Monday, March 24, 2014

Kabukiza March 2014 Performance

During my recent visit to Japan, I attended a performance at Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo.

This was my first opportunity to see the new Kabukiza since the previous building was torn down in 2010, rebuilt, and then re-opened in April 2013.  They did a great job of rebuilding it in a similar style and the new office towers included in the design hardly seem like part of the same structure.

There are two performances each day.  

The matinee performance featured Kotobuki Soga no Taimen (The Revenge of the Soga Brothers), Migawari Zazen (The Zen Substitute), Fuin Kiri (Breaking the Seals) from Koibikyaku Yamato Orai (The Courier of Love on the Yamato Highway), and Ninin Fuji Musume (Two Wisteria Maidens).  I sincerely hope that this version of Ninin Fuji Musume will appear on Kabuki DVD sometime soon, since I missed it.  It features my favorite actor and onnagata, Tamasaburo Bando, and I have only seen his solo performance of Fuji Musume.

I attended the evening performance which included:

Kagatobi (The Evil Masseur Dogen and the Firemen of Kaga)
Description from Kabukiza's English website:  The firemen serving the fabulously wealthy Kaga clan were famous for their colorful spirit. This play features a short pageant of these firefighters combined with a dark story of the sinister masseur Dogen who uses murder, theft and extortion to satisfy his lust and greed. The actor playing Dogen doubles as one of the gallant bosses of the firefighting gang alongside the firefighter that unmasks Dogen's villainy.
Dogen is truly villainous and the story seems quite dark, yet I found myself laughing along with the audience as his plans begin to backfire.

Kanjincho (The Subscription List)
Description from Kabukiza's English website:  The most famous play in the original "Juhachiban" and probably the most popular kabuki play today, it includes dance, comedy and the heart-warming pathos of a band of heroes during their last days. Disguised as a band of traveling priests the fugitive general Yoshitsune and his small band of retainers are stopped at a road barrier. They escape only through the quick thinking of the head retainer, a warrior priest named Benkei, who improvises the text of an elaborate imperial decree. Having escaped dancer Benkei and the others describe their days of glory and hardships on the road to escape in a moving dance.
This was the second and most well-known version of Kanjincho that I saw during my trip.  Benkei truly is the greatest actor/liar, convincing the unsympathetic barrier guards who already believe he (and Yoshitsune) are their #1 suspects that his completely empty scroll is filled with names.  The finale dance by Benkei (Nakamura Kichiemon II) was fantastic.

Nihon Furisode Hajime (The Beginning of the Long-Sleeved Kimono in Japan)
Description from Kabukiza's English website:  This dance is a rare example of a story from ancient Japanese mythology adapted for the kabuki theater. As part of an annual ritual, Princess Inada has been chosen to be sacrificed to a fierce serpent that lives in the mountains of Izumo. The serpent arrives in the guise of a beautiful princess, but before it can attack it is attracted to eight jars full of sake. The jars are a trap planted by the god Susa-no-o, who confronts the beast in its true form as an eight-headed serpent, to save the princess.
This was a real treat.  Not only is it rare to see such a fantastical story on the Kabuki stage, but I was able to see Tamasaburo perform the role of Princess Iwanaga in human form and as the 8-headed dragon.

Kabuki-za's new interior has roomier seating and is much more accessible to wheelchairs, while the goods area seems a bit smaller.  I was surprised to find more goods specific to actors at Minamiza in Kyoto.  The advertising displays were quite attractive, and I especially liked the miniature teahouse display for matcha:

The English listening devices are still in use and quite helpful, explaining not only what is being said, but also providing back story that would otherwise be missed, even by those fluent in Japanese.  My only complaint would be that they are no longer offering an English language program book as they had done in the past.  The best they could provide was a black and white paper flyer.  For the same price, Minamiza's program book included the English version in the back and the old Kabukiza provided a full program book in Japanese and a separate, much smaller program book in English.  It seem strange that they would stop providing this option at the Tokyo theater.

One thing that hasn't changed is the wonderful "special" taiyaki available on the third floor during intermissions.  They were kind enough to allow me to take a photo to show the special ingredients, a white and red mochi ball, included for auspicious occasions.

The line for the taiyaki was so long during first intermission that they sold out before half the orders could be met.  I'm glad they prepared more for the second intermission because it was just as delicious as I remembered.

I'm so happy to have seen a performance at the new Kabukiza!  It's truly the highlight of every visit to see a play here!

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