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Friday, March 9, 2007

Ethereal beings

Kabuki that's not just 'arty'

Twenty years ago when he was in his mid-20s, Yukikazu Kano founded the Hanagumi Shibai Theater Company to start what he called "neokabuki." His idea was to bridge the gap between the traditional and contemporary theater fields in Japan.

Shinichi Yashiro plays the phantom in 'Kabukiza no Kaijin'
Shinichi Yashiro plays the phantom in "Kabukiza no Kaijin," dressed as the famous female dancer Musume Dojoji. PHOTO COURTESY OF HANAGUMI SHIBAI

On his Web site, he said that the purpose of neokabuki was to rescue kabuki from the clutches of the arty elite and to attract modern, ordinary people back to the art form. In its Edo Period beginnings, kabuki had been, after all, a form of entertainment for ordinary people.

Kano has, to a large extent, succeeded in his mission.

For evidence of neokabuki's influence, consider the kabuki-style Shakespeare stagings by Yukio Ninagawa or Kazuyoshi Kushida's "new kabuki" productions.

This time, Kano's company will restage their popular "Kabukiza no Kaijin (The Phantom of the Kabukiza)" from March 15 in Shinjuku for their 20th-anniversary program.

Although the title is a play on one of the most famous Western musicals, "The Phantom of the Opera," and both involve ethereal beings in a musical context, "Kabukiza no Kaijin" is an entirely original production written by Kano and Saburo Fukushima. It follows a boy who was secretly adopted into a famous kabuki family, becomes a star and then complicates things by having a taboo love affair with a much older female actress in the rival contemporary theater world.

It's not only the play's story that is appealing. It is also replete with music and dance, colorful kimono costumes and plenty of jokes and black humor about the absurdities of the theater world.

"Kabukiza no Kaijin" runs March 15-25 (times vary) at Space Zero, B1F Zenrosai Kaikan, 2-12-10 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku. The theater is a 5-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station's South Exit. Tickets are 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen and 6,000 yen. It then tours to Kobe March 31-April 1 (4,000-6,000 yen yen) at the Shin-Kobe Oriental Theater, Kitanocho 1-3, Chuo-ku, Kobe. For more details on all shows, call Hanagumi Shibai at (03) 3709-9439 or visit hanagumi. ne.jp

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