"Takizawa Kabuki," a popular kabuki-style stage show featuring singer-actor Hideaki Takizawa, will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year with performances in Tokyo starting next week and topped off with a summer date in Singapore.
The event in Singapore - which will mark the show's overseas debut - will be a great challenge for Takizawa, who has ardently wished to bring the work to international audiences.
"'Takizawa Kabuki' is at the forefront of the contemporary Japanese theatre scene," said Shochiku Co. Vice President Tadashi Abiko at a press conference in Tokyo in February. "We want the people of Singapore to see the show as a first step."
"Takizawa Kabuki" grew out of "Takizawa Enbujo," which ran in spring 2006. According to Johnny Kitagawa, the production's general director, it was conceived as a "stage performance emphasizing distinctly Japanese elements."
The show was a hit, thanks to Takizawa's renditions of popular scenes from such kabuki plays as "Momijigari" (Maple Leaf Viewing) and "Yagura no Oshichi" (Yaoya Oshichi and the Fire Watchtower). The powerful performances also incorporate the latest technology to bring scenes such as "flying" (while suspended by wires) and "illusions" (conjuring tricks) into the world of Japanese aesthetics, exemplified by wadaiko Japanese drum performances involving a large number of players.
Takizawa was about 23 when he was approached by Kitagawa about whether he would be interested in starting such a show. Around that time, he played the lead role in the NHK "Taiga" period drama "Yoshitsune."
He spent a year practicing the traditional dance form of nichibu, as the drama required it. But he wasn't that enthusiastic about the proposal at first.
"I was still young and just wanted to be involved in Western things because they looked cool," Takizawa said. "Because of that, I wasn't interested in traditional Japanese performing arts."
But in the course of practicing, he began to understand the depth of the art form and how its elements functioned as entertainment within the Japanesque world.
"It doesn't make any sense if we [as nonprofessional kabuki players] aim for perfection in kabuki," Takizawa said. "I realised that we should create our own style of kabuki, rather than challenge its role as a traditional performing art. It's not kabuki as defence, but kabuki as offence. I made up my mind to pave my own way as much as I could."
One of the scenes that best embodies the strategy of "kabuki as offence" comes when Takizawa applies makeup onstage and transforms himself into an onnagata, or a male actor in a female role. The scene first appeared in the third production in 2008, and has become one of the most popular in the show. But it was actually a product of chance.
"Johnny-san believes the protagonist should never be offstage, even for a second," Takizawa said. "But it takes time to get dressed as an onnagata. So he suggested that I show the process [of transforming into an onnagata] onstage. I thought I wasn't supposed to show that to the audience, so such an innovative idea came as a great surprise to me."
The show has also been fully using stage sets such as "seri," in which part of the stage can be elevated or lowered, and "suppon," a similar device on the hanamichi passageway. The production team has even fully utilized the rotating stage, which is usually used to change scenes in conventional kabuki performances.
"We make use of everything we can," Takizawa said. "I think kabuki is a form of entertainment that has enthralled audiences by constantly incorporating the latest technology and fashion."
When "Takizawa Kabuki" premiered, Takizawa was the youngest leader of a performing troupe at Shimbashi Enbujo. He also became involved in its direction from the 2010 production. Last year, events were successfully staged in Fukuoka and Tokyo.
To commemorate the show's 10th anniversary, Takizawa plans to undertake a new kabuki play with cranes as its theme. The performance on May 14 is set to mark his 500th performance in the production.
"In a sense, we managed to establish a new genre. There have been discoveries in the Japaneseque world that the people in this country seem to have forgotten. I'll be happy if the audience realises that, too," he said.
Having visited the theatre in Singapore, where the show is scheduled to be staged this summer, Takizawa has already come up with the idea of having artificial snow fall onstage.
"I heard that it doesn't snow in 'the country of everlasting summer,' so I want to show the people there Japan's four seasons. I also want them to experience the coldness of snow," he said. "[How to take] breathes and pauses play important roles in Japanese performing arts. I want the audience in Singapore to appreciate the delicate and brilliant beauty of Japan, and have them see just how much a dancer can express with a glorious kimono and a folding fan."
Takizawa Kabuki will be performed at Shimbashi Enbujo in Tokyo, from April 8 to May 17. For more information, please visit www.shochiku.co.jp/play/enbujo/