Yukio Ninagawa returns to S'pore with samurai drama

Yukio Ninagawa returns to S'pore with samurai drama
Ryo Katsuji (left) as Kojiro and Tatsuya Fujiwara (right) as Musashi in the 2010 production directed by Yukio Ninagawa.

The living giant of Japanese theatre, legendary director Yukio Ninagawa, cuts an unassuming figure.

Sitting at a corner of a conference table in the Esplanade office, the wiry and slightly stooped 78-year-old is clad conservatively in a black cardigan over a crisp white shirt with a mandarin collar.

He says disarmingly of his return to Singapore: "After 20 years, my impression of the city has completely changed. The theatre is completely new and different - so I feel a little bit nervous."

Beneath that gentle, grandfatherly visage is a razor-sharp intellect steeped in decades of theatre- making experience and years spent rewriting the norms of theatre of the East and West.

The straight-shooting but soft-spoken director, known for his sumptuous reinventions of Shakespeare and the Greek classics, dispenses pointed remarks in soothing low tones. He spoke to Life! through a translator, who often seemed both amused and disconcerted by his statements, punctuating her translations with nods of reverence.

Ninagawa often employs traditional Japanese art forms, such as Kabuki and Noh theatre, in his work.

"In terms of Kabuki and Noh theatre, I don't think they are effective forms right now, in this context, what they are doing right now in Japan. So what I do is I use the style of Kabuki and Noh, not the content.

"When you see Shakespeare's plays, there are a lot of things that are not realistic, like you cut off the head and someone dies immediately or you mix people up, which won't happen in real life. But by introducing the style of Kabuki and Noh into this play, it can be possible. These unrealistic things can be smoothly produced to the audience."

When he first began to watch Shakespeare in the United Kingdom, however, he was not particularly impressed. He thought to himself: "How come it's so boring?"

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