Great news! You don't have to sit down for four hours without having a clue as to what is going on watching Kabuki, one of Japan’s must-see traditional performing arts. Kabuki is now more accessible to non-Japanese, thanks to great Kabuki superstars Ebizo Ichikawa and Shido Nakamura, who are the key successors of Kabuki families and have a true passion for the future of Kabuki. The idea of Roppongi Kabuki was born from a conversation between Ebizo and Shido.
Thinking about the future of Kabuki made Ebizo and Shido want the performances to be more accessible to the younger Japanese generation and also to foreigners. So they came up with the idea of showing it in the center of Tokyo's entertainment night life area, and also having a renowned contemporary director and screenwriter from outside the Kabuki world work on it.
This idea has become so successful that it was just announced that the “Roppongi Kabuki Part II Zatoichi,” performed at Roppongi EX Theater in February, will be performed again in Nagoya and Osaka in August.
Starring Ebizo Ichikawa and his childhood friend Shinobu Terashima, the charismatic actress from a Kabuki family, “Roppongi Kabuki Part II Zatoichi” is directed by the highly prolific controversial film director Takashi Miike, and its screenwriter is the multitalented artist/illustrator/actor/writer, Lily Franky. This ensemble of cast and staff alone promise this play to be a fascinating one. In February, tickets were all sold out for all performances, with many people lining up in the hope of getting a canceled ticket.
“Zatoichi” is one of Japan’s longest running series of films and a television series. Set in the late Edo period, it is a classic heroic story of a blind masseur who makes his living by gambling and giving massages, but is really a master of swordsmanship and fights to save the ones that he loves and respects.
The style of this version of “Zatoichi” is a combination of old Edo and contemporary Tokyo. The set includes Edo-style houses with a Roppongi Hills skyscraper. Sometimes, the cast wear casual sweatsuits, and other times they wear kimonos. It sounds bizarre, but for some reason, it works. Ebizo even performs without Kabuki makeup and wig. Moreover, his famous charismatic Kabuki glare is not there as his character is a blind man; yet the audience can still enjoy Ebizo’s Kabuki aura. It must have been quite a challenge for Ebizo to take a blind man’s part as he cannot use his Kabuki expression. However, he succeeded in delivering a Kabuki performance in this unusual setting.
Franky used the same line at the very beginning and the very end: “Iyana Tosei Dane” (such a terrible world, isn’t it?), a famous line that Shintaro Katsu used in the original version of “Zatoichi.” As it says, this world can be a terrible place, but with a hero like Zatoichi, there is a hope for the future of our society and also the future of Kabuki world.
Nagoya: Aug 2-7 at Chunichi Theatre. Tel: 052-263-7171 (Chunichi Theatre) / Osaka: Aug 10-13 at Festival Hall. Tel 0570-200-888 (Kyodo Information)© Japan Today