Sunday, August 23, 2015

Extravaganza for the senses from Japan - Takizawa Kabuki in Singapore

Note that this review was posted on my other blog "Shoku / Shisou / Seikatsu" and I am reposting this here in case those who do not follow that blog may wish to read about this Japanese stage play recently staged in Singapore. I wrote this the following date after I attended the opening night's performance so at this point in time, the show's Singapore run has already ended.

In the past year or so, we've seen some Japanese stage productions being brought to Singapore e.g. the Ichikawa Ebizo kabuki shows which will be back again in a few months' time at Marina Bay Sands' Mastercard Theatres. In case you haven't heard about this, Takizawa Kabuki starring Takizawa Hideaki is one of the stage productions which you can probably never get a ticket to in Japan (well, almost to that extent unless you are a member of his official fanclub) because it's very sought-after. As such, bringing this to Singapore is big news, not just for the local community of Johnny's fans but also for the general public who may be keen to catch what the hype is all about. This marks the first overseas performance of a Johnny's stage production which makes it more memorable as it coincides with Singapore's 50th birthday and Shochiku's 120th anniversary.

As the title suggests, the show is centred on Takizawa Hideaki who is part of the duo Takki & Tsubasa. For those who are longtime J-drama fans, I believe you would remember seeing him in hit dramas such as "Majo no Jouken", "Antique", "Strawberry on the Shortcake", "Taiyo wa Shizumanai", "Boku dake no Madonna". He's not as active in the drama scene in the last five years though with an average of just 1 drama series or SP annually but has built up a respectable career as a stage actor with his "Takizawa Kabuki" and "Takizawa Enbujo" series.

Honestly, I think it is more difficult for someone to succeed at stage because you've got to be able to attract people to keep coming to the theatres to watch you and they've got to pay for that as compared to turning on the TV to watch someone in a drama which is effectively free-of-charge. As such, it may seem on the surface that Takizawa is not seen as often in the limelight as compared to his hey days as one of the most prolific Johnny's Jr members before his CD debut, I still think that his career is doing pretty well because to have sell-out shows like what he's doing now is not an easy thing to achieve. Indeed when I compare him to those days when he was very sought-after in the drama scene, the Takki I saw last night in the opening performance of Takizawa Kabuki in Singapore was like a totally different person. He has matured so much in terms of his acting and stage presence that I think the change in his career focus from dramas to stage did him a lot of good. There's really too much stereotyping in dramaland that the same actors keep doing the same type of roles and don't get a chance to try new things and improve. Being thrown into the deep end of the pool i.e. being the lead in a stage play turned out to be good for Takizawa after all.

In case you think that this is just about the traditional type of kabuki like what is seen in the Ichikawa Ebizo shows, you'll be quite surprised to find that Takizawa Kabuki isn't quite the same. Indeed, there are kabuki elements in the show but I think that there is another alternative interpretation to the title. As the Japanese term for kabuki is made up of three kanji characters i.e. 歌舞伎, if you break them apart, it actually means song, dance and craftsmanship. Being from Johnny's, there is this familiar element of song and dance synonymous with concerts from Johnny's groups which you can see from the show. However, to convey the message of spreading traditional Japanese culture to the world, the wa in the song and dance is evident so you get an unique blend of modern and traditional. Coupled with the fine arts on stage in terms of backdrops, design in terms of costumes and character design and the precision in set changes, the end product is thus Takizawa Kabuki.

I don't know if you have bought your tickets by now but I sure went to a fair bit of trouble trying to get a good seat. Once news of the ticket sales were released, I went to the MBS site and was quite surprised to see most of the best seats in the VIP reserve taken up. Are fans really that quick in purchasing the tickets or were most of the seats taken up by sponsors? From what I observed last night, it seemed to be the latter as there was practically a full row of seats empty in the section which I've circled in red in the seating plan posted here. Even the seats beside me were empty for some reason, That was truly a waste because I know of many people who would have wanted to come for the show and yet these expensive seats were left empty. Perhaps the organisers should have opened up more seats for sale because there is indeed a market for Japanese entertainment like this but maybe they were a bit too cautious in this debut run. In my case, I was seated in the red circle area just beside the controls station (indicated by the blank space) and could see first-hand the numerous panels and buttons used to control the audio and visual effects on stage which was rather interesting to look at. I think the sound artist was quite conscious that I was looking at the panels but once the performance started, I didn't have time to keep peering over. Although I was concerned at first if I was seated too far from the stage, it turned out to be really good since it was slightly elevated (wouldn't be blocked by the heads of those in front of me) and I was still near enough to see Takki flying above me. Yes, that meant a close-up of his face in front of me. Imagine seeing this person live for the first time after looking at him through a TV screen since more than a decade ago. For someone who's not really a fan, it was already quite overwhelming and exciting. I think that his fans might have suffered a minor heart attack when he was flying just metres above them. ^__^

There is a reason why I've circled some of the seats in the seating plan. The red circle represents the section where you can literally pick up gold from the sky. There is a scene where golden "coins" confetti would be scattered from the ceiling so people in the red zone would get most of the confetti. Despite so, those in the blue zones and those upstairs may also get some scattered ones depending on the aircon's wind direction. There are actually two patterns of the confetti i.e. the normal version with a rougher texture as shown on the right of this photo and the special type with the name of the play written on it. It may not be easy for you to find the special version but do keep your eyes open while the confetti is scattered so that you may grab one with the words written on it. Even without the special version, you can still pick up the remaining confetti after the show (assuming you are seated somewhere that the confetti doesn't fly to) but you have to be quick because there is keen competition for this "special memento",

Another piece of advice for those attending this production is, you either have to go in early to buy your merchandise or be prepared to wait for a long time after the show. As there is only one counter with 2 cashiers, this is somewhat inadequate especially when you see the number of people in the queue and there were many who bought multiple items which I assumed were for their friends who couldn't be at the show. For one copy of the catalogue, I had to queue for an hour and was about to give up if not for the thought that I won't be able to find this elsewhere if I left the queue then. It's also better to use cash as the credit card and NETS machines take ages to connect to the system so you'll be left waiting for long. Items available are unique to the Singapore show i.e. the show catalogue (SGD 28), the 10th anniversary DVD (SGD 50 - region 3 but may not work in Japanese DVD players though since Japan uses region 2), towel, chopsticks, fan and postcards. Sorry for not listing the prices of the other items because I forgot about them. Anyway, just based on my assessment of the catalogue, you should get this especially if you are a Takki fan. There are lots of nice photos of him in various costumes and poses and to cater to the Singapore fans, all content is in English. Just an observation here, it seemed quite obvious from the English interviews that the answers were given in Japanese so there were some parts which were quite awkward when read in English. Not that I really mind because I appreciate the effort that they took for the non-Japanese-speaking fans but it's just a occupational hazard I have when it comes to less-than-perfect translations. The good thing arising from this queuing saga though was the MBS staff who were professional in directing the crowds so it wasn't as messy or chaotic it could have been. However, they should have left the aircon on because it was so hot and stuffy in the lobby. In conclusion, to avoid missing the show's beginning or having to queue for an hour after the show like what I did, it's best to plan your time accordingly.

In order to avoid spoilers for those who haven't seen the show yet, I would not go into details on the content. As for my views on the show, I think it excels especially in the conceptual, audio and visual departments. Takizawa who is the lead star and director of this show, used the four seasons to link the segments in the show so as to show the beauty of the seasons and Japanese culture. Visually, it was extremely stimulating with a lot of effort put in and precision displayed in executing each move and stage change. For example, a simple scene such as slashing someone with a samurai sword would probably be shown as a splatter of blood on the projector screen but Takizawa Kabuki does it with such an impact that there was a collective gasp of amazement from the audience when that very same scene was shown in such a memorable manner. You've got to see it for yourself to experience that effect. In terms of the music used, it had moments of strength and gentleness nicely mixed together and was so synchronised with the performers' movements that you wouldn't feel that the selection of music was done in a haphazard manner and disconnected with the performance.

And since this is the first time that the show is being performed in Singapore, Takizawa and his crew made sure to include Singapore elements. I won't go into details about this but kudos to them for taking the effort to do so. The performers also tried hard to use English in some segments. Although I appreciated their efforts, I think it's OK to cut down on that and focus more on their performance because it seemed like they were quite stressed about using English that it was barely understandable at times. It's OK to spare them from that stress and do the bare minimum instead i.e. greetings in the local language. Besides, it was already made clear at that time when tickets were on sale that there are no English subtitles for this show so it shouldn't matter so much to the audience whether the cast spoke in English or not. There were however a couple of songs where the lyrics were translated into English but by far, I think even for those who don't know Japanese, they would still be able to enjoy the show since a lot of the content does not need words to explain it.

In case you are wondering about why the picture above shows everyone looking downwards after the end of the performance, that's because we were all looking for gold literally i.e. the elusive gold "coins" confetti which I described above. However, the staff tried to usher the audience out of the theatre soon so you've got to be quick if you want to find that special version.

In conclusion, this show was better than I expected and if it is to make a return to Singapore, I'll be sure to catch it again since I don't think I'll be able to secure tickets in Japan ever unless they open it for public sale. If you are interested, the show runs till this Sunday so you may wish to grab your tickets soon. Do share with me your thoughts if you have watched this show.

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