Ahead of Osaka Expo, Playhouses Add English, Anime Tie-ins to the Program

Courtesy of Shochiku Co.
Foreigners experience a sword fight during a workshop on how to enjoy kabuki, at the Osaka Shochikuza Theatre.

OSAKA — With the Osaka-Kansai Expo set to open in a year, there is a growing push to get overseas visitors into theaters and make traditional performing arts more accessible.

Some theaters and production groups have already started holding performances with English commentary and subtitles, as well as showing projects that draw on anime’s popularity.

Kabuki workshop for foreigners

From Jan. 22 to 28, the Osaka Shochikuza Theatre in the Dotonbori area of Osaka hosted its first kabuki performance intended for visitors to Japan, titled “Night Kabuki in Osaka Dotonbori.” The brochure was in English, and the event consisted of a workshop on how to enjoy kabuki, as well as a performance of the comical kabuki dance “Ayatsuri Sanbaso.”

Kabuki actor Kataoka Senju served as a guide, and there was also an English interpreter. Some in the audience were invited onto the stage to experience a sword fight and learn how to perform a mie, in which the actor strikes and holds a pose to express a strong emotion.

Videos were shown of kabuki actors, including an onnagata actor who plays female roles, putting on the distinctive kabuki makeup. Demonstrations were also given of the revolving stage and stage elevator. Finally, Kataoka Senjiro entertained the audience by dancing “Ayatsuri Sanbaso.”

A kabuki promotion team, called Kabuki Kohotai and composed of international students living in the Kansai region, interviewed the performers and shared their experience on social media.

Shochiku Co., which runs the theater, is also embracing anime, a staple of Japanese pop culture.

In January and February, Shochiku held a joint exhibit with the popular anime series “Macross” at its Minamiza Theatre in Kyoto. The exhibit grew out of the fact that the main character in “Macross Frontier” is from a prestigious kabuki family. Characters from the series were drawn in kabuki costumes specially for this event by the character designers and displayed on panels.

Panels of characters from “Macross Delta,” each dressed as the dancer Hanako, a popular kabuki heroine, were placed on the stage with a stage set, including a temple bell for the kabuki dance “Kyoganoko Musume Dojoji.” Visitors enjoyed taking commemorative photos with the characters.

Live performances and chats were also held during the event period. Commemorative goods sold well, according to the organizer.

Bunraku with anime backdrops

Courtesy of National Theatre/Photo by Tomoko Ogawa
A production of “Sonezaki Shinju” (“Love Suicides at Sonezaki”). This production combines traditional bunraku puppet theater with anime backdrops.

The National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka held its first backstage tour for foreigners on Feb. 7 and 8. Forty-five people aided by English interpreters took the tour and saw unique stage mechanisms, props and dressing rooms.

In addition, an information desk for foreigners was set up in the lobby, and English announcements and audio guides were introduced. Visitors also got a questionnaire in English.

The Japan Arts Council, which runs the theater, has produced a special version of “Sonezaki Shinju” (“Love Suicides at Sonezaki”), combining for the first time a performance in the bunraku puppet theater style with anime backdrops. Kazuo Oga, art director for Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke,” was responsible for the visual art.

The council hopes to perform the version with anime backdrops overseas in the future. It also aims to show the version to more visitors to Japan, who are expected to increase in number during the Expo.

“I hope foreigners interested in Japanese anime culture will also find bunraku appealing,” said Hiroko Kirikae, a director of the council.

Noh with English subtitles

Courtesy of Yamamoto Noh Theater
A tour and workshop for foreigners held at the Yamamoto Noh Theater

Another Osaka theater, the Yamamoto Noh Theater, held an event for newcomers at the end of last year featuring traditional performing arts from Osaka and the surrounding region. The event included noh and bunraku performances with an English-speaking emcee and English subtitles, and a rakugo performance in English. A tour of the noh theater for foreigners last fall was also well attended, the theater’s office said.

To prepare for the Expo, the theater plans to hold similar events for foreigners once a month starting this fiscal year.