Jul 12, 2008

Kabuki: Pretty Damn Awesome

I saw Kabuki for the first time last Monday. Went to the Kabukiza in Ginza and got the cheap seats for whatever random play was going on at five, and it was well worth the 1400 yen I ended up spending, and I ended up wondering whether "realism" matters.

The particular play that we ended up seeing was shin-kabuki, shin being a common prefix for "new" or "neo." "New" in this case meant "1913," and the particular production that we saw combined conventional Western drama with traditional kabuki stylings. When the play began, I was a bit disappointed by the "Western drama" bits. I was wondering if we ended up getting a play that would be all about normal, boring people with normal, boring problems.

Nope! About fifteen minutes into the play, the puny humans exited and the goblins showed up in all their weirdness and finery. The play was pretty much gold from there, and weird shit was in no short supply. It was great! There were goblins! A talking hat! A horny, evil, underwater princess! Sacrificing of naked woman tied to the back of a cow! Suicide! Fog machines! A sumo wrestler! People getting turned into fish! Singing! Dancing! A watery apocalyplse!

It was great. I definitely wouldn't mind going again, and it remotivated me to learn about Japanese culuture, history, etc. I was also really charmed by the low-techness of it all. The fact that you could see the stage hands dressed in black and manipulating thing behind the actors wasn't really a distraction, but sort of a satisfying in a way. Oddly, seeing them didn't break my sense of disbelief. Nor did the fact that some of the actors playing chicks were in fact dudes. The whole thing was obvioulsy artificial, but I bought it and enjoyed it for what it was.

Which begs the question of whether "realism" really matters in art and media or not. A movie can have great CGI and still not draw you in. Likewise, Street Fighter II still holds up as a game even though it uses of dated, stilted 16 bit graphics. In either case the presence or lack of something that's "realistic" doesn't effect the viewers emotional investment in the finished product. Whether or not art or media "works" in the sense that it draws in the audience and gets them to care about its invented world has nothing to do with "realism." It's something else, something amorphous and undefined, and something that was very much there in Kabukiza on monday.


Joseph said...

Dude. I would totally love to see Kabuki. Is your Japanese strong enough at this point that you could follow the whole play? Or were you mostly just watching the miming? I guess operas in the US usually have running translations above the stage, but I would imagine they don't have them in this case...

SonicLlama said...

My Japanese wasn't strong enough to follow it, no, especially since Kabuki is performed in old Japanese. You can rent earpieces that provide translations and explanations of what's going on on stage.

What's funny, is that even Japanese people get them, what with the language differences between modern and old Japanese, and for explanations of the esoteric bits of Kabuki.

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

I've heard that Kabuki Japanese is similar to Shakespearean English.

sure sounded like a lot of fun.