Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musashi Pities The Fool!

Fujiwara (R) as Musashi

If you don’t get your summertime fill of Japanese culture from the movies on tap at JAPAN CUTS  (or also the NYAFF), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has got your back!

There are two Japanese shows at this year’s annual festival – a dance performance by Suburo Tshigawara called Miroku and a staged retelling of Musashi. The latter has quite a pedigree. It’s directed by Yukio Ninagawa, who has directed hundreds of plays – ranging from Shakespeare to modern Japanese dramas – and is one of the major figures in the Japanese theater world. It’s written by the recently deceased prolific novelist and playwright Hisashi Inoue. And the main role of Musashi is played by bona-fide superstar Tatsuya Fujiwara of Battle Royale and Death Note fame.

The play is based on the Japanese tale of the wandering 17th century swordsman Musashi. He was famed for his sword-fighting techniques, and dueled many people throughout Japan. In this version, Musashi tricks a rival swordsman, Kojiro, by arranging to fight with his back to the sun, thereby temporarily blinding his opponent. After he wins the duel, he leaves Kojiro for dead – but he isn’t! And he’s itching for a rematch. Kojiro catches up with Musashi at a temple, and the peaceful villagers hanging out there must try and convince the rivals not to kill each other. Here’s a trailer.

Musashi was performed in London in May to breathlessly positive notices. The Independent writes that “Yukio Ninagawa’s productions are often hauntingly numinous, but what he's done with Hisashi Inoue’s play Musashi transports us to a realm where life and death are literally one and the same.” The Telegraph notes the strong vein of comedy that goes through the performance (a samurai duel that turns into a tango? I’m in!) and says that “Both the play and the performances are vivid and entertaining.” He also notes that Fujiwara’s performance is “charismatic.”

Fujiwara’s newest film, Parade, directed by Isao Yukisada, will be screening in JAPAN CUTS. Like Musashi, Parade is balanced with serious themes and a light, breezy tone. Fujiwara will be attending the Noon screening of Parade on July 10th for a Q&A session – and later that evening will appear in one of the four performances of Musashi at the Lincoln Center. We hear tickets are getting scarce, so if you are interested, reserve ASAP!

A deptiction of Musashi battling a giant whale by our old friend Kuniyoshi