Sunday, December 30, 2007

Year-end in Review 2

Mid-month was kabuki.  The Kaomise event brings some of the top names to Kyoto for a month of shows.  The afternoon program had four plays all set in the Edo Period, many dealing with the same themes I have encountered in my study of traditional arts.  I'd never seen real Kabuki before, so off we went.

Minami-za is a beautiful old beautiful dating back to 1694.  We climbed to our cheap seats in the upper reaches of the theater, up a flight of stairs so steep I regretted not wearing hiking boots..  They were high-backed, with a rail in front like a roller coaster.  I had no leg room at all, my knees pressed hard into the seat in front, for the next five hours.  It was like being on a long flight a decade from now.   It took me a while to settle down, and I wasn't the only one.  The first 5 minutes of dialogue were lost due to the Rattler phenomenon that Brady wrote of here.  When the actors' delivery finally reached up here, it was in the affected macho voices of Tom Waits, if he were hung like a tanuki.  Pure, gruff masculinity.  The stage effects were amazing, with unbelievable attention to detail.  Birds sounded, blossoms fluttered, the delicate subtle indication of a season's passing.  Action behind the scenes was silhouetted as if it were happening by candle light.  Even the veranda around the Shogun's retreat had the squeak of nightingale flooring. The crowd was enthusiastic and I'd  long been waiting for the kakegoe shouts done at the appearance of an actor, or to show appreciation of certain grandiose displays of emotion.  Their timing really helped emphasize the "ma."  The lighting at dawn of the final scene where the last Shogun departs for Kyoto was perfect.  

The next show was the Kanjncho story of Benkei and Yoshitsune at the Ataka gate.  I'd  seen this story performed twice before, once at firelit Noh at Osaka Castle, and in an early Kurosawa film.  The acting was top-notch though overwrought.  Kabuki is obviously the expression of emotion, but to an ignorant spectator like myself, a lot of it had the emotional depth of a Busby Berkeley film.  The moral I got was that in a thousand years we've gone from sentimental border guards to fingerprinting machines at immigration.  

After an incredble bento, the second half began.  Midway through the third show--a sentimental tale of giri--my attention began to wane.  I looked around at dozens of people dozing off with full bellies.  Below me were the rich seats,covered by an array of brand name clothing, and I imagined the days when a kimono clad crowd resembled a field of flowers.  The final show was a shorter dance piece, but I could no longer ignore the pain in my knees.   I walked around awhile, admiring the architecture.  In the lobby, a stage hand clad all in black dozed in a chair.  It was the purest display of humanity I'd seen all day.

On the turntable:  John Fahey, "Womblife"

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