Posted by: mariabro | May 10, 2012

All The City’s A Stage

The dramatic stage set is awash in sparkling lights, pyrotechnics and feather headsets worthy of Brazilian carnival. The chorus line dancers, reminiscent of the famous New York city Rockettes, kick up their heels, while cross-dressing female actors play deep-voiced, male roles. Over-the-top, Vegas-type theatre is not what you expect from the Japanese arts scene, home of Kabuki and the less-than-flamboyant, Noh. But for those looking for something a little different, Takarazuka is worth a visit.

Takarazuka is a kind of Japanese musical theater in which women play all the roles in dramatic productions of stories like Tolstoy’s Resurrection or Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

The theatre was founded in 1913 by a Japanese businessman who was hoping an all-female revue would improve business. About 95 percent of the 2.5 million people that come to see Takarazuka performances each year are women. The day we attended we noticed lineups of fans waiting patiently outside for their favorite stars to emerge. The actors who play the male roles, the otako-yaku, are the most popular and have their own fan clubs.

The first half of the show is usually a romantic love story that has the audience swooning. The second half is just pure entertainment.

Longtime Takarazuka fan, Kana Iwata, 47, explains her fascination, “not only does Takarazuka represent discipline, intense training, and a unique cultural experience, it is also an immersion in entertainment, complete with dancing, singing and amazing costumes with a fusion of colors.”

The play is in Japanese with no translation but if you read the story outline ahead of time you should have no problem following the action.

Bunraku has been called the most highly developed puppet theatre art in the world. It was founded in Osaka in 1684. Performances include the music of the shamisen, the chanting of the Tayu and the unique manipulation of the large puppets. Each puppet requires three puppeteers to bring it to life. The role of a puppeteer is a life-long training process and is said to take 30 years to master.
Bunraku shares many themes with Kabuki. But Bunraku has been called an author’s theatre while Kabuki is a performer’s theatre.
Performances are in Japanese and there is no translation service.

Kabuki is probably the most well-known Japanese theatrical art. Club member and Kabuki aficionado, Nobuko Hirato says that during the Edo period, Kabuki and Bunraku, were “the” entertainment for the commoners while the leading Kabuki actors were today’s equivalent of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, or George Clooney. As opposed to Takarazuka, all roles, both male and female, are played by male actors.

Hirata has been a tireless ambassador of Kabuki and a fan for the past 36 years. She recalls her first Kabuki experience, “It was as shocking as being stuck by lightning. Kabuki is an ultimate form of beauty, superficially in a way, but extremely profound indeed….I believe that it is the portrayal of the outer as well as the inner beauty of human nature that touches the souls of many, regardless of their cultural background. As for me, I feel my genes dance in jubilance, as I watch Kabuki- the ancestors, must have been eager Kabuki viewers, living deep inside of each of my genetic components constantly whisper to me, ‘hey, let’s go see some Kabuki!’ It seems as if they never get enough of it.”
The renovation of the Kabukiza theatre will be completed in April 2013. In the meantime you can experience the magic of Kabuki at several theatres in Tokyo and around Japan.

Rakugo has been called Japanese “sit down comedy”. The word literally means “dropped word” or punchline. Rakugo dates back to the 16th century, and is believed to have evolved from entertainment for the feudal lords. It’s a comic monologue where the performer kneels on a cushion and uses only his story-telling technique and minimal props to make the audience laugh.
Kimie Oshima, Associate Professor at Bunkyo Gakuin University, started producing Rakugo in English in 1996 and performs around the world every year. She performs Rakugo in English because she says, “I wanted the rest of the world to know that the Japanese have always had a sense of humor.” She says Rakugo has 400 years of tradition and is the best tool to introduce Japanese culture and humor to foreigners.
“Many of the themes from the stories are universal, so audiences with different cultural background can understand. For example, there are stories about men and women, wife and husband, cunningness, stupidity, money, men in power, animals, death, etc. The main stories are understandable. Some parts of the stories are very culturally particular to Japan, but the audience can learn them from the stories, “says Oshima.

She recommends seeing Rakugo in English as she feels it is important for the audience to follow the monologue.

Kyogen is a type of comic drama. Like Noh and Kabuki it features only male actors but the performers don’t wear elaborate costumes, make up or masks, instead they wear kimonos and are accompanied by a chorus.

Kyogen was traditionally performed in between Noh plays to offer some comic relief. Plays are often satires and feature actors speaking in colloquial Japanese. The action is fast-paced and realistic in contrast to the slow, stylized movements of Noh.

Kyogen actor Chikanari Miyake, 26 years old says, “Kyogen is very simple comic theater without special music, lighting and complicated stories. So people with imagination can appreciate the act of Kyogen. When you read a book or listen to the radio, you may draw a mental picture. You also can do same thing when you view a Kyogen play.”

He has performed around the world and says that even though the audience is comprised of different cultures and backgrounds, they know the point to laugh and made him realize that laughter and humor are universal.

Takarazuka
Tickets range in price from 3500yen to 11,000yen
http://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/english/about.html

Bunraku
Tickets range from 2300yen to 5800yen.The website is very user-friendly and has information on Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku. Tickets can be ordered online on the telephone or at the box office.
http://www.ntj.jac.go.jp/english.html

Kabuki
English Earphone guides are available at selected theatres.
http://www.kabuki-bito.jp/eng/contents/theatre/shimbashi_enbujo.html

Rakugo
http://www.english-rakugo.com/english_version/english_performers.html

Kyogen/Noh
http://www.noh-kyogen.com/english/index.html
http://www.nohgaku.or.jp/

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