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Friday, Jan. 13, 2006

Director reworks Russian epic with gender twist

Ten years ago, then aged 40, contemporary theater actor/director Hideki Noda was, even by his own standards, bold to write a play based on "Crime and Punishment," the lengthy 19th-century masterpiece by the Russian writer Feodor Dostoevski. His "Gansaku Tsumi to Batsu (Fake Crime and Punishment)" runs till Jan. 29 at Theatre Coccon in Shibuya, Tokyo, before touring Theater Brava, Osaka.

Noda builds his drama around the same central question of whether there can ever be a circumstance in which it is not wrong to take another's life. But Noda not only shifted the setting to the dying days of the Tokugawa Shogunate in mid-19th-century Japan, he also made the central character a pure young woman (here, played by Takako Matsu) instead of the mixed-up working class student antihero of the original.

Noda said in a recent interview that as Japan was also hit by two unparalleled catastrophes in 1995 -- the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway -- he wanted to revisit this play, as inevitably those audiences linked the story of "killing to create a better world" to the Aum Shinrikyo cult's subway atrocities instead of considering its wider philosophical theme. He also wanted to confront his audiences with the anguish caused by murder, especially that of his suffering heroine.

This time, Noda is staging his compelling drama (in Japanese) on the barest of sets. As a result of the powerful, imaginative and highly tensioned performances from his cast and himself, however, the result is riveting theater.

"Gansaku Tsumi to Batsu (Fake Crime and Punishment)" runs till Jan 29 at Theatre Cocoon, Bunkamura, Shibuya. Tickets cost 9,000 yen, 7,000 yen and 5,000 yen. For more details, call (03) 3477-9999. It then tours till Feb.18 at Theater Brava, 1-3-2 Shiromi, Chuo-ku, Osaka (call [06]-6233-8888).

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