Saturday, November 28, 2015

Kabukiza November 2015 Performance

On November 4th, I attended a special performance at Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo, Japan.

While waiting for the doors to open, I visited the Rooftop Garden on the 5th floor of Kabukiza Tower. Kabukiza Tower can be entered around the corner to the left of the Theatre entrance. Only one elevator to the right in the lobby will take you to the 5th floor and there you'll find the Studio-Alice Kabuki Photo Studio, Kabukiza Gallery, Jugetsudo tea room, and the Rooftop Garden which features Kabuki elements like the stone lantern of Kawatake Mokuami and Okuni Sakura tree.

Following a visit to the Garden, I made my descent to the basement level which connects directly to Higashi-Ginza Station and hosts rows upon rows of shops selling Kabuki-themed merchandise ranging from snacks to DVDs.

Due to the longer performance, the doors opened only 20 minutes before the performance began. This led to a sold-out crowd pouring en masse into the modest-size lobby, scrambling to rent their caption devices and buy the program book before the first act began. The last time I was tossed around that much was at a rock concert. I would recommend verifying when the doors open and planning accordingly so you're not overwhelmed. Once I moved past the chaos in the lobby, everyone became relaxed and polite and friendly ushers at each door were ready to guide me to my seat. I am happy to note that the Japanese program book now includes a section explaining each play in English. Last year, there was no English program and in the previous Kabuki-za Theatre a thin black and white English-language program was sold separately.

The November program sold out almost immediately due to a special occasion, a memorial of the 50th death anniversary of Ichikawa Danjuro XI. In his honor, all the plays featured roles he famously portrayed.

To make the occasion even more special, Ichikawa Danjuro XI's great-grandson, Horikoshi Kangen was introduced by his father, Ichikawa Ebizo XI in his first stage appearance (omemie).

The matinee performance featured Sanemori Monogatari (The Tale of Sanemori), Wakaki Hi no Nobunaga (The Young Nobunaga), and Soga Moyo Tateshi no Goshozome.

I attended the evening performance which included:

Edo no Hana Narita no Omokage (Flowers of Edo and the Image of Narita-ya)
Description from Kabukiza's English website: The shows of this month are for the 50th anniversary of the Danjuro XI's death. Living National Treasures and other top rate actors appear on stage to celebrate the first appearance on stage of Horikoshi Kangen, the son of Ichikawa Ebizo and the great-grandson of Danjuro XI. The Narita on the title refers to the yago acting house name 'Narita-ya' of Danjuro's family line to which Ebizo and Kangen belong. Ichikawa Danjuro is the representative name of Narita-ya and the actor who names himself Danjuro is expected to be a representative actor of Edo kabuki.
Kangen was so cute and he did very well for his first stage appearance.  Though he is much younger than is traditional for omemie, Ebizo said he successfully petitioned for his son's early introduction to coincide with the memorial for Danjuro XI.

Genroku Chushingura - Sengoku Yashiki (The Judgement at the Mansion of Lord Sengoku)
Description from Kabukiza's English website: Chushingura, also known as the Treasury of the Forty Seven Loyal Retainers, is one of the most popular plays in Kabuki and is about a true incident that took place in the Genroku period. When a samurai lord attacked another in the shogun's palace, he was immediately sentenced to ritual suicide and his domain was confiscated.

After much hardship, forty-seven of the lord's retainers avenged their lord's death. When the event occurred, it was a sensation because it proved that despite a century of peace, samurai values had not disappeared completely.

In the modern period, from 1934 to 1941 even as Japan was at war, Mayama Seika (1878 - 1948) painstakingly reworked this play into "GENROKU CHUSHINGURA," a vast cycle of plays in ten parts focusing on different incidents and different characters in this revenge classic adding historical details reflecting the Genroku period.

The particular section to be presented shows the retainers after they have succeeded in avenging their lord's death and go to await their judgment. Lord Sengoku is an official of the shogunate, but is anxious to discuss the philosophy and justification for the attack with its leader, Kuranosuke as they wait for the retainers to go to the various lords to be kept in custody until the shogunate decides how they will be punished.

This is the fourth play I've seen from Genroku Chushingura and I look forward to one day seeing them all.

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 with an empty scroll. Togashi, the barrier guard allows them to pass, but one of his soldiers points out that there is a man who resembles Yoshitsune...
It's becoming an accidental tradition that I see Kanjincho and I always look forward to how the actors take on the role of Benkei, the epitome of strength and loyalty who successfully delivers what is arguably the most convincing lie in historical fiction.

Kochiyama (Tea Priest Kochiyama)
Description from Kabukiza's English website: The tea priest Kochiyama is a skilled thief and extortionist, but cannot turn down a request to help those in need. He disguises himself as a high-ranking priest to try to gain the freedom of a girl held by a powerful samurai lord because she will not become his mistress. Using the famous poetic cadences of the late 19th century playwright Mokuami, Kochiyama not only succeeds in his mission to rescue the girl, but manages to extort a fair amount for himself.
The performance ended with a bit of humor as Ebizo's Kochiyama smoothly gets everything he wants at the expense of the villainous lord and manages to stroll away unharmed.  Beautiful.
A note on translation devices:
Kabukiza has done away with the lightweight earphone guide that provided English translation of the dialogue and songs as well as commentary on history and cultural notes related to each play.  Now they offer the cumbersome English G-Mark Guide captioning service.  Guests with seats on the 1st and 2nd floors can attach the device the back of the seat in front of them, though this requires sitting with your legs apart around the device, to the delight of your neighbor.  Guests seated on the 3rd floor are provided with a neckstrap.  In order to use the device, you have to look away from the stage to read along, which is nuisance when you're missing important moments in the play.  I'm grateful for any English-language service as this is not offered in most other kabuki theaters, though this is a big step backward in usefulness.  To rent the G-Mark Guide, you will need to pay a non-refundable ¥1,000 deposit and leave your photo ID as collateral.  Bring your driver's license or similar ID so you don't have to give up your passport.

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