[Fantasia 2021] From Stage to Film to Streaming with Art Kabuki

9 Aug
By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest) Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Available to watch On Demand Tickets can be purchased here For more information, please visit https://artkabuki.com/ (Japanese) Nakamura Kazutaro and Onoe Ukon knew that when the pandemic hit, not every citizen of Japan could partake in watching Kabuki theatre. There are other forms of entertainment, but some cultural events would have to reinvent themselves if it’s to survive. Taping live theatre performances is one thing, but to capture the nuance that defines song, dance and drama through the lens of a video camera requires having the eye to make the show as mesmerizing as attending one. And thus, Art Kabuki was born. The story we find has to enthral and even captivate. The first segment, “The Descent of the Four Gods” connects the heavens with the mortal realm as these divine forces get rather curious about our human affairs. Much like early Greek theatre, where gods are said to intermingle in the lives of humans and are part of the show, this Asian world takes a novel approach. We meet Ukon Onoe as Black Warrior (North), Ryotaro Fujima as White Tiger (West), Gekuro Hanayagi as Red Phoenix (South), and Kazutaro Nakamura as Blue Dragon (East) in the opening act. Their performance suggests that they are more than just the cardinal points of a compass, but also the elements of nature–fire, water, earth and air. They are making their way to the ground, where they slowly get a sense of their surroundings and connect with everything there. Another story, “The Tale of a Flower” is a prayer to evoke a good harvest. The presentation provides a sense of the mystic is everywhere. They literally spirit viewers away. I loved the simple fluidity of the dance movements and the costumes! The designers spared no expense to make them even better than those made for period cinema. Sometimes I thought I was watching a rock concert since the music is not always sombre. The performances isn’t always about the melancholic either. Another set piece is a song about a woman who lost her beloved husband and dear son. She thought she’d be eternally sad forever. In order to survive, she had to eke out a living in the red-light district, but thankfully, a lone Samurai would come to save her. However, he’s not at peace either, and the two have to deal with their demons if they are to find happiness together. I shan’t reveal how this act finishes. What makes this show fascinating is because I suspect it was all filmed in one take. There were multiple cameras to handle the closeup shots with others handling the wide-angle shots. The lighting in some of the stories give it a heavenly, etheric touch, and the video editing of the streaming presentation is superb, to highlight what we have to focus on as a viewer, but as for understanding this style of theatre, having some knowledge of the culture helps.

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