The Gaze Of The Robot: Oriza Hirata’s Robot Theatre

Ten Years of Robot Theatre Directed by Oriza Hirata In Japan, the development of humanoid robots and their integration into human society has been in the forefront of research for decades. Robots are becoming a common sight in various settings. One of the biggest telecommunication companies introduced a social humanoid robot that is able to “read” the emotions from the facial expression and voice of its partner. This robot is now serial manufactured, welcoming customers at the shops, orienting foreigners at the airport arrival, as a preparation for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. For the graying generation, the everyday presence...

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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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Satoshi Miyagi Returns To The Japan Society With “Mugen Noh Othello”

New York City’s Japan Society closed out its 2017-18 Noh-Now series this past January with renowned director Satoshi Miyagi’s Mugen Noh Othello. I was fortunate to see this compelling noh-inspired piece, remounted by Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC), where Miyagi has served as the Artistic Director since 2007. Shifting focus from the Moor of Shakespeare’s tragedy to that of his ill-fated and “un-notable” wife, Desdemona, Mugen Noh Othello presents an innovative reimagining that keenly considers the tale from the point of view of Othello’s victims. Mugen Noh Othello is the third time Miyagi’s work has appeared at the Japan...

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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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How Butoh, The Japanese Dance Of Darkness, Helps Us Experience Compassion In A Suffering World

Butoh is now being taught to Zen students, prisoners, and others as a way to acknowledge difficult emotions. Butoh [bu-tō], often translated as “Dance of Darkness,” rose out of the ashes of post-World War II Japan as an extreme avant-garde dance form that shocked audiences with its grotesque movements and graphic sexual allusions when it was introduced in the 1950s. Indeed, many people are still disturbed by the intensity and rawness of Butoh. Performers move awkwardly and slowly with shuffling steps, looking more like zombies than dancers. Their faces twitch; their bodies shake with tension. The acknowledgment of Butoh...

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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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“Awareness Of Light:” Uncovering The Magic Of Light Behind The Curtain From An Asian Female Lighting Design Perspective

There are many theatre lighting design textbooks in the world; however, few female Asian lighting designers have published their life experience in designing lights yet. Shoko Matsumoto just finished her brilliant book, Awareness Of Light, in April 2017, from the University of the Philippines Press, and we cannot afford to miss this rare jewel of design books for its rich Asian perspectives and contexts. Shoko Matsumoto is a lighting designer who emerged from the backstage so called as “a man’s dominated world” in 1987 and has become an active female lighting designer internationally. This book of hers gave us...

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Kuro Tanino’s “The Dark Inn” Illustrates Our Inability To Let Go Of Our Desires

The darkness of the human condition, where people are enslaved by their own desires in a kind of Buddhist hell, may not seem like a pleasant subject for an evening of theatre. But in The Dark Inn, Japan’s brilliant playwright-director Kuro Tanino and his company, Niwa Gekidan Penino, give these themes a captivating and at times mesmerizing contemporary updating. The inability to let go of desire is one of the oldest themes in Japanese drama. Tanino’s play draws on the ancient Japanese form of Nō drama. Tanino’s story begins with two puppeteers from Tokyo coming to a traditional Japanese mountain...

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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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“Between Man And Machine:” Biana Li’s Robotic Dance Show For Kids

Why We Recommend it Using pioneering technology and fun choreography, this multimedia dance show invites audiences to think about what it means to be human in a playful context. Description France’s pioneering Blanca Li Dance Company joins forces with the mechanical orchestra of Japanese avant-garde group Maywa Denki to create a curious and kids-friendly show investigating and pushing the boundaries between man and machine. This lively, surreal, and innovative dance show includes art installations alongside live musical performances, using fluid choreography and enchanting projects to offer a futuristic extravaganza. Details WHEN: AUG 5, 2017 – AUG 7, 2017 Where:...

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