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31st-Dec-2012 06:10 pm - [sticky post] Blogbusters
Ever since I started my dedicated theatre blog, this original one has been a lot quieter, but I've continued to use it for my Twitter roundups and occasional book and TV reviews. I want to continue having a personal blog but even though Livejournal hasn't been quite as bad lately as it has been in the past, it can still be a mess of regular downtime, horrible design, and So! Much! Spam! So having done a year of Partially Obstructed View on blogger and got used to using that platform, from the start of 2013 I'll be taking So anyway, over there as well and have set up the blog, ready to go. I can't promise to actually do that much blogging on there any more than I have here, but if you've liked what sometimes crops up here I hope you'll follow me over. Of course I'll be leaving this original archive where it is and who knows, if things change I may come back to it, but for now this is me signing off from LJ and having a fresh start for the new year!

31st-Aug-2011 11:16 pm - Theatre review: Halcyon Days
Unexpected theatrical themes of the year: East Asian characters played by white actors. I'll be seeing more of this at the Arcola next week but for now it's Riverside Studios where Shoji Kokami, directing his own 2004 play in its UK premiere, has presumably used colour-blind casting to give his story some universality, rather than because there's such a wealth of roles for British actors of Japanese descent that he thought he'd give the white people a chance for once. Whatever the race of the actors though if you associate Japanese culture with being a bit mental then you'll recognise it here since Halcyon Days (named after a brand of sleeping pill all the characters are taking) is a comedy about group suicide.

Masa (Dan Ford) and "Hello Kitty" (Mark Rawlings) have met on a suicide website and are now meeting up in real life to go through with it together. Also joining them is Kazumi (Abigail Boyd) who appears to be one of them but is in fact trying to stop them: A former school counsellor, she is constantly haunted by visions of Akio (Joe Morrow,) a sixth former she failed to stop killing himself. When Masa turns out to have multiple personalities, one of which believes they're in a war zone, some convoluted logic ends up with the three (or four) of them rehearsing a fable to perform to a local pre-school, with most of the story and the comedy coming here. Though the way of dealing with the subject is undoubtedly a fresh one, in execution the play's often heavy-handed and clunky with metaphor. The production's strengths lie in the casting, with Ford and Morrow particularly good, and while Japanese-American playwright Aya Ogawa's translation includes some of the worst attempts at jokes I've seen outside of My Family the silliness does create some genuinely funny moments. But there's a lot to take issue with as well. Much of it is to do with the portrayal of "Hello Kitty," a middle-aged gay man whose campness is rather heavy-handedly done by Rawlings. And while I genuinely have no doubt Kokami believed he was writing him sympathetically, he very often descends into the unpleasant stereotype of the "predatory gay," using rehearsals as an excuse to grope Masa, and leering over a photo of the dead schoolboy. I also don't think the writer ever really gets to the point he's trying to make: The play was written as a response to a spate of teenage suicides in Japan, but only one of the characters is a teenager; and since he's already dead, we don't go into his reasons for wanting to die. And with the living characters suffering from quite extreme mental conditions, I felt as if Kokami misses the point of how depression is not a rare and extreme condition, and a huge amount of people who seem outwardly fine are going to be going through these emotions. Still, at least Halcyon Days isn't as far off the mark as I Am The Wind with regards to depression, and it's not actually a bad show, just a very problematic one - interestingly enough bad taste is never one of those problems, the broad comic feel never feels disrespectful to people with suicidal tendencies, it just never really understands them either.

Halcyon Days by Shoji Kokami in a translation by Aya Ogawa is booking until the 18th of September at Riverside Studio 3.
I took the Kindle to New York with me in case I ended up with a lot of time to fill, but fortunately that didn't turn out to be the case so I only got through about half of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet while I was there, the rest when I got back. Being slightly perverse, for my first international holiday in four years I chose a book set where I went for my last holiday, Japan (the title being a reference to one of Japan's more florid nicknames for itself, The Land of A Thousand Autumns.) David Mitchell (the Cloud Atlas one, not the other one) is once again in a more linear (by his standards) storytelling mode although the story of a Dutch trading post at turn of the 18th/19th Century Nagasaki does go off in a number of different directions before pulling all the threads together. As usual it's quite a lyrical tale that shows Mitchell's great love for Japan, although this time looking at its history rather than its well-known modern obsession with futuristic technology. As a result it also reflects much of the Nagasaki I saw, despite taking place over 200 years before I went there - the influence of Dutch style and the fact that it was the first Japanese city to embrace Western culture (even if, in the period described in the book, it was still a very uneasy marriage with the Shogun persecuting Christians) remains a much larger part of the city's identity than the fact that it was bombed in the last century.
I like theatre, I like Japan, inevitably sooner or later I had to go see some Japanse Kabuki. When I mentioned to penny_p (who lived in Japan for a year) yesterday that I was going to see a Kabuki play she wanted to know how long the show was - "You know they're supposed to last about a day, right?" But no, what's at Sadler's Wells at the moment is an edited version of a classic play, Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. Or rather, it's three scenes taken from that epic play cycle, as this is very much a chance for Westerners to dip a toe into Kabuki (although understandably the theatre was also packed with Japanese expats.) Accordingly the play is performed in Japanese, but with everyone in the audience given a headset on which you can listen to a translation of the story. Additonally, in the quieter moments, the narration gives you interesting facts about the performance you're watching, explaining the conventions behind some of the things a Western audience might find odd. It takes a few moments to acclimatise but after a while you get used to combining the show with the narration and getting the full picture.

Although the titular Yoshitsune (Ōtani Tomoemon) does appear, we're mainly concerned with his lover Shizuka (Nakamura Shibajaku) and the trusted officer, Satō Tadanobu, who's been set to guard her. Tadanobu is played by the show's star actor, Ichikawa Ebizō XI, who at 32 is considered particularly young to have reached his current level of success (Ebizō is a stage-name, inherited from his father but only conferred on him when it was decided he'd earned it.) There's a journey through cherry-blossom, a magical drum and, something I associate very strongly with Japanese mythology, a human character who turns out to have been a magical fox in disguise all along. This section of the play might well have been chosen because the three scenes cover three distinct different styles of Kabuki performance. The first scene, featuring a big action sequence, was easily my favourite, not just because I'm a boy so I like fitey stuff, but also because it had more interesting traditions to find out about, like the specific drum roll that indicates something supernatural is happening, or the fact that a character doing a somersault means he's died. The second scene I found incredibly dull - technically a dance, it was essentially a very slow narration of very little story. The third scene was a bit better, with Nakamura Yoshiharu's pretty set becoming quite important, as the skill often being shown off was Ebizō's quick-changes and suprise appearances out of multiple trapdoors.

Maybe I should have called this a not-review as the whole genre is new to me (I never studied Japanese theatre on my drama course; our department did have a Noh and Kabuki expert but he left the year I started and they didn't replace him while I was there¹) and I can only take it on face value. I'm glad I went, as it's an experience in itself, but I think I enjoyed leraning about the performance more than I enjoyed the performance itself. For instance the aforementioned stage names that are also marks of achievement and/or respect. The lead actor is likely to have three different stage names in his life, having been given the first stage name of Ichikawa Shinnosuke VII as a child, then "graduating" to his current name of Ebizō - if his career continues to follow its current path, when he's older he's likely to become Danjūrō XIII, the name currently held by his father (number XII.) It sounds incredibly complicated but I can see how it makes sense inheriting these titles down the family line³ in the context of Kabuki originating centuries ago. I can see how you could have people saying they'd seen the great old Kabuki master Danjūrō, his son the matinee idol Ebizō, and hey young Shinnosuke looks like he might be good when he grows up as well; and generations down the line people could still see the same big names they'd always heard about. Am I making sense? Well point is, it got me thinking, which is always a good sign.

Kabuki (Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura) by Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shōraku and Namiki Senryū is booking until the 15th of June at Sadler's Wells.

¹still, you can't cover everything in three years, and if we'd squeezed in Kabuki we might not have had time for Russian Revolutionary Theatre, and then where would we be? Imagine a world without Mystery Bouffe

²yes that's right, given none of my former coursemates, to my knowledge, read this blog, I just did a protracted in-joke only I would get.

³although as I say, the inheritance is not automatic and has to be earned
8th-Dec-2008 03:12 pm - Collonic irritation
So we've all heard of foreign food brands whose names don't sound quite so appetising in English. Here's one Penny and I had seen in Japan, but hadn't quite got round to trying. She obviously found a packet somewhere and decided it would make an "interesting" little extra gift for me to try. Funnily enough, she herself decided not to see what it tasted like.

Quite apart from the mouthwatering name, you'll notice it's a cream-flavoured egg roll. Mmmmm. Which certainly brings back memories of Japan, specifically having no idea if something's sweet or savoury, or a random mix of the two. (You may recall as far as I'm concerned it's not so much the land of the Rising Sun, as the land of the Custard Sandwich.) Anyway, I finally braved it today, and the verdict is that it's a sweet - sort of a wafer roll with a custard filling (I guess the egg refers to egg custard?) It's OK, but it seems to have left a furry feeling at the top of my mouth that no amount of brushing and mouthwash can get rid of. Basically, insert your own joke about the taste of collon stuck in my mouth.
Yeah, it's a couple of months later and I'm finally getting to the second week of my holiday in Japan. What can I say, I really liked Nagasaki so I needed to spend a lot of time raving about it. But we had to leave and next up was Penny's top choice of destination, the most remote part of our trip, the village of Aso in the volcanic caldera of Aso-San.

Cut for Nature being a bit scary and that.Collapse )
Since I've found myself with an unplanned Saturday night in, what better time to go back and post some photos from the rest of my trip to my favourite part of Japan, Nagasaki. As the ever-so subtle title probably gives away, one of the best ways to get around the city is by streetcar. If you're a visitor one of these things is great: Not only is it a one-day pass that lets you take as many trips as you like for 500Yen a day, but it also includes a really handy map that helped me find my way around really easily.

The tram lines are 1 (blue,) 3 (red,) 4 (yellow) and 5 (green.) There is no route #2. If anyone knows why not, they ain't talking.

Cut for tram rides round the cityCollapse )
Today's turned into a bit of a meh Bank Holiday Monday. I was going to see Dave C tonight but a run-in with some home brew has left him indisposed. So, what better time to get back to my travels around Japan? After Hakata we went on to Nagasaki which was by far my favourite place - so much so it's going to take me two posts to talk about it. I don't know why, and this photo of my first view of the city doesn't convey it, but Nagasaki was one of those places that as soon as I got there, I felt like I was home.

Cut for East Meets WestCollapse )
A month on and I'm still not even halfway through talking about my trip to Japan. I kinda like it this way though - going over it slowly, rather than just rushing through, it means I can enjoy my holiday all over again - and hopefully not bore the shit out of anyone reading this with endless photos of temples. Speaking of which:

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That's part of Tochiji Temple in Fukuoka-Hakata, the first city we went to after we left Tokyo. It's two cities which grew and fused (aka a conurbation, geography-fans), and nobody can seem to decide whether to call the place Fukuoka, Hakata, or Fukuoka-Hakata. So to get in the spirit, I will be similarly random myself. And yes, it really is twinned with Oakland.

Cut for more temples And ThatCollapse )
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It's the Easter long weekend which gives me a bit of time to go back and revisit my holiday in Japan, starting from the very beginning (a very good place to start) with me arriving on Monday morning, 12th March, in Tokyo. The flight had lasted 12 hours during which I'd not slept but had watched 4 films, and my body clock said it was midnight and time for bed. Unfortunately all the other clocks said it was 9am and I couldn't have a lie-down until checkin at 3pm. Bugger.

Cut for lots of photosCollapse )
28th-Mar-2007 07:04 pm - The cultural tour of Japan
By cultural of course I mean my idea of culture - when I found out I was going to Japan I had a few places from films and comics that I wanted to visit. Luckily I managed all of them - on the downside, very few of the photos came out well. Obviously this won't stop me from posting them...

Cut for a guided tour of geekdomCollapse )
27th-Mar-2007 04:11 pm - Damn you, The Sun!
No, not the newspaper for once but the big fiery gas ball in the sky that causes sunstroke.
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This is the impressive view from my hotel room window in Aso. Unfortunately while I was looking out of the window I was missing the chance of another view I would have enjoyed, and it was all sunstroke's fault. Yes, as this by no means confusing introduction will have made clear, this is a post about my libido.

Cut for impure thoughtsCollapse )
Five posts in a day? I guess I'm making up for lost time. I did promise Sean I'd talk about this soon, and it does seem to be one of things people are really interested in finding out about. Plus all the photos from it are on my phone so I don't have to wait for the rest to be developed before I can blog about my nights (plural!) in a capsule hotel. Or, as I like to think of it, a morgue you can stay in without necessarily having to die first.

Everything you never really wanted to know about capsule hotels.Collapse )
26th-Mar-2007 03:45 pm - Rising sun
I think my posts about my time in Japan will go on longer than the holiday itself, there's so many things I want to make a note of. Getting well into the Japanese spirit, I took lots of photos, so I want to wait until my 9 (NINE!) disposable cameras come back from Boots before really getting started, so you won't see much here until Wednesday - almost time to go back to work, so I'll be reliving the holiday in dribs and drabs, which is probably no bad thing.

In the meantime I did take a few pics on my cameraphone before the battery ran out, so here's a taster of what we got up to:

As Martin at work kept rabbiting on about, Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun. He's full of little-known facts like that, it's a rollercoaster ride at the office I can tell you. So here's the sun rising over the Asahi Beer "Golden Turd" in the Asakusa area of Tokyo:

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Here's me and Penny eating kasutera (green tea-flavoured sponge cake) on the top of Mount Inasa, overlooking Nagasaki:

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A row of tumble-driers? Nope, these are all hotel "rooms" at the Capsule Hotel in Asakusa. The furthest-away capsule on the bottom row was where I spent my last night in Tokyo.

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A little something for vanessaw, the main entrance to the Studio Ghibli museum:

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And for pretinama, the Apple Store in Fukuoka-Hakata:

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And that's just the teaser. Be afraid.
I'm back from my two weeks' holiday in Japan with my sister Penny. I now have membership cards to internet cafes in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I'm not too badly jetlagged but I'm pretty knackered so won't be posting much tonight. I had a really good time though, and once I've got (far too many) photos developed you can "look forward" to:

- Custard sandwiches!
- Booby-trapped keyboards!
- Penny's internal monologue which is neither internal, nor a monologue!
- Getting on the wrong train!
- The Starbucks Americans!
- Vending machines!
- The uber-toilet!
- Lots of temples!
- Cute Jewish Boy!
- Cake-themed soap operas!
- Over-the-hill boybands!
- Showering in public!
- Morgues for people who aren't dead yet!
- More Bloody Jailbait!
- etc!
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