Thursday, June 10, 2010
Kabuki: Strange but Delightful
However, Sid and I stuck to the safe end of Japanese cultural strangeness and went to Sadler’s Well for a Kabuki performance – a traditional Japanese opera of sorts, with men-in-drag, outrageous make-up, elaborate costumes, lots of heavily stylised singing and dancing. The show, entitled Yoshitsune and The Cherry Trees, was outrageous, exaggerated, colourful, exhilarating and a lot of fun.
The play, set in the 12th century, had little to do with Yoshitsune and none at all with Cherry Trees. General Yoshitsune leaves his favourite drum with his mistress Shizuka, and leaves her in the care of his favourite retainer Tadanobu, before huffing-off to fight his brother Yoritmoto. The plan is for Shizuka and Tadanobu to meet him across the Mt Yoshino. Only, Tadanobu is really a fox and is accompanying Shizuka because the drum she is carrying is made from the hide of his parents, who speak to him through its beats. Bizarre? You bet! But oh so, beautifully rendered.
I guess, Kabuki’s delights can be enjoyed only if you place yourself before the 19th century: a time before television or films when people took themselves to theatre to experience the larger-than-life. And they got it in the form of the elaborate costumes, stylised dance and fighting sequences, and melodrama.
So if a yen for something strange and larger-than-life overcomes you between now and June 15, I would recommend a trip out to Sadler’s Well.
Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees is playing at Sadler’s Well till June 15. If it helps, it stars Ebizo Ichikawa XI, who apparently is the Brad Pitt of Kabuki theatre.
More on strange Japanese films.