Sotobo Komachi and Yoroboshi - Yukio Ninagawa - Barbican

On 27 June 2001, I saw the Japanese plays Sotobo Komachi and Yoroboshi at the Barbican directed by Yukio Ninagawa, who is best known in his country for directing Shakespeare. . . the cultural equivalent of taking "sushi to Tokyo" or, as we would say, taking "coals to Newcastle". He has brought two plays by the romantic Japanese nationalist writer Yukio Mishima to the Barbican.

Sotobo Komachi is about the meeting in a public park of a drunken poet and a 99-year old bag lady who boasts of once being a dangerous female fatale (a spicy performance by Hamichiko Jo). Young lovers are sitting beneath red blossoms in a city park only to be scattered by a crouching, tattered 99-year old vagrant. She proves her point of once being the love object of scores of military men by re-creating an elaborate ball scene complete with admiring officers and herself as waltz queen. But when the poet assures her she is as gorgeous as ever she reverses herself, doomed to live in a world of "copses" that is modern Japan.

Yoroboshi is a bout a 15-year old disturbed orphan, a strange boy who lives in a vivid, imaginary world, blinded by an American bomb in a wartime air raid. He is now the subject of a farcical custody battle; his natural parents and adoptive parents are fighting over him. The "star", as the boy calls himself, has scorn for both claimants.

Each play offers touching poetic insights into the painful metamorphosis of post-Japanese society. As the bag lady re-lives her past, camellia blossom (an emotive symbol of Japanese identity) tumbles all around turning the play into an elegy for Japan's Imperial past. In Yoroboshi the young orphan clearly represents disturbed Japanese society emerging from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also, the play's closing vision of the setting sun (ironically in the land of the rising sun!) is a tragic image of national decline.

Verinha Ottoni.


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