Posts tagged ‘Greek tragedy’

February 26, 2017

Ancient Greece and Rome in Tokyo, 2016

While I didn’t do any Trojan War reading in 2016 (a fact both unfortunate and baffling), I did do my best to enjoy the ancient art and artifacts that made their way through Tokyo, where I am currently living. Look below the jump for my photos of and comments about an ancient Greece exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, a Pompeii wall painting exhibit at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, and a one-woman performance of Greek tragedy at the Akasaka CHANCE Theatre!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #3)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The Gods, which includes “Helen,” “Orestes,” “Andromache” and “Iphigenia in Tauris.” Read on for seventy-two screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #2)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The Murders, which includes “Hecuba,” “Agamemnon” and “Electra.” Read on for sixty screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #1)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The War, which includes the prologue, “Iphigenia in Aulis,” “Achilles,” and “The Trojan Women.” Read on for forty-three screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks”

The Greeks

Play
Japanese Title: グリークス (Guriikusu)
Performed: 2000, Japan
DVD Released: 2008
Run Time: 470 minutes (That’s 7 hours and 50 minutes!)
Starring: Mikijiro Hira (Agamemnon), Seiichi Tanabe (Achilles), Kikunosuke Onoe (Orestes), Rei Asami (Andromache), Kayoko Shiraishi (Clytemnestra), Misako Watanabe (Hecuba)

Synopsis: When John Barton and Kenneth Cavander set out to adapt nine Greek tragedies (and the Iliad) into one long play, the result was The Greeks, which tells the story of three families – Agamemnon’s, Achilles’, and Priam’s – over the seventeen years surrounding the Trojan War. The play’s three acts and the tragedies they contain are:

· The War: “Iphigenia in Aulis” (Euripides), “Achilles” (based on Homer’s Iliad), “The Trojan Women” (Euripides)

· The Murders: “Hecuba” (Euripides), “Agamemnon” (Aeschylus), “Electra” (Sophocles)

· The Gods: “Helen,” “Orestes,” “Andromache,” “Iphigenia in Tauris” (all by Euripides)

Director Yukio Ninagawa’s 2000 production of The Greeks, for which he won a Kinokuniya Theatre Award (source), had a principal cast of twenty-seven and was an all-day affair that, with intermissions, ran ten and a half hours (source). This post is about that production’s 2008 three-disc DVD release.

My Thoughts: Apparently I didn’t feel that a Japanese production of Shakespeare was quite obscure enough for this English blog, because today I’m here to post about a fourteen-year-old Japanese production of Greek tragedy. A fourteen-year-old Japanese production of Greek tragedy that’s eight hours long.

Every time I remember that The Greeks exists I am kind of blown away by it. Putting on a performance of it must take so much more work at every level than a regular-sized play. As I understand it, the full play is performed only very rarely, although the individual acts are occasionally performed by themselves. I am extremely glad that at least one full performance has made it onto DVD. Not a word of a lie, this is probably my favourite of the Trojan War-related DVDs that I own. I love that it covers such a long time period and includes so many characters, but keeps a tight enough focus that it all feels like one story. I think Barton and Cavander achieved the tricky balance of staying true to the original plays while cutting, adding, and shuffling just enough to create a cohesive story that’s accessible to audiences who might only be vaguely familiar with Greek mythology. Meanwhile Ninagawa’s production, with its sparse sets and dark colours, emphasizes the brutal world that the characters inhabit.

You can check out my three screencap posts (The War, The Murders, The Gods) for more specific comments, but here are some other general thoughts I have about this production:

· “Achilles,” based on Homer’s Iliad, is the only segment not adapted from an existing play. The first time I watched it, I was impressed by how seamlessly it fits in with the rest; the second time, I realized there are actually two huge differences between it and the other nine plays of The Greeks: not only does it not have any lines for the chorus, but it also has a much smaller female presence than any of the other plays. What’s amazing to me when I say that is that it’s not like “Achilles” doesn’t feature any female characters – Thetis speaks in four scenes and Briseis in one, and for many works even today that would be considered a decent amount. But compared to the rest of the plays in The Greeks, that’s seriously nothing. Smarter people than me have debated the merits of the various female characters in Greek tragedy, but just in terms of number of lines and time spent onstage, I am constantly impressed by how huge these roles are.

· My absolute favourite female character in Ninagawa’s production is Electra, played by Shinobu Terajima. All of the acting in this production is top quality, but Terajima especially throws herself into her character. You can tell by the way she speaks that she holds herself in high esteem and never doubts that she’s right; you can tell by the way she moves and by some of the poses she gets herself into that she’s been living wild for several years. And her facial expressions are all so intense! I really enjoy watching her. It’s also amazing to me to think about The Greeks’ Electra after having read the part in Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today where actresses talk about how demanding it is to play Sophocles’ Electra. Whoever plays Electra in The Greeks doesn’t just have to play Sophocles’ Electra – an hour later, she has to play Euripides’ Electra in “Orestes,” which may well be just as demanding a role. On top of that, in this production, Terajima occasionally appears as a member of the chorus! And she’s not the only one who appears in multiple segments or plays multiple roles. I really have a huge amount of respect for everyone in this cast. Special mention also to Mikijiro Hira, because I found his Agamemnon surprisingly sympathetic, even when he was doing terrible things.

· One look at almost any of the costumes in this production and you’d know they weren’t striving for historical accuracy. I think they were hoping to evoke an atmosphere of the ancient past, not to recreate a particular era. But things get a little strange sometimes when medieval Japanese or even modern influences slip in – Helen sips a beer and flips through a fashion magazine, Apollo dresses like a character from a kabuki play, the sounds of modern warfare end both “The Trojan Women” and “Orestes.” I don’t dislike these other influences, but I’m not sure why they weren’t used more consistently throughout the whole play. There is one thing about the costumes that I really love, however, and that’s the threads that almost everyone wears, sometimes in their hair, sometimes on their clothing, sometimes dangling from their wrists. Greek characters have red threads and Trojan characters have blue threads, and it does amuse me when everyone is colour-coded, but really I just think they look cool. It’s also interesting to see whose costumes don’t fit this pattern. Helen, for example, never wears anything red or blue at all.

· I love the very fact that The Greeks exists so much that I hesitate to admit there are parts I don’t love … but I do wish there was a bit more to the sets. Ninagawa’s minimalist style is fine in shorter productions, but after eight hours I find I’m pretty tired of staring at the same empty black stage. Some of the tragedies have more set dressing than others, but there are some with hilariously little – I think “Hecuba” only gets a rock. I also don’t love that The Greeks ends with ten minutes of Athena and the chorus discussing the nature of happiness. Maybe my opinion of this will change as I become more familiar with Greek tragedy, because at the moment I’m still not really sure what to make of the chorus. I’m okay with them in all of their other appearances, but as soon as the main characters leave the stage at the end of the last tragedy my desire to watch ten minutes of philosophising definitely takes a hit.

· The above point might lead you to believe that I have watched all three DVDs in a row, but so far I haven’t. I would love to try it one day, if it weren’t for “The Trojan Women.” According to this report from someone who went to the play, following “The Trojan Women” there was a half-hour intermission. I’m not sure a mere thirty minutes would be long enough for me to remember what happiness feels like.

· The Greeks ends with a list of the names of certain Trojan War heroes spoken in unison by the chorus. The last hero named is Diomedes, who neither appears nor is mentioned anywhere else in the play. I’m not sure what Barton and Cavander’s intention with this was, but it always makes me think about how the story of the Trojan War, its beginnings and its aftermath is so huge that even an eight-hour play can only begin to tell it. (You may have noticed that The Greeks doesn’t even include all of the surviving Trojan War tragedies, omitting both Sophocles’ “Ajax” and his “Philoctetes.”) This is not really a comment on The Greeks, but it does remind me that one of the things I love so much about the Trojan War myth is how vast it is.

· I feel like I should apologize for heaping so much praise on something that (I’m rudely assuming) has a language barrier for many of my readers. If you ever have the chance to see a production of The Greeks, I would absolutely recommend it. I definitely see Ninagawa’s production becoming a frequent rewatch for me.

Other Greeks posts: The War screencaps; The Murders screencaps; The Gods screencaps

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan. Please note that the DVDs are Region 2 and have no subtitles in any language.

November 20, 2014

Mini-Reviews #1

All three of the books in this post are worthy of having a big long rambling post to themselves. Alas, I have been terrible at staying on top of my reviews this year, with the result that I have forgotten much of what I wanted to ramble about! So, with apologies to my readers and to the authors below, I present my first (hopefully of very few) post of mini-reviews.

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Cassandra Princess of TroyHilary Bailey: Cassandra, Princess of Troy

Novel
Pages: 325
First Published: 1993

My Thoughts: I reread this book in January and put off posting about it forever because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to properly express how much I love it. The first time I read it, I declared it to be my favourite Trojan War novel. Now I would perhaps say it is my second favourite (after The Song of Achilles, which chewed up my emotions and spat them back out), but it is a very close second.

The novel is narrated by Cassandra, who has survived the war and is living in Greece. The chapters alternate between her present life and her memories of the war, although later in the book there are also chapters from Clytemnestra’s point of view. Occasionally, there are also one-shot chapters narrated by other characters, which actually might be my least favourite part of the book because it’s never explained how these chapters ended up in what is supposed to be Cassandra’s memoir.

Ignoring those questionable one-shot chapters, one of the things I love most about this book is how realistic it feels. Bailey’s Troy is smaller and less imposing than it’s usually portrayed, the lives of the princes not as glamorous (Hector works on a farm!), and the focus on the royal family not as tight. Regular citizens are mentioned frequently, which helps the city feel more populated and alive. Some of the novel’s most haunting images are of regular people struggling to survive a war. Bailey’s depiction of the city under siege is fantastic – she considers even the smallest details and uses them to ground her story in reality. We see characters going hungry, turning on each other, facing danger every time they leave the city. I also like how committed Bailey is to keeping Cassandra’s viewpoint realistic. Well that probably doesn’t at all say what I want it to, but what I mean is I really like how some of the most famous events of the Trojan War are described in just one sentence, because Cassandra wasn’t there to witness them.

I also really like Paris in this book, which is something I rarely get to say! I think Bailey builds him up just enough as a good older brother in the beginning that I was able to feel sympathy for him later.

Cassandra, Princess of Troy is a book I recommend without reserve.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

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How to Stage Greek Tragedy TodaySimon Goldhill: How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

Non-fiction
Pages: 248
First Published: 2007

My Thoughts: The title of this book might lead you to think it’s a strict step-by-step guide, but it isn’t at all. The book is divided into six chapters, each covering a major issue that must be considered by anyone staging a modern production of a Greek tragedy. As listed on the back of the book, these six issues are: “the staging space and concept of the play; the use of the chorus; the actor’s role in an unfamiliar style of performance; the place of politics in tragedy; the question of translation; and the treatment of gods, monsters, and other strange characters of the ancient world.” Goldhill discusses how each of these would have been handled in their original context, then analyzes the approaches taken by a variety of recent productions in the U.S. and western Europe. He pretty plainly states which productions he thinks were successful and which he thinks failed, but I really liked reading about all of them – it definitely made me want to watch more Greek tragedy!

This book’s writing style is a bit of an odd mix of ~fairly casual~ and ~so academic I had to put effort into understanding it~, but it still grabbed me enough that I finished it in a weekend. Goldhill brings up a lot of points that I had never considered before, and I think I learned just as much about how Greek tragedy was originally performed as I did about how it might be performed today. The chapter that surprised me the most was the one about translation; I had never even realized that a translation style might be chosen based on the director’s overall goals for the production. Goldhill shows us three different translations of Cassandra’s speech from Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon,” and I was kind of fascinated by the three completely different styles. I never thought there could be so many different possibilities in the translation alone!

I also liked that Goldhill interviewed people who have been involved in modern productions of Greek tragedy. He quotes two different actresses talking about how sick they were after finishing a run as the title character in Sophocles’ “Electra”! Another thing I never realized is how intense that role must be.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

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David A. Traill: Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit

Non-fiction
Pages: 365
First Published: 1995

My Thoughts: This is a biography of Heinrich Schliemann, and somehow I think it’s the first proper Schliemann biography I’ve actually read?! How did that happen??

I would not be surprised if this book is a controversial one, seeing as how it takes one of the most famous archaeologists in history and shows him in a less than flattering light. Having said that, however, I really think Traill is careful to treat Schliemann as fairly as possible, and I don’t think his goal in writing this book was to tarnish Schliemann’s name. He provides sources for everything he says, most of them from Schliemann’s own writings. One thing I really liked about this book is how frequently Traill quotes primary sources. He is constantly examining and comparing Schliemann’s diary, his letters, his published books, and the writings of his friends, family, and colleagues in an attempt to figure out where Schliemann was telling the truth and where he was fudging or fabricating. The book includes large portions of these primary sources so readers can examine them as well. I can’t claim to be an expert on Schliemann, but I found Traill’s interpretations very thorough and convincing. I can’t recommend this book if you want to like Schliemann, but I got a lot out of it and enjoyed reading it.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca