Nobuko Tanaka

Nobuko Tanaka
regional managing editor - Japan

Graduated from Chuo University with a BA in German literature, having written her dissertation on the playwright Bertolt Brecht’s theory of drama. In 2000, she got MA in arts management at City University in London. Afterwards, she began contributing theatre articles to Japan’s leading English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, for which she has now been a regular writer on contemporary drama and dance for more than 15 years.  She also writes articles for a number of Japanese-language theatre magazines — including Theater Guide, Higeki Kigeki and Theatre Arts — as well as the programs for a range of stage productions in Japan and England.

Three Dancers Seek To Redefine The Contemporary Form Of Their Art In “Dan-su Series 3”

Contemporary dance seemed to enter the wider arts consciousness in Japan around the turn of the century when there was a pronounced upsurge in the number of performances, festivals, and competitions. Reflecting that rising enthusiasm, Takao Norikoshi published the encyclopedic Contemporary Dance Thorough Guide in 2003, which gave a further boost to the art form. Fast forward 15 years from then, to one delightful spring evening last month, and a lucky few dance enthusiasts could be found mingling with art lovers in the spacious entrance of the Yokohama Museum of Art to witness a one-off curatorial tour de force titled Dan-su/Nude....

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Shizuoka Stage Festival Aims To Engage Its Audiences The Old-Fashioned Way

This hasn’t been a great year for social media.  Internet addiction has been a hot topic, as have privacy issues, and there has even been a movement to #DeleteFacebook. Last month, Satoshi Miyagi, artistic director of the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center, which runs World Theatre Festival Shizuoka, joined that chorus of critics. “Since SNS (social networking services) are often just used as a one-way monologue, I worry that our world needs to pay more attention to listening to other people’s voices,” he said at a press conference to announce the lineup of his annual festival. While noting that SNS...

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“Ballyturk” Delivers A Surreal Yet Exciting Challenge

When Akira Shirai first read the script for Ballyturk, he quickly understood why its creator, Irish playwright Enda Walsh, said the work, “should bypass the intellect and go straight into your bones.” The 60-year-old artistic director at Kanagawa Arts Theatre in Yokohama was mulling over what to stage next and he says the hilariously absurd piece, with its three-person cast of characters named One, Two and Three, left him somewhat dumbfounded. “I said as much to the translator, Chizuko Komiyama, who then told me she didn’t get it either,” the director says with a laugh. “Yet somehow it just...

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Force And Fragility Meet And Merge In “Dunas”

There are mutual squeals of delight when Belgian dance artist, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Spanish flamenco dancer, Maria Pages are reunited after “far too long” at a Tokyo rehearsal studio. Pages, 54, has flown in from Madrid to promote the pair’s 2009 work Dunas (Dunes), which sees its Japan premiere this month at the Orchard Hall in Shibuya Ward—just down the road from the studio we are all sitting in. Cherkaoui, 42, is in Tokyo to direct an all-Japanese cast in a run of his play Pluto, based on the Naoki Urasawa manga of the same name—though by the look...

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Dairakudakan’s “Unearthly” Butoh Meets A Tortured Russian tale

Following a January press conference in which the New National Theatre, Tokyo, announced that Dairakudakan, one of the world’s leading butoh companies, would be staging two performances of Tsumi To Batsu (Crime And Punishment) in March, troupe founder Akaji Maro delivered a triumphant statement. Having this unexpected yet fantastic opportunity (to work with the NNTT) feels revolutionary like we’ve finally conquered this national (state-run) citadel after so many years, – the 75-year-old artist said. – So I am very excited to seize our chance to create the best possible performance piece for the NNTT. Maro and his cast of white-painted,...

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Chiaki Soma puts on a Not-So-Common Theater Festival

In the world of Japanese contemporary drama, the action often takes place offstage as well as on. A case in point is what happened to Chiaki Soma, the program director at Festival/Tokyo from 2009-13, who is the main force behind the Theater Commons Tokyo festival, now in its second year. Soma found herself caught up in an unfolding drama when she returned to F/T from maternity leave in August 2013 — only to be told she would be relieved of her position after that year’s edition. Reasons for her dismissal were unclear, but in an interview with The Japan...

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TPAM’s Magic Happens In Front Of And Behind The Curtain

Back in 1995, some of the movers and shakers of the domestic theater scene got together at various venues around the capital for an event called the Tokyo Performing Arts Market. The aim was simple: connect up-and-coming Japanese artists to the producers and theater buffs who might be able to support their work. More than 20 years on, the organizers have changed venues and ditched the name—but kept the acronym. And that is why the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama is still referred to as TPAM for short. The scope has changed, too, with TPAM having grown to include...

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Change Is In The Air For New National Theater Tokyo In 2018

At the start of each year, the New National Theatre Tokyo holds a media event at which the artistic directors of its three departments covering opera, drama, and dance (ballet and contemporary) outline their aims and announce the upcoming programs. This time there was an unusual buzz in the air on January 11, because two of the three directors will be new to their positions when the NNTT’s 2018/19 season starts in autumn. First off, the spotlight fell on the incoming head of opera, the renowned conductor and former musical director of several top European orchestras, Kazushi Ono. Despite being...

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Dramatist Oriza Hirata Has A Vision For Theatre

Travel around 150 km northwest from the hustle and bustle of Kyoto, and another, far more peaceful world, awaits in the compact onsen (hot-spring) town of Kinosaki nestled on the Sea of Japan coast in a quiet corner of the largely rural city of Toyooka in Hyogo Prefecture. This picturesque setting has long drawn poets, writers, and painters to its many ryōkan (traditional Japanese inns), restaurants, and bathhouses, which are clustered along a small canal running beside the narrow main street. Now though, this bucolic locale may be in for a pleasant shock, courtesy of one of Japan’s leading dramatists. While it may seem like...

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Jerome Bel and His Amateurs Test the Limits of Contemporary Dance in Saitama Show

Is the French choreographer Jerome Bel a trailblazer or an enfant terrible of the contemporary dance world? This weekend you’ll be able to judge for yourself when his challenging but spellbinding “Gala” arrives at Saitama Arts Theater— and your verdict will likely depend on whether you believe contemporary dance is a distinctive art form executed by specially trained people, or whether it can be any kind of performance in which the body is used for creative expression on stage. The Paris-based artist explained the thinking behind his work in a recent email interview with The Japan Times: “I gave...

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A Year Filled With Standing Ovations

While 2017 featured many great stage productions and performances, these were among the standouts: Wasureru Nihonjin (The Japanese Who Forget) Chiten Watching this latest work by the wonderfully gifted young playwright Shuntaro Matsubara felt like being swept along in a flood of insightful observations about Japanese people today, specifically their tendency to do and think the same, as directed from on high. Staged by Chiten’s founder, the experimental director Motoi Miura, this brought Matsubara’s words to the stage in a superbly rhythmical context. Some Lessons to Feel: Something Far is Near, Something Near is Far Port B This site-specific...

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Japan’s Theater World Increasingly Shed Its Insularities In 2017

Never mind those North Korean missiles that provide politicians with heaven-sent pretexts to posture. These days, everyone’s talking about a boozy party held by Mongolian sumo wrestlers that turned violent reportedly because of a generational dispute over the arcane traditions of Japan’s highly regimented national sport. In this country long run by male elders little interested in the outside world and averse to any kind of change, such frictions are not confined to sumo. Indeed, even this roundup of the past year in the world of Japanese theater needs to be set against a backdrop of similar tensions. In...

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Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” Gets A Cultural Twist When Director Yang Jung-ung Teams Up With Actor Kenji Urai

South Korean director Yang Jung-ung’s career has spanned several continents. From his theater work, with casts of numerous nationalities, to his role as artistic director for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, it’s clear he has long had the world in his sights. “I’ve always been drawn to experimental, intercultural directors such as the Italian Eugenio Barba, who is based in Denmark, Poland’s Italy-based pioneer Jerzy Grotowski and the great globe-trotting German modern dance icon Pina Bausch,” he says. Recently, though, the 48-year-old dramatist has been working out of a rehearsal studio at Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, where he...

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Junpei Mizobata Plunges Headfirst Into The Absurdist World Of Harold Pinter

As the saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” In the same way, if you thought the 28-year-old ikemen (drop-dead gorgeous) actor Junpei Mizobata had just been cast to fill seats for the upcoming staging of one of the world’s most well-known but challenging modern plays, you’d be doing a great injustice to a great young talent. That’s because Mizobata will play a key role in Shintaro Mori’s production of English playwright Harold Pinter’s first box-office hit, 1960’s tragicomic The Caretaker, alongside Shugo Oshinari and Yoichi Nukumizu who play its two other characters. Although Pinter (1930-2008) won...

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“One Green Bottle” Exploring Japanese And English Sensibilities

One Green Bottle is a new-ish work co-written by the renowned Japanese dramatist Hideki Noda and Will Sharpe, who shot to fame in Britain in 2016 with the comedy series Flowers, which he wrote, directed and also starred in. The title of the play—now being staged at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in Ikebukuro—comes from the final verse of the children’s song Ten Green Bottles, which, like so many nursery rhymes, has a dark side, as Noda, with his excellent command of English, knows well. In fact, as the distinguished Welsh physical actor Glyn Pritchard—one of the three cast members along with...

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Wanton Desire Proves To Be Timeless And Borderless In Japanese Version Of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”

The route that has brought Richard Twyman to Tokyo to direct an all-Japanese cast in a play based on a 18th-century French novel has taken many twists and turns. Now, though, it has finally led this rising star of the British drama scene here with his own new version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a work in which two estranged lovers weave heartless sex schemes to wreck each other’s future. “I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland and had no contact with theater,” Twyman explains, going back to the beginning. “At school, I was cripplingly shy, but I was...

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Festival/Tokyo Director Sachio Ichimura Looks To A New Generation

At the end of his speech in July announcing details of this year’s Festival/Tokyo running from Sept. 30 to Nov. 12 mainly at venues around Ikebukuro, its director, Sachio Ichimura, dropped a bombshell. “There is a rumor that F/T is facing the ax,” he declared, “but I’m telling you that it will continue. I understand this statement will make waves, but I had to say it here today.” And waves he made, instantly, because no one at that press conference had had the slightest inkling time might be running out for this annual “cool Japan” feast that’s recognized worldwide...

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Theaters In Japan Are Looking At Longer Runs For Their Productions

As I turned the pages of a free magazine in London this summer, a picture of a beaming woman clutching a signed CD and program for the West End musical Kinky Boots caught my eye. She was a 27-year-old named Emily who’d seen the show 199 times in the past two years without ever being the least bit bored. In London, of course, that kind of devotion is nothing new, what with the hit musical Les Miserables still running after almost 32 years. In stark contrast, it’s rare for a show in Japan to run for even a month...

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Billy Harrigan Tighe Brings Life to The Man Behind Peter Pan in The Play “Finding Neverland”

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” In those few words the Scottish novelist and playwright James M. Barrie conjured from the mouth of Peter Pan, the mischievous young boy in his 1904 play of the same name, his own childlike outlook on life, whatever disappointments and betrayals it serves up. Now, in the musical Finding Neverland, which is based on the Oscar-winning 2004 film of the same name, Tokyo audiences can get up-close and personal with Barrie (1860-1937) in this semi-biographical fantasy drama centered on the writer’s friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family...

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Fuerza Bruta Re-Interprets a Night Out at The Theater

Since Argentinian physical theater troupe Fuerza Bruta burst onto the scene in Buenos Aires in 2005, some 5 million people in more than 30 countries have experienced its high-energy, postmodern productions, which are often tailored to wherever they’re staged. This time, the stage is Tokyo’s Stellar Ball theater, which is next to Shinagawa Station. And audiences there — who are better described as “spectators” — are being treated to the world-premiere run of Fuerza Bruta Wa! Wonder Japan Experience. Although the show has been fashioned for today’s Japan, creative director Diqui James says its inspiration goes way back. So,...

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