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10/27(MON) Event Report: TIFF2014 presents Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre


© Shochiku Co., Ltd.

TIFF 2014 Presents
Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre
Date and Time: October 27th (Monday) from 18:30 @Kabukiza Theatre
Though it has been around much longer, Japan’s traditional popular theatre art form, Kabuki, has a close relationship with film. In fact, one of the oldest commercial films produced in Japan was a documentary about Kabuki. In addition, the main commercial repository for Kabuki performances is the entertainment company Shochiku, which is also one of Japan’s oldest movie studios. The company’s filmed versions of Kabuki plays are very popular. However, Kabuki has never had much to do with the Tokyo International Film Festival, that is, until this year.
On Oct. 27, Japan’s most illustrious Kabuki theatre, Kabukiza in the Higashi Ginza area of Tokyo, hosted a special event in collaboration with TIFF featuring a performance of a Kabuki dance by the esteemed actor Ichikawa Somegoro VII followed by a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1931 film “City Lights.” The connection was explained by Somegoro himself during a talk session that took place between the two presentations and after the audience was treated to a “makunouchi bento” meal, the kind that fans enjoyed between acts during the Meiji era, when Kabuki was in its fullest flower.
Chaplin, it turns out, was born only seven months before the original Kabukiza opened in 1889, and when he visited Japan in 1936 he naturally took in a performance, which starred Somegoro’s great grandfather, Matsumoto Koshiro VII.
“He was performing ‘Chushingura’ that day,” Somegoro explained, referring to one of the greatest samurai tales in Japanese history, which has been adapted to every dramatic art form. He added that recently, he himself was visited backstage by “one of Chaplin’s grandchildren,” so he feels as if a connection between these two great entertainment families has been forged and maintained.
Somegoro also talked about how “City Lights” was relevant to Kabuki tradition. The story of a tramp who pretends to be a rich man to a blind beggar woman in order to find a way to restore her sight, the movie’s themes are timeless and have informed dramatic stories for centuries. The actor described one old Kabuki play, “Koumori no yasu san (Yasu the Bat),” which has a “very similar story.” In addition, some Kabuki professionals saw “City Lights” in the U.S. after it first premiered, and came back to Japan and talked a noted playwright into adapting elements of the movie for the stage. Instead of the iconic boxing scene in Chaplan’s movie, the writer substituted a female sumo match. “The adaptation was very skillful,” Somegoro commented. But what Chaplin and classic Kabuki really have in common is the ability to touch audiences through a careful mix of melodrama and comedy.
There was also a detailed explanation of Somegoro’s lively dance, which ended with the actor, dressed as a lion with a flowing red mane, whipping his head about repeatedly, sending the long, crimson tresses into a spin that thrilled the audience. The title of the dance is “Shakkyo (Stone Bridge),” and Somegoro chose it because he wanted to “show what’s typical about Kabuki in terms of costumes, makeup, and music.” The lion appears on a stone bridge that “connects the spirit world to the material world” and rises to stage level. The lion then does stylized battle with two other dancers. At the end of the performance snow falls from the rafters and Somegoro does his head-spinning routine. The MC asked the actor if there is a “standard number of times” that a dancer needs to swing his mane around, and Somegoro answered there isn’t, but because of this special occasion “I did it a bit longer.”
“Don’t you get dizzy?” the MC asked.
Somegoro explained the technique that prevents dizziness, but he did admit that “the day after tomorrow my neck will probably hurt.”

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KEIRIN.JPThe 27th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
26th Tokyo International Film Festival(2013)