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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dueling kabuki in Shibuya

Special to The Japan Times

Currently at the Parco Theatre, a short distance across Shibuya from Theatre Cocoon, is further evidence of the vitality of contemporary kabuki. However, unlike Kazuyoshi Kushida's re-imaginings of "Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (Tokaido Ghost Story)," "Ketto! Takadanobaba (Duel in Takadanobaba)" at Parco is a brand-new play, written by one of the most in-demand contemporary playwrights, Koki Mitani.

News photo
Ichikawa Somegoro as the errant samurai Yasube Nakayama in Koki Mitani's "Ketto! Takadanobaba"

Despite this being a new work, "Ketto! Takadanobaba" features a cast of traditional kabuki actors and many traditional hallmarks, such as hayagawari (the super-fast costume changes that allow one actor to perform several roles); and live music played by musicians perched on a second-story platform, as if they are on the roofs of terraced houses in downtown Edo.

Though a new work, the storyline could be from long ago. It tells of a strong young samurai named Yasube Nakayama (Ichikawa Somegoro), who was once popular but has lately taken to idling his time away and drinking heavily. One day his uncle Rokurozaemon Sugano (Matsumoto Kingo) comes to tell him that he must fight in a sword duel in Takadanobaba. Unable to find Yasube, he goes off alone. Later, when the young samurai hears of this, he rushes off to distant Takadanobaba to try to save his uncle's life and honor. During his journey, Yasube remembers what it is to be a samurai and rediscovers the meaning of his life.

What elevates this typical kabuki fare to a higher level is Mitani's brilliant comedic sense. Throughout his play, the director has scattered nuggets of kabuki parody, such as tongue-in-cheek references to the hackneyed storyline and the hammy mie poses typical of the genre. Because of such carefully crafted details, "Ketto! Takadanobaba" definitely holds appeal for fans of contemporary drama and traditional kabuki alike.

"Ketto! Takadanobaba" runs till March 26 at the Parco Theatre, an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station. For more details, call (03) 3477-5858, or see www.parco-play.com

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