of the original, e.g. the strange Efu Rinnosuke – Efurin for short – for Evelyn. But he reworked the show seamlessly for a Japanese setting. His career spanned the Edo and Meiji Eras, and he was a sharp observer of the changes in the transformation from feudal society, where position was determined largely by birth, to a money-driven capitalist ethic. This play is a so-called zangiri (cropped hair) drama depicting characters in modern hairstyles and occasional Western dress, a performance style that never really caught on – audiences remained enamored of Edo, and the Western experiment (including the brief use of actresses) was eventually dropped. Still, this show stands as a valuable portrait of its times.

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London Theater: Diversity vs. Quality

  • London Theater: Diversity vs. Quality

Quentin Letts, a critic with the London-based Daily Mail, has caused a stir with comments on an actor in a recent Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production. In a review of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, he remarked,

“There is no way he is a honking Hooray of the sort that has infested the muddier reaches of England’s shires for centuries. He is too cool, too mature, not chinless or daft or funny enough.

“Was [the actor] cast because he is black? If so, the RSC’s clunking approach to politically correct casting has again weakened its stage product.

“I suppose its managers are under pressure from the Arts Council to tick inclusiveness boxes, but at some point they are going to have to decide if their core business is drama or social engineering.”

That set off a barrage of criticism in the UK press, which almost universally branded Letts a bigot for suggesting that the actor may have been cast for reasons other than his talent. The RSC slammed his “blatantly racist attitude” and insisted that the actor’s race had nothing to do with their decision to hire him for this part, citing his many stage and television appearances as proof, I assume, of his acting ability.

I haven’t seen the show, which I understand is quite good, and the actor for all I know is very fine. But I understand completely where Letts is coming from. Continue reading


  • Yoshiwara, 4/7/18 (Sat)

A French-language piece of Japonisme made in 1937 (when Japan was already well at war in Asia) by Max Ophüls. The film is set in Tokyo in the Meiji years, when foreigners have become a not-uncommon presence. Kohana, born into an aristocratic family, is forced humiliatingly by circumstances to sell herself to a brothel in the still-active red light district Yoshiwara, where the girls are now being taught how to give greetings in English, French and such to welcome foreign business. The servant Isamu (spelled Ysamo in the subtitles, but that’s too ridiculous), who delivers her by rickshaw to the brothel, loves her and is desperate to win her over despite the impossible difference in social status, even with her decline into prostitution. Unfortunately a rival emerges in the form of a Russian officer, who begins an intense affair with Kohana. Much to Isamu’s misery, she and the officer are soon deeply in love. The jealous servant gets involved in a scheme by the authorities to entrap the officer, who, it turns out, is in Japan on a secret military mission. Isamu’s actions, however, unwittingly put the girl herself in danger, and things quickly spiral out of control.

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Ballad of Orin (はなれ瞽女おりん)

  • はなれ瞽女おりん (Ballad of Orin)

10/4/17 (Wed), Tokyo

I was curious about this 1977 movie after seeing the excellent puppet version, which was based on this source rather than the original play or novel. The director, Shinoda Masahiro, was also behind the muddled curiosity Double Suicide.

The story revolves around a lonely wandering blind singer who falls in love with a soldier. While he is clearly devoted, he refuses strangely to engage with her sexually, a source of great frustration to her. Still, she takes happiness where she can. The reasons for his unusual behavior are revealed in a tragic ending.

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Mary Poppins comes to Tokyo

  • メリー・ポピンズ: Mary Poppins comes to Tokyo

More than a dozen years after its debut in London, the stage production of Mary Poppins is finally making its way to Tokyo in an all-Japanese version this month. The show ran only around three years in London, a considerable disappointment given the potency of the title and the pedigree of mega-producers Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. It posted a stronger and profitable run of over six years on Broadway, but never became the iconic hit that many had envisioned.

My review of the London production from September 2005, when the show was still in its first year, says it all, so I’ll repeat that here.

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