Event Review: TIFF2015 presents Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre

A showcase of live and filmed Kabuki
Event Review : “A showcase of live and filmed Kabuki”

TIFF2015 presents Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre

The Tokyo International Film Festival continues its Kabuki/Film pairing tradition which started last year. The event, a unique draw for both foreign and domestic attendees combines a traditional Kabuki play with a classic film and takes place in Ginza’s historic Kabukiza theatre. Last year saw the linking of East and West, screening Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” with a similar Kabuki styling. This year was a decidedly more Japanese affair focused on the classically beloved Japanese play “Kanjincho”. The play was represented by Akira Kurosawa’s under-appreciated gem, “They Who Step On The Tiger’s Tail” and the short Kabuki play, “Goro in the Rain” played by the flamboyant Kubuki/Drama actor Kataoka Ainosuke.

The event adds a uniquely Japanese aspect to the film festival, something that separates the Tokyo festival from countless film fests around the world. I was glad the programmers decided to include the event on the schedule again and find myself already curious about next year. Sandwiched between the play and the film was an award presentation celebrating the achievement of long time Japanese director Yoji Yamada and Hong Kong film giant John Woo.

Not being familiar with Kabuki first hand it was a treat to be able to experience it in the storied confines of the Kabukiza theatre. It was similarly thrilling watching a master at work in Kataoka Ainosuke. The “Goro in the Rain” story is simple enough, it basically follows our main character on a walk to visit a lover. All the while thoughts of avenging his father consume his being. Kataoka’s wild or ‘Aragoto’ style attacks the senses of all within his gaze. His vibrant costume and traditional ‘Kumadori’ makeup is a sight to see under the bright lights. Without uttering a word, Ainosuke said everything in his poses, expressions and use of props. The short play was mesmerising from start to finish and over in a flash (actually around 15 minutes). It was a great intro to the art form and left me longing for more.

The break before our film included the aforementioned ‘Samurai award’ presentations to John Woo and Yoji Yamada. By large, they didn’t have anything overly significant to say. Both proceeded to pay compliments to the other and the Japanese audience when it was their turn to talk. Although lifetime achievement awards like this often seem to signal the receipient’s best years are behind them, both Woo and Yamada promised to continue fighting, promising good things to come.

The night concluded with a screening of a newly restored print of “They Who Step On The Tiger’s Tail” directed by Japanese film maestro Akira Kurosawa. While this film may be considered one of Kurosawa’s minor films, made on a depleted wartime budget with a script reportedly written in a day, it’s still a joy to watch on a big screen. It’s a retelling of the story of exiled lord Yoshitsune and his followers disguised as monks they make their way through a forest checkpoint. Kenichi Enomoto is wonderful in the role of the comedic porter who does the most treading on the most tails without getting mauled. Though it’s not as complete as some of Kurosawa’s later works there is still a lot to like about the film. It’s essentially Kurosawa’s take on a famous Kabuki story complete with Kabuki mannerisms. It was a fascinating comparison after seeing the art form live.

The night was a real treat for cinema and theatre buffs in Japan to unite and celebrate past masters and current ones. I’m not sure what the programmers will think of for next year but here’s hoping they decide to keep this event a regular part of TIFF.

*Image copyright 2015TIFF SHOCHIKU

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James Mallion
james@smashingmag.net

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