So the night of Monday the 20th I saw my first kabuki performance. I took an hour long nap after going back to the dorm. Then rushed to make my self look a bit more presentable, using my make-up. I ended up almost going it alone, but another guy from the dorm wanted to come. Then we convinced yet ANOTHER guy from the dorm to come with us. So we had a group.
We manage to catch and express train (lucky us) and get there only 5 minutes late, which was much better than the 15 I thought we were going to be. We e-mailed Sensei on the way there and told her that we were going to be a little late, she said it was no problem because it wasn't that busy, which came as a surprise to her.
After wandering around the metro looking for the right exit for a bit, we finally found AN exit, though it was one of many that we could have used. We got onto the street and had to do a little spin before seeing the corner of the roof of this huge Edo style building. It looked like it had been teleported to an area that looked a little bit like parts of New York. It was awesome, in the literal sense, to see peaking around one of the towering light up office buildings.
We walked over to the building, past the little shops and cafes. Ginza seems like a lovely place even though it is really bloody expensive. I want to go back there and look at it during the day. We walked over to the left side of the building, where you pick up the tickets for the single shows. A nice sized line had already started forming and we got into it. Not to far back, a large group of people came right after us. So I am glad we got there when we did. Sensei came over to us and passed out binoculars and talked a bit about the whole process and the ran off to her spot near the front of the line. It wasn't a long wait. We talked a bit and it was nice to look around, but I was a little hungry.
We finally got let in, you get a 100 yen discount with your student ID, which isn't much, only like $1, but the show is pretty cheep anyways, not even $10. However they must make a killing with the little head phone sets. They were 1300 with a 1000 Yen deposit, so a total of 1400 Yen which is about $14. You got the 1000 Yen deposit back at the end though. I bought the little head set on Sensei's recommendation and I am glad I did, it came in very handy, I think I would have missed much of the plot details other wise. And the lady narrator gave a lot of nifty information about the play and actors and such in between scene changes. It was nice to hear what exactly the actors were saying, cause I could catch some words, but not that many. I have a feeling I would have missed a good deal of the detail in the plot line (especially during the dance sequence at the end when she was translating the song lyrics and what the chorus was saying) with out the aid of the narrator head phones. It was very nice being able to understand everything they were saying.
The inside of the theater reminded me a lot of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with the very different addition of the hanami. There were three levels, the bottom with the Hanami, the Middle one that wrapped all the way to the stage pretty much (if memory serves the Emperor watches from that level, and the third floor, which was where I was. It is a very thin level, there is like no leg room which is upsetting for us Caucasians with gangly limbs. I kinda had to scrunch up in order to fit, but it was kind of nice. The top floor offers a very good view of the stage and the actors movement across it. However, the actors facial expression are lost. I recommend you bring binoculars if you plan on going to one of the cheap shows in the 3rd floor. Though I recommend you bring binoculars anyways to better see the details on stage. The actors movements are very precise and small, it is nice to see how they contort their faces or move their hands.
The screens, that act kind of as commercials or space fillers before the performance, are very pretty. Though we didn't have much time between start and when we got up stairs to watch the progression of painted screens it was still nice. I hope I can see more next time I see kabuki. The pulling back of the very impressive black, poppy orange, and green curtain is... well... impressive. Breath taking really. It's a good foreshadowing for the play ahead, vibrant and flashy.
The play kind of just started, no prologue, no intro, just there. Which was kind of nice, but I can see it being confusing without the aid of the head phones. "what are all of these dudes doing milling about this town square" "What is this chick... dude... talking about, why is she so mopey" I could see it being potentially confusing for any one not used to kabuki or the plot of this play. But I thought it was very nice that they just jumped into it, much like a movie. And with the headphones everything was very apparent, though even with out I am sure you could have figured everything out easy enough, it is all explained pretty quickly.
The main characters of this play, Sonezaki Shinaju (Double Love Suicide at Sonezaki (double love suicides seem to be a popular theme in Kabuki plays)) were a courtesan named Ohatsu and her lover, a business man in the soy sauce trade I believe, named Tokubei. The plot line is kind of confusing, with a lot of twists and turns. I can't explain it as smoothly as the Kabuki did but I will give an attempt;
Tokubei and Ohatsu are very much in love with each other. Because he loves Ohatsu, Tokubei refuses to marry an uncles niece. The nieces mother proceeds to run away with the dowery, which it becomes Tokubei’s job to recover. After doing this (and not seeing Ohatsu for a while becuse of it) he comes back, and proceeds to try and clear all of his debts and business transactions because his uncle (still peeved) intends to kick him out of town. Tokubei lends some money to a friend, who he believes will pay him back. It is important that he gets the money back because it is the last bit needed to pay back his uncle. However his friend lies, and through a dirty trick makes everyone think that Tokubei was in fact the one trying to swindle money from him. Tokubei, dishonored and abused goes back to Ohatsu to ask what she thinks they should do. She suggests talking to his uncle and trying to clear all the problems up, and failing that, suggests that they should commit suicide together and meet in heave. Tokubei agrees.
Before I go further, I'd like to say that I loved the fight scene. Yes there was a fight scene. When Tokubei confronts his friend (whose name I cannot remember currently) about the money he owes him, Tokubei pulls out a letter signed with his friends seal, saying that his friend will pay him back. However, his friend insists that he lost his seal a week ago, before the letter was written and that Tokubei must have stolen the seal ad forged the letter. Tokubei and his friend end up getting in a hug tussle over this serious accusation, with a lot of the thugs that seem to be hanging around Tokubei’s friend getting involved as well. Tokubei ends up getting the crud kicked out of him, and even sustains a head injury, which I still don't know how the blood got on his head in that part and I kind of want to know. Anyways, the scene was very cool, and must have required a lot of agility to pull off. Some of the rolls Tokubei did to get away looked like aikido moves. I thought it was a very cool part of the play and actually very realistic.
Anyways, thats the part where Tokubei goes back to Ohatsu to ask what they should do. Mean while, Ohatsu is freaking out because all day she has heard rummers of Tokubei getting killed in a tussle and that he stole something and is a terrible person. So she is thinking of killing her self anyways. The owner of the brothel? pleasure house that she works for knows Tokubei and said he was a good customer and a good man and doesn't believe the stories. Tokubei finally comes by and Ohatsu sneaks him in under her kimono robes. Tokubei hides under the porch to the gardens while Ohatsu sits by him.
At some point Tokubeis supposed "friend" stops by and is trying to comfort Ohatsu by saying that at least he is still here and she doesn't need Tokubei, which of course angers Tokubei quite a bit. Ohatsu mentions that suicide might be a good idea. And then come the dramatic scene where Tokubei rubs her foot under his chin to show he would be willing to commit suicide with her. Tokubei leaves at some point I believe (as does the traitor). Tokubei’s Uncle actually shows up at some point looking for Ohatsu and Tokubei. He kind of blames Ohatsu for everything but she tells him that he needs to talk to Tokubei and she apologizes for any problems she might have caused.
Tokubei returns and there is another very dramatic scene. Ohatsu tries to escape the house at night to meet Tokubei in order to go kill themselves. This is a very drawn out scene, that was rather burlesque and required a lot of imagination. Ohatsu is trying to walk through a pitch black room in her funeral kimono (pretty much white and red I think they said were the colors of death) and she keeps like stumbling, has to blow out the main night light so the servant (who is lying in the middle of the floor) doesn't see her. Mean while Tokubei is trying to come in through the dark house to her. And the master of the house and the servant both wake up and they are sneaking around under them to escape. Finally, after much ordeal, they get out of the house and rejoice in their escape, but also kind of are sad because they know that that it won't be long before they die. They flee off the Hanami and to their doom.
This is one of the reasons I like the addition of the Hanami to the kabuki stage, it really is a great entrance and exit vehicle. Much more dramatic than simply running behind the curtain in a stage exit. I want to see a play in which the lift under the Hanami is used. I am hopping they use it once in the Twelfth Night, or some other play.
At this point in the play, one of the friends henchmen comes along and discloses some miss-hap to the "friend". Being that the Uncle is still sleeping in another room of the house, and that the house owner are on Tokubeis side, this is a bad move. The friend ends up freaking out and disclosing everything out loud, only for the owner and Tokubeis uncle to hear. The friend is taken into custody and Tokubeis uncle feels bad for doubting Tokubeis character. The owner of the house send the servant girl to get Ohatsu and tell her Tokubeis innocent, only to find that Ohatsu has gone off to kill her self with Tokubei. They immediately send out a man hunt so that they do not kill them selves, but of course there would be no tragic suicide if they succeeded.
The last scene is a lovely travel dance with Tokubei and Ohatsu going through the woods near a temple to a lake where they will kill themselves. There is a narrator who chronicles their tragic journey and sings about how happy they are to be together and how pretty the woods are and how sad they are that soon their lives will be over. It is very tragic and sad, but I loved it. I almost cried in this part, because it was so beautiful. The dance it's self was very beautiful. Lots of graceful posing to show the connection of the lovers and the beauty of where they were. The singing by the narrator (not the one in the head set, though she did translate the song, which I appreciated) was also very pretty, but I could imagine it would be hard for even a Japanese person to understand. It was much like opera with dragging out of the syllables and varying of intonation. But it was still eerily pretty.
In the end, the lovers sit by the shore, mourning the things they had done wrong in life, and apologizing to the people who loved them. Ohatsu mourns that she will not be able to see her family again and that she dies so young (only at 19 I believe). Tokubei says he looks forward to seeing his parents in heave since they died when he was young, but is sad that things went so wrong between him and his uncle, who raised him for an early age and was always good to him. They do a little marriage ceremony and pray that they are reunited in Buddhas land on the same lotus blossom. Ohatsu ask Tokubei that he kill her for she will not be able to do it her self and would feel bad if he died and she lived on. Tokubei agrees, though he feels bad that he must kill her. The build up to Tokubei killing Ohatsu, and a very dramatic pose where Tokubei seems about to strike down his loved one is where the curtain falls and the play ends.
I really loved this play, it reminded me of a more complex Romeo and Juliet, with a better less ironic ending... even though this was still ironic (seeing as they were cleared and still died) just in a different way. The dance and singing were beautiful. I love the different strata of Kabuki plays. This was of the light (Osaka I believe) variety and it was very nice, not so loud and exaggerated as some of the others. More like a mystery movie as opposed to an action movie. I think this was a very good choice for a first kabuki as it settled you into the Kabuki style very easily. Not with the jolt I might have felt with some of the more spectacular Kabuki styles.
On transitions. The set changes in kabuki are amazing. I was expecting something cool, but it is better in person. And SO fast. I am used to scene changes in plays where they draw the curtain and when they open it back up it's a completely different set. This they just cut the lights and you could see the stage spinning like giant invisible hands were turning all the parts of the stage to make a new set. It was very impressive. I would like to see a kabuki where you see the set change with the lights still on I know there are some.
Another thing is the costume changes. There was only one really impressive costume change in this that I can remember, and the was Ohatsu going up to her room and changing into her death kimono from her regular kimono. It was probably only taking off one layer of cloth, but it was done pretty quickly and was pretty cool to see her emerge from her room changed.
One thing I wish I had done on this was write this right after seeing the performance, but I had no time, and as you can see this is a long post and took many installments to get it all done. Actually it still isn't done and their will be a time when I go back and edit this. I can't imagine trying to describe one of the three act kabuki plays. It would take forever to describe the story and some of the neater details.
After seeing the play we got a back stage tour of the Kabuki-Za from one of the actors. It was very impressive seeing the machinery and the different props put away for the night. I honestly thought the Kabuki-Za would be more impressively organized behind the scenes than it was. But then, what stage is organized behind the scenes. I hoped to see one of the Kabuki actors still in make up, but everyone packs up REALLY REALLY FAST. That part did surprise me. They were clearing the set away by the time we got to the back stage.
The stage looked a lot bigger than it had from the top floor. I would love to trot across one of the Kabuki stages one day, I want to see how long it takes to get across it. The actors seemed to cover ground very quickly, but I suppose the set took up much of the space that we saw. The Hanami too, looked like it would take forever to walk down. It would be very cool to walk down that one day.
I liked the underneath of the stage and seeing the big machinery and lifts, they were kind of intimidating. But it was still cool. I also like getting to see the big pit where some of the actors practiced the more dangerous stunts. Looked like it would be fun to fall off.
It amazes me how hearty some of the older kabuki actors must be to do these parts. It looks like it takes a lot of work. Talking to an actor who came to dinner with us after words, he said you were around kabuki so much that you didn't even need to practice, you knew the lines ahead of time just from hearing them said so often and you knew the stage positions from watching your fathers or mentors do it so often. I guess it is kind of like the great Shakespeare actors, who come to rehearsal two days before the performance and know where everyone will be and all of the lines and the timing. It is very impressive. The masters really do eat live and breath Kabuki. I wonder if they ever get stage fright, or if it's always just exciting. That is one of the big pluses with having Lines of Kabuki actors, where they are related or have studied under a master since they were very young. In the performance I saw it was a father son team playing the main roles. Some of the kids though that a little odd, but at least they have plenty of time for practice, I guess it's a way of bonding, but they were good, and I couldn't tell which was the senior of the two simply by their movements.
I enjoyed my first kabuki performance very much and look forward to seeing another in the very near future. Kabuki is a wonderful art, and I am sad they are going to be re-building the kabuki-Za soon, it is an amazing building.
Hope you enjoyed, and sorry that was long in coming and long winded. I encourage everyone to at least see kabuki on tape one day.
Cheers for now.