A night in 'Nozaki'
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Kabuki returns to the Kennedy Theatre stage this week after a four-year absence as the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Theatre and Dance Department presents "Nozaki Village," a "dramedy" of love, lust and all the crazy things people do to deal with both. The play is being directed by UH Asian Theatre Department faculty member Julie Iezzi in her debut kabuki production.
For your pre-show enjoyment, we offer a need-to-know guide on "Nozaki," its UH production and in the spirit of the play a handful of semi-salacious moments in kabuki's 400-plus years of evolution.
Don't know what a double hanamichi is? You will.
'Nozaki Village' at a glance
Japanese title: "Shinpan Utazaimon."
Written: in 1780 by Chikamatsu Hanji.
Adapted from bunraku: As with many of kabuki's most famous plays, "Nozaki Village" was originally developed for bunraku, or Japanese puppet theater. Its kabuki debut was in 1808.
A sewamono play: Sewamono is one of two main classifications of kabuki story lines, the other being jidaimono. Sewamono plays portray the lives of ordinary, working-class citizens of Japan's Edo period (1603-1868), an era of peace notable for Japan's near-complete isolation from the rest of the world. Jidaimono plays address issues of the aristocracy before the Edo period. As such, many jidaimono dramas recount bloody tales of war and conflict.
The story: Spoiler alert! Act 1 introduces Hisamatsu, a young apprentice of the Abura Pawn Shop, who is in love with Osome, the shop owner's daughter.
Kosuke, the head clerk, who is obsessed with Abura's money and with Osome, falsely accuses Hisamatsu of stealing from the till. Fired and sent home to his foster father, Kyusaku in Nozaki Village, a disgraced Hisamatsu composes a "Dear Osome" letter advising her to marry yet another would-be suitor, Sashiro.
Act 2 opens in Nozaki Village, with Kyusaku paying off Hisamatsu's debt and moving forward his foster son's pre-ordained marriage to his stepdaughter Omitsu. Osome, deep in the throes of love for Hisamatsu, arrives in Nozaki, and the two agree to commit suicide rather than marry others. That's as much as we'll say.
A love pentagon: Osome is betrothed to one person and in love with another. So is Hisamatsu. Kosuke wants Osome and despises Hisamatsu. "Love really wreaks havoc in 'Nozaki Village,' " said director Iezzi. "There are five different (kabuki) archetypes involved in this love story."
And those kabuki archetypes are: The handsome young man (Hisamatsu), the city girl (Osome), the country girl (Omitsu), the comic villain (Kosuke), the samurai (Sachiro).
Seven cool facts about Kennedy Theatre's 'Nozaki' production
1. It's in English. In fact, the "Nozaki Village" production celebrates the 80th year of English-language kabuki productions at UH-Manoa. There have been 30 kabuki plays at UH since 1924. Iezzi spent months working on the "Nozaki" translation. "There are other universities that have done the occasional kabuki production in English, but (UH) has a tradition of 'Hawai'i kabuki' that is actually known in Japan," said Iezzi. "It's a tradition in its own right."
2. All narrative chanters and actors are UH students. While, by necessity, most of musicians providing live accompaniment for "Nozaki" are master performers from the community, the 18-strong cast (playing 25 roles) are graduate and undergraduate theater majors. Since mid-January, the cast and musicians have been rehearsing 25 to 30 hours a week.
3. Actors learned their lines phonetically in Japanese before learning English translations. "I think that's really essential, because vocally there are a lot of things that happen in kabuki," said Iezzi. "When you start in an unfamiliar language, you don't really know what you're saying, so you just listen to the sounds, learn the placement of the voice and imitate it. Then you just transfer those vocal qualities to English. My feeling is, if you start with English, those habits of (the language) come right out and it's harder to break them. Starting in another language distances yourself from that."
4. "Nozaki" has the most takemoto, or chanted voice narration, in a UH kabuki production since 1979's "The Forty-Seven Samurai." The entire second act of Iezzi's "Nozaki" production features sidestage takemoto accompanied by shamisen a three-stringed musical staple of kabuki combined with actor dialogue. "Sometimes an actor speaks a line, and the narration takes over the rest, so they're really breathing together as one unit," said Iezzi. "The narrators and the shamisen player act as much as the onstage actors. They're (the equivalent of) one person communicating a thought, an idea or an emotion. And that's something that even people who have seen (many) of (UH's) kabuki productions haven't seen a lot of."
5. A double hanamichi sets viewers smack in the action. Two ramps or hanamichi leading out into the audience from the stage used to be a standard feature of a kabuki play's set design, but is a modern rarity. "Today it's not very common, because it takes seats out of the theater," said Iezzi. "Visually (in 'Nozaki Village') it's very spectacular. ... The audience is surrounded by the action on both sides and in front of them. You can really feel what's going on, because it's all around you."
6. Hawkers add a touch of old-school kabuki ambience. "Traditionally, in kabuki theaters, there were people hawking all kinds of things food, pamphlets, whatever but they don't do that anymore," said Iezzi. "So from the very beginning, we'll have these people out there (in the seats) to help create the atmosphere of the play." On sale at "Nozaki": a playbill featuring caricatures of the actors.
7. Three musical ensembles set the tone: an offstage but partially visible nagota (literally, "long song") ensemble, setting mood and accompanying action; a percussion ensemble; and the takemoto ensemble of voice narration and shamisen. "This isn't really an oddity," said Iezzi of having a trio of musical ensembles. "It's just cool."
And because "Nozaki Village" features some mildly salacious romantic entanglements ...
Five mildly salacious facts out of kabuki history
2. Early performances were banished to pleasure centers. As audience numbers and rivalries between kabuki troupes grew, concerned government authorities moved actors and dancers out of the city and nearer to licensed prostitution areas or "pleasure centers." Actors were labeled societal outcasts and, as with criminals, required to wear a large, umbrella-shaped hat an amigasa that hid their faces in public.
3. Women were once banned from performing. By 1629, Kabuki's rise in popularity moved the government to permit regulated performances in licensed theaters in such large cities as Edo (now Tokyo), Kyoto and Osaka. But as content grew more risqué and crowds more raucous, the government banned women from the art form. Troupes made up of young males, or wakashu, became more common.
4. Young males eventually banned, too. Well, "very" young males, anyway. After two prominent samurai fought in public over the company of a young male actor, government officials in 1652 temporarily banned wakashu kabuki as well. The ensuing rage among theater managers prompted authorities to allow what became known as yaro or "fellows" kabuki. Male participants were required to be 14 or older. Since 1653, nearly all Japanese kabuki has been performed by males playing both sexes.
5. The Ejima affair. The government shut down all kabuki theaters for three months in 1714 when a high-ranking lady-in-waiting to the mother of a shogun was revealed to be involved in a romantic relationship with a principal actor. The theater the actor belonged to was destroyed and all property sold. Government regulations thereafter sought to discourage opportunities for secret intermingling among social classes. The affair was eventually named after the high-ranking female involved.
A 'Nozaki Village' stopwatch
Invited to an evening dress rehearsal of "Nozaki Village" at Kennedy Theatre last week, I couldn't help eking out a minute-by-minute interest-piquing recap. Beware, mild spoilers ahead!
0:05 An injury is faked by pawn shop lead clerk Kosuke in order to avoid work. I immediately like the guy.
0:18 Involved in a truly devious plan with Kosuke, a priest, no less, offers a phony fortune-telling. I immediately like this guy, too.
0:20 Did someone refer to someone else as "a young Hollywood star"?
0:30 Enter Osome, and my own private flashbacks of the "Counter-agent" episode of "Alias." Until Osome speaks, that is.
0:35 The play's first drunkard. No surprise, it's the priest.
0:40 The play's first violent encounter albeit fake. Involves a coin purse.
0:48 A villain who can scheme and dance at the same time? Kosuke is the bomb!
0:50 Act 1 ends.
0:01 As action moves to a home in Nozaki Village, takemoto and shamisen combo narration is as intriguing as described.
0:08 Kosuke, tossed "right on my (expletive deleted)" by the oldest person in the play, goes down a notch of "cool" in my opinion.
0:14 Old man knocks Kosuke on the head this time. Another notch of "cool" is subsequently lost.
0:22 Hey, is that real daikon Omitsu is chopping for dinner?
0:25 Osome's back! Omitsu hides the welcome mat.
0:46 A double suicide is threatened!
1:05 A triple suicide is threatened!
1:22 A boat! A carriage! Surround sound! The double hanamichi rules!
1:25 Show's over. Where are the hawkers?
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com or 525-8005.