Posts tagged ‘ninagawa’

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.

August 2, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “Troilus and Cressida” (DVD & screencaps)

Ninagawa x Shakespeare X

In August 2012, I was fortunate enough to be able to see Yukio Ninagawa’s all-male production of William Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” in Saitama, Japan. The post I wrote afterwards, which contains more information as well as my thoughts about the production, has baffled me by becoming one of the most popular posts on this blog. I was going to post about it again anyway, but now I feel slightly more justified in doing so!

The DVD: Ninagawa’s “Troilus and Cressida” was released on region-free DVD in 2013 as part of the box set Ninagawa x Shakespeare X (“X” because this is the tenth in the series). The set comes with three DVDs: one for “Troilus and Cressida” (172 minutes), one for a production of “Cymbeline” (188 minutes), and one with bonus features, most notably twenty-one minutes of footage from behind the scenes of “Troilus.” None of these DVDs include subtitles of any kind, although Shakespeare’s text can be used to figure out what’s happening in “Troilus”; I don’t think there are any changes large enough that they would throw someone off. (I haven’t watched “Cymbeline” yet, but I’m looking forward to it!)

Watch: Troilus, Cressida, Pandarus and Diomedes in clips from V.ii and V.iv (please note that the footage on the DVD is higher quality and better edited), the cast at a press conference

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan

Screencaps: So I originally meant to only screencap the things I wanted to show you when I wrote my previous post, but of course I went a little overboard. Read on for thirty-nine screencaps (and four photos)!

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September 1, 2012

Yukio Ninagawa: “Troilus and Cressida”

Troilus and Cressida

Play
Japanese Title: トロイラスとクレシダ (Toroirasu to Kureshida)
Performed: 2012, Japan
Starring: Yusuke Yamamoto (Troilus), Yuki Tsukikawa (Cressida), Shun Shioya (Diomedes), Kei Hosogai (Ajax), Takehiko Ono (Pandarus)

Synopsis: Twenty-sixth in director Yukio Ninagawa’s series of Shakespeare plays and sixth in his series of Shakespeare plays with all-male casts, “Troilus and Cressida” tells the story of a Trojan prince who falls in love with a woman whose father has defected to the Greek side. Or that’s the one-line synopsis, at least, as the play is more of an ensemble piece that also features the Greeks’ attempts to get Achilles back on the battlefield. Often categorized as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” due to its inconsistent tone and characterisations, “Troilus and Cressida” is a “systematic hollowing-out of the Troy legend” (source), a version of the Trojan War story in which the characters we’ve come to know as heroes are deeply flawed and frustratingly human.

This production of “Troilus and Cressida” finishes its run in Saitama on September 2nd, 2012. After that, it will be in Osaka from September 7th to September 10th, Saga for September 22nd and 23rd, and Aichi for September 29th and 30th. If you’ll be in the area with three hours to spare, I wholeheartedly recommend going. Tickets are here!

Review: I first heard of Yukio Ninagawa a couple years ago when I came across his version of Euripides’ “Orestes” on DVD. While I definitely enjoy his work, I suspect that most of that enjoyment comes from the simple fact that his choices of material allow me to watch plays that I never thought I’d see performed. I cannot overstate how excited I was to find out that he would be directing “Troilus and Cressida” – especially because I would be in Japan and able to see it live! I was lucky enough to see it twice near the beginning of its run in Saitama, and long story short, it was amazing. Knowing that it’s bound to come out on DVD, I’ll try to keep the length of this post within reason – a difficult task as I could seriously talk about this play forever.

First, a disclaimer: understanding a Shakespeare play in Japanese is still quite a task for me, and I really apologize if this leads me to write something that’s not quite accurate. Feel free to let me know about any mistakes you catch! Hopefully if I’ve made any grievous errors, I’ll be able to remedy them after the DVD release.

· This production ran three hours and five minutes (including a fifteen-minute intermission). I noticed a few things that had been cut, such as all of the dialogue between Pandarus and Paris’ servant at the beginning of 3.1, the section of 3.3 that includes Achilles’ fantastic “the magnanimous and most illustrious six-or-seven-times-honoured captain-general of the Grecian army, Agamemnon,” and Patroclus and Thersites acting out a visit to Ajax in the same scene.

· Thersites recited the Prologue, and soon after that Troilus made his first appearance hiding behind a cluster of sunflowers (the stage was littered with them!), throwing pieces of his armour up into the air in irritation. A way more dynamic start to the play than I’d expected!

· I loved watching 1.2, the scene where Pandarus describes the Trojan soldiers to Cressida as they come in from the day’s fighting. Now, I’m sure that about 98% of the reason I loved it is because I’ve been in love with this story for over a decade, and just seeing the Trojan royals returning from the battlefield, swords in hand, wounds wrapped, boldly looking out over the audience, gave me a ridiculous thrill. For basically the same reason, I also enjoyed any time the Greek generals stormed down the aisles to the sounds of trumpets and drums.

· Ajax in this production was young and attractive, and I feel like that’s such a rarity for him that even though he definitely does not have the best personality here, this is kind of my new favourite Ajax.

· Starting with their first appearance and lasting for most of the play, neither Achilles nor Patroclus wore the long blue cape that every other Greek character wore. I really liked this – “Troilus and Cressida” starts after Achilles has already withdrawn himself and his men from the battlefield, and the lack of the bright blue cape immediately set him and Patroclus apart from the other Greeks. Only after Achilles decided he had to get back onto everyone’s good side did he and Patroclus appear wearing them.

· Another result of the lack of capes leads into this bullet point about the portrayal of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship. As Achilles and Patroclus first appeared wearing neither the capes nor full armour, the only costuming on their torsos was leather straps and jewelry. This meant that whenever one of them leaned on the other – and they were pretty much constantly leaning on each other -, it was bare skin against bare skin. Uh I feel really weird being excited about a thing like this, but having recently read The Song of Achilles I was really, really stoked to see a visual medium portraying Achilles and Patroclus as more than just friends. (Not that it hasn’t happened before, just that this was the first example I’ve personally seen.) And there was more than enough touching/hugging/kissing to make it clear that they were a couple. Achilles’ lines in 3.3 that begin with “The beauty that is borne here in the face” were turned into a description of Patroclus; just before that, he and Patroclus appeared in the background of the scene playing hide-and-seek with Patroclus’ necklace. (In a move reminiscent of Troy, Achilles carried that same necklace onstage after learning of Patroclus’ death.) And I completely did not anticipate how the beginning of 2.3 would be staged: Patroclus, hearing Thersites grumbling outside Achilles’ tent, came onstage wearing nothing but a towel, and was soon followed by Achilles wearing nothing but the sunflower he held in front of his crotch (which definitely got a laugh from the audience).
     As amazing as all of that was, I’m definitely hesitant to praise it any higher than “yay Achilles/Patroclus.” In the New Cambridge Shakespeare edition of “Troilus and Cressida,” line 5.1.15 (Thersites’ “Thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet”) comes with the following note: “Classical writers frequently mention an erotic bond between Achilles and Patroclus … though usually without Thersites’ characteristically cynical, even debased, attitude towards it. Productions since the 1960s have typically exploited this aspect, sometimes ludicrously, sometimes with great sensitivity.” Reactions from the rest of the audience made me think they were viewing the relationship more on the ludicrous side than I was, although why I don’t entirely know. Thersites’ “male varlet” was translated as “okama” (a not always kind word for a gay man). I don’t see anything funny about that line, but it got a laugh here. (Thersites’ next lines – in which he lists the diseases he believes homosexual activity leads to – were completely cut. I confess I have no complaints about that.) Before that, in 3.3, Patroclus reacted to Ulysses’ “‘Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love with one of Priam’s daughters” by grabbing the nearest sunflowers as if to strangle them. This, too, got a sizeable laugh. Again, I’m not entirely sure what I missed here, but I guess these laughs clued me in that perhaps this portrayal of Achilles and Patroclus wasn’t meant to be totally serious. (Maybe Patroclus greeting the Greek kings in nothing but a towel – amazing as that scene was – should have clued me into this earlier.) I mean, yes, it does fit the character of the play to make fun of them and their relationship, but … I don’t want to? Not in this way, at least. And I definitely wonder if this same portrayal would get laughs if played in North America. I guess it would depend …

· Cassandra was AMAZINGGGG, and I am saying this as someone who has kind of gone off Cassandra in recent years. Her facial expressions were really intense and I loved how her dialogue was a mixture of whispers and shouts, some of them unintelligible. Her costume had her barefoot, with long reddish hair and a ripped-up skirt. She also had perhaps the most interesting make-up in the play: a long streak of red running down the inside of each of her legs. While I feel like this could come with the implication that “women are crazy when/because they menstruate,” which I definitely don’t care for, I’m going to do my best to ignore that because just as a make-up choice I thought it was pretty cool.

· At the end of her first scene, Cassandra exited by way of the set’s middle door, which was wider than the others, allowing the audience to see the endless darkness she was walking into. The door closed while she was bending backwards, as if to take another look at us. To me, it was kind of reminiscent of what I remember being Cassandra’s last appearance in Michael Cacoyannis’ The Trojan Women, where she leans backwards out of the cart that’s carrying her away.

· I wish I could say my love for the other female characters in this production was as strong as my love for Cassandra, but unfortunately I found myself really disappointed with them. One problem I had – which I could look past were it the only problem – was the way the female characters held themselves. Cressida especially constantly had her arms poised as if she were a princess at a Disney park. I would have much preferred to see men playing characters who happen to be women, but for the most part I felt as though I saw men playing stylized women who happen to be characters, and it was frustrating enough to take over this and the next two points:

· I think my least favourite thing about this production was the way that Cressida delivered almost all of her lines in monotone. Through the entire play she sounded so distanced from and uninterested in everything. As I’ve read about a million times over the past month of researching this play, Cressida is a difficult character to read, but surely you shouldn’t deal with that by not trying to read her! In this production it was only during her final scene that I felt she was emoting; there was a part earlier where she fell to her knees but by itself I’m not sure that counts. After reading about the many different productions that have attempted a feminist reading of the play, it was disappointing to watch a production whose main female character was barely there.

· Though she is frequently spoken of, Helen’s only appearance in “Troilus and Cressida” is in 3.1 … and I was really disappointed with this scene too. Inspired by what I’m not entirely sure, when I read the scene I pictured a Helen and Paris with a good amount of intelligence to them. I imagined them both knowing why Pandarus has come to visit, but pretending they don’t in order to tease and fluster him. I also imagined a Helen who, while completely in love with Paris, enjoyed flirting with Pandarus, again just to bother him. Whether or not my interpretation is supported by the text I’m not actually sure, but this production definitely took a different approach. A good amount of dialogue was removed from this scene, and the lines Helen kept were all delivered – in a tone that resembled a whine – as she and Paris made out. I felt like this production’s Helen was completely one-dimensional, when a slightly different approach to the character could have avoided that.

· 2.1 ended with the stage dark and Achilles and Ajax speaking their lines while walking down the aisles in the audience. 2.2, the first scene in the Trojan palace, began with the onstage doors bursting open and Priam and his sons all walking onstage at once. It was a really awesome and immediate change in tone that was echoed in 4.4: Troilus and Cressida, having said their private good-byes, were embracing when a door flew open, the romantic background music stopped, and the party to collect Cressida entered in all their war gear. Then a silent moment passed before Troilus managed to pull himself away and greet Diomedes – which was really interesting to me because when I read the play I hadn’t imagined it being so clear to Diomedes that Troilus and Cressida were in a relationship.

· The ~everyone ignores Achilles~ portion of 3.3 was exactly as hilarious as I’d hoped it would be. Menelaus acting like he was going to shake Achilles’ hand, only to pull his hand back and use it to smooth his hair? Fantastic. But even better was when Achilles greeted Ajax and Ajax replied with a way overenthusiastic “HA?!?!,” complete with a hand cupped around his ear. New favourite Ajax!!

· The staging in the part of 4.5 where Hector is greeting the Greek kings was pretty amusing. He gave Menelaus a hug in a “heyyy man it’s great to see you again” sort of way, then turned back to Aeneas to quietly ask, “Who is this??” Not sure why Shakespeare decided that seven years of fighting wouldn’t be enough time for Hector to figure out who the Greek leaders were, but anyway.

· Troilus’ shouting breakdown after Cressida’s betrayal, Hector almost choking him during their last argument, Hector’s killing Patroclus onstage but unobserved by anyone else, Pandarus’ increasingly sickly appearance, and the sombre music that played from the final scene through to the end of the bows … I felt that this production really emphasised the loneliness that’s present at the end of the play. Relationships break down, beloved friends are killed, nothing is resolved. The last lines are Pandarus promising to “bequeath [us] [his] diseases.” It’s such a strange, empty ending but I’m glad they didn’t try to change it. (Though I do feel the need to add that Troilus and Cressida left hand-in-hand after the bows. This production ships them way harder than I do hahaha.)

· In conclusion, even weeks after the fact I remain completely stoked that I was able to see this play, and if you are also interested in watching a Japanese version of a Shakespeare play based on ancient Greek mythology, you should absolutely check it out!

Update: Check out my post about the DVD (with screencaps!).

Visit: Ninagawa x Shakespeare (the official blog)