Friday, April 22, 2011

Takarazuka- Japanese Theater Part V

Takarazuka, the shiniest drag kings you will ever see! Photo from here.

 Ah, Takarazuka, where do I start? It may be my favorite form of Japanese theater; I love the costumes, the music, the actors... Takarazuka may not have the history and the depth of more traditional types of Japanese theater, but in my opinion they're one of the most exciting and enjoyable to watch. 

So what is Takarazuka? They're an all-female acting troupe originating from the town of Takarazuka, near Osaka. They perform Broadway-style musicals based on Western and Asian influences. The takara part of Takarazuka (宝塚) means treasure or jewel, and they certainly live up to the flashiness of their name. They're famous for their over-the-top costumes, often covered head to toe in sequins, jewels and feathers reminiscent of Vegas showgirls. The stage itself also glitters with lights and bright backdrops.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sendai Hanami!

Hanami is hands down one of my favorite Japanese traditions. For those who don't know, hanami is a flower viewing party. Every spring when the Sakura (cherry) trees bloom, Japanese people gather in huge numbers at parks to have picnics and all-day parties underneath the flowers. Last year I went to three different hanami and had a blast despite the sometimes cold/rainy weather.

This year because of the Tohoku Earthquake, it seemed like there might not be any hanami. In fact, the Japanese government has even been encouraging people in Tokyo and other cities to refrain from having hanami, in order to be conservative and show support for Tohoku. I personally feel like hanami is something we all need right now; especially for the people in Tohoku for whom the past month and a half has been so difficult, something fun and relaxing like hanami would really help to cheer everyone up.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kyogen- Japanese Theater IV

Kyogen mask, Edo Period
Kyogen are short plays and dances performed in between scenes during a Noh play. You can think of them like a "half-time" performance. Like Noh, some of the actors wear masks and the narration is done by a chorus of chanters. There are two types of Kyogen play: hon-kyogen, which is a story separate from the Noh it's performed alongside, and ai-kyogen, which is actually part of the Noh story being performed.

Many Kyogen plays are comedies, often mocking one of the main characters from the Noh play. They usually feature "trickster" characters, like foxes or tanuki (red raccoons). Foxes are generally shape-shifters, sometimes just playing silly tricks and other times outright malicious. Tanuki are best known for tricking people by paying for the tons of alcohol they drink with money that turns into leaves in the morning. They're also known for their ridiculous libidos, so clearly there's some satire going on here. (I'm guessing the butt of the joke here were young samurai or noblemen.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Noh - Japanese Theater III

Yamanba, "mountain hag", costume. Photo from here.

 Noh is probably the most abstract form of traditional Japanese theater. It's very slow-paced and subtle, and to Western audiences would most likely seem the most foreign. It originated in the 14th century with performances of folk stories often featuring deities or supernatural creatures.