Cinema Kabuki Returns to Vancouver after Sold-Out Run
Kabuki productions don’t often tour outside of Japan, and no wonder: with their weighty sets, intricate costumes, and delicate instruments, the logistics of touring a kabuki production can be nightmarish. Besides actually travelling to Japan to attend a Kabuki production (or watching a grainy YouTube video), there wasn’t much the Canada-based lover of Japanese culture could do to fully experience the magic of kabuki theatre—that is, until the Japanese Foundation launched Cinema Kabuki.
Cinema Kabuki gives audiences an up-close view of kabuki that a ticket holder in a traditional Japanese kabuki theatre wouldn’t normally get. The series screens live productions of kabuki theatre—some which date back four hundred years—that that have been filmed with the highest resolution cameras for screening in cinemas around the world on state-of-the-art digital projection systems and 6-channel sound.
Cinema Kabuki began in Toronto several years ago and, in 2011, held its first Vancouver film festival. After a string of sold-out screenings, Cinema Kabuki is back in Vancouver on February 26th with two films: Murder in a Hell of Oil (a killing drama that first premiered in 1721 as a bunraku puppet play) and Heron Maiden, a widely popular dance piece featuring kabuki star Tamasaburo. Below, Cinema Kabuki curator Toshi Aoyagi shares his favourite moments in each of the films, and explains why some Cinema Kabuki attendees maintain that these screenings are even better than the real thing.
How did Vancouver audiences react to last year’s inaugural Cinema Kabuki?
TOSHI AOYAGI People usually say nothing is better than live theatre, and a lot of people came with that idea. A movie version of a live theatre presentation sounds secondary, but Cinema Kabuki debunked that preconception. In a film, they see movement, facial expressions, and other magical details that they would not see sitting in a live theatre audience. After the first Vancouver screening, the audience’s eyes were glittering.
Tell me about Murder in a Hell of Oil. That is a very dramatic title!
TA Murder in a Hell of Oil is the story of ordinary people in big city in the middle of a consumerist society. The economy is active; merchandise is going around; pleasure quarters are big business. Ordinary people are spending their money in pleasure quarters and destroying their lives. It is an 18th Century credit card tragedy that ends with kabuki’s most spectacular murder scene. This murder scene happens at night in an oil shop where there are many barrels of oil. When the murder victim—a woman—is chased around the store by a man with a sword, she bumps into barrels, sending oil all over the floor. Then the blood of hers mixes into oil. The light goes off at a certain point, and they search for each other on a slippery floor. It is quite dramatic. The title is not a metaphor. It’s an actual description.
Tell me about the second film, Heron Maiden. What makes it special?
TA Kabuki theatre is a many-headed monster. It takes in different art forms within. There is historical drama, contemporary drama, and dance, and Heron Maiden is an incredibly strong dance piece featuring Tamasaburo, one of the stars of kabuki theatre. There is a mystique surrounding Tamasaburo. He is a renowned star. This month he is having a spectacle show in Tokyo, and it’s drawing many people.
Do you have a favourite moment in either of the films?
TA There is a moment in Murder in a Hell of Oil when the woman kneels in front of the murderer and touches his cheek with her bloody hand, so her blood goes onto his face. It’s an incredible moment.
Cinema Kabuki takes place on Sunday, February 26, at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas (88 West Pender Street, Vancouver) Murder in a Hell of Oil screens at 1:00pm; Heron Maiden screens at 3:30pm. Tickets for Murder in a Hell of Oil are $20 ($15 for Heron Maiden), and are available online at www.cineplex.com or in person at the theatre box office. For more information about Cinema Kabuki, visit www.jftor.org.