Premiere of “Kurotokage (Black Lizard)”

Evocative set and lighting on stage

“Kurotokage (Black Lizard)” premiered today. Under Mr. Leveaux’s direction, Yukio Mishima’s eloquent words have been brought to life like showers of glittering jewels on stage, and the day has finally come for us to perform this play in front of everyone.

The rehearsals were held in a warm, friendly atmosphere so as not to smother the delicate hearts of the performers, and instead of being told what to do or how to express ourselves, we were asked, “How would Kurotokage act in this scene if she was filled with anger and uneasiness upon realizing that she was fascinated by Akechi?” That’s how we were given the chance to think for ourselves. Mr. Leveaux also asked me, “What if Kurotokage was feeling frustrated at her own budding feelings of love toward Akechi, and she was just taking it out on her subordinate, Amamiya?” I realized that by throwing such questions at me, the emotions behind my lines became ever more complex and intertwined.

I have been enthralled by Yoshio Inoue’s ever so poignant speech and the grace with which he carries himself. I have also been almost overwhelmed by sudden urges to top Itsuki Sagara’s refined doll-like cuteness with cream and lap it up, while Hikaru Asami’s modest yet enthusiastic acting has offered me a sense of security by helping to prop up Kurotokage’s character. As for Taka Takao, he has made me laugh with his uninhibited miserliness, and Songha’s masochistic acting has further roused the sadistic side in me.

The dwarves, who are like servants to a courtesan, were played by contemporary dancers, and they serve Kurotokage while simultaneously acting as metaphors reflecting her inner self. Watching them dance in response to our acting almost brought tears to my eyes. The performers of the ensemble too, who have won Mr. Leveaux’s absolute trust for their physical discipline and agility, and outstanding talent as actors, also play a vital role in symbolizing the flow of time during the play. Moreover, the live band acts as a bridge bringing together the worlds of Yukio Mishima and David Leveaux, guiding not only the performers, but also the audience to a world of fantasy.

The simple, yet elegant stage set, the lighting creating beautiful shadows like the etchings of Rembrandt, and the delicate yet bold costumes representing the state of Kurotokage’s mind, as well as the android-like hairstyle were all decided on at the last minute after much trial and error, and there has been much constructive discussion among the creative staff on the pros and cons of all the stage visuals. I feel so blessed. It’s like a dream come true, and so many people have been supporting us behind the scenes to make sure it stays that way.

I very much look forward to seeing everyone there.

The New Year

Kiyomizu temple coverd with snow

Happy New Year!

I trust you are all enjoying your holidays right now.

Rehearsals for “Kurotokage (Black Lizard)” have also reached a climax.
Over the last few days, every scene has been rehearsed from start to finish, as if they were being performed in front of an audience.
The other day, we wore our costumes for the first time, and practiced changing quickly while wearing makeup.

Acting under the direction of David Leveaux, brimming with humor, I almost feel as though I am back at drama school. Our rehearsals are always filled with laughter as he recounts numerous amusing episodes from the past in the world of theater.
One day, he told us an interesting story on the Old Testament at a rehearsal.
The Bible was not allowed to be translated into English in England or Scotland, until around the 16th century (this was probably because allowing the common people to read the Bible would have inconvenienced the rulers of the time). People were permitted to read it only in its original language of Hebrew, or translations of it in Latin or Greek. In the 17th century when tensions ran high between Catholics and Protestants, James I (VI), who was King of Scotland and England, and also a Protestant, ordered the translation of the Bible into English for the first time. Shakespeare, who was at the peak of his fame in the world of theater at the time, was apparently entrusted with this highly honorable job.
When he was 46, and at the height of his career, he was placed in charge of translating Psalm 46, where he is said to have left his mark. And just as Mr. Leveaux said, looking at the Authorized Version reveals that the 46th word from the beginning is “shake,” and the 46th word from the end is “spear.”
Everyone at the rehearsal gasped in surprise upon hearing this little-known theory that Shakespeare coded his name into the translation (the original spelling for “spear” was actually “speare”).

The scene changes during “Kurotokage” are executed with so much perfection that I wish I could see the play, not as an actor, but as a member of the audience, thanks to the excellent teamwork of the entire ensemble and the music performed by the live band, guiding the audience to a world of fantasy. I was initially afraid of performing on such a big stage, but left under the direction of Mr. Leveaux and my wonderful costars, including Yoshio Inoue, I am on the verge of changing my attitude and becoming more optimistic that everything will turn out fine.

Performances of “Kurotokage” will start on January 9 at Nissay Theater, and February
1 at Umeda Arts Theater. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

The Theater of Cruelty

A fragment of the stage floor

I suddenly realized it’s already that time of the year when trees start shedding their leaves.

Rehearsals for the play, “Kurotokage (Black Lizard)” began yesterday. Under the direction of David Leveaux, I have begun to break down and work my way through Yukio Mishima’s script with all the staff and 25 actors involved. David, who saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Peter Brook when he was 13, borrowed Peter Brook’s words in later describing Shakespeare’s play, saying, “‘Language colliding in the air’ would be an appropriate expression to use in also describing ‘Kurotokage.’”

First, to gain a grasp of the overall storyline, rehearsals progressed at a surprising speed. Lines that you thought you had memorized are forgotten when you try to speak them while moving, and actually hear the other actors voicing their lines. We were expecting David to stop us, but he just kept us going. All the actors looked at one another wondering how far we were going to go, as we hesitantly exchanged words, but after a while we all began to feel as though we were accomplices in a crime. By the second day, we had already decided on what to do for a sixth of the script, although only provisionally. It was also the first time for me to experience having so many people come to rehearsals, and it was scary, as if I had to suddenly perform an uncompleted play in front of an audience. This secretly prompted me to name the rehearsals, “The Theater of Cruelty.”

From now until the start of performances, I will no doubt be guided by David’s magical words, stimulated by the powerful and phantasmagorical acting of my costars, and be nudged along while making mistakes over and over again in my pursuit of the ultimate performance. I plan to enjoy this precious experience of trying new ideas, scrapping them, then examining the leftover fragments to build something new again.

Performances of “Kurotokage” will start in the New Year, on January 9. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Opera

“Fat House” created by Erwin Wurm at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna

I am currently in Vienna, bustling with Christmas markets, but I feel restless and flurried. Rehearsals are about to begin shortly for the play, “Kurotokage (Black Lizard).” It was only when Yukio Mishima pleaded with Akihiro Miwa that the play came to be performed for the first time, and it requires considerable resolution for me to act in this play.

The battle between the great detective, Kogoro Akechi, and the female burglar, “Kurotokage,” told in eloquent words, provides the ultimate form of entertainment, while also being a romantic love story for the mature audience. But the lines being so poignant and stir within me a conflict between my intellect and emotions. If I only remember my lines vaguely, I end up searching frantically for the right words, being unable to open up my heart. On the other hand, if I allow myself to become too emotional, I end up forgetting my lines. I spend all day every day reading the script in the hope of breaking free of the spell it has cast on me, allowing me to act with greater freedom. To help me remember my lines, I have printed my lines in blue, on pink paper, which I have stored in my iPad. I mutter my lines while I exercise on the treadmill or step machine, with sweat pouring out, at the fitness center.

At night, I have been going to the Vienna State Opera House to watch opera performances and learn how to carry myself on stage and project my voice. I’ve managed to obtain tickets at bargain prices of around 14 Euros for seats in the upper gallery. At times, if you go just before starting time, there are dealers who begin dumping their leftover tickets, and even end up giving them away for free. After obtaining my ticket one day, I sat down beside an elderly lady who claimed she has been watching operas for decades to pass away her time. She taught me a lot, telling me all kinds of things like, “That tenor has a wonderful technique.”

“Madame Butterfly” is not only discriminatory against women, but it is also racist, and I had avoided it ever since I saw it over 20 years ago. But I went to see it again upon finding out that Tsuguharu Foujita, whom I had once played the wife of in a movie, had designed the props. I didn’t have great expectations for the opera, and in the scene where she is bought by an American guy for a mere 100 yen (around 1 million yen in today’s money), after which he enjoys a fleeting moment of time together in knowing that he will eventually have American wife, I found myself angered as expected by the numerous misrepresentations of Japanese culture. I could not ignore the discomfort I felt, and although I knew how the story would end, I still found myself crying upon seeing Madame Butterfly choosing death over losing her husband and child at the same time. Much to my mortification, I cannot help but give credit to how well the story is written. Maybe a person from Egypt feels the same kind of discomfort upon seeing “Aida,” but we are oblivious to this as we are moved to tears. Perhaps overdramatization is a necessary evil in playwriting.

The traditional performing art of opera is evolving, so that not all performances have splendiferous stage sets and dazzling costumes. Efforts are apparently being made to search for ways to adapt universal stories to modern times. Some have succeeded while others have failed to make this transformation, and I hope to be a witness to these bold challenges.

Performances of “Kurotokage,” directed by David Leveaux, will begin at Nissay Theatre early next year, on January 9. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Skyscrapers

Overwhelmed by skyscraper in Shanghai

I was in China for a short while.The country, which once dominated Asia, lost its power in the Great Cultural Revolution, but I was overwhelmed by its continued growth now that it has sprung back to regain its vitality.The number of Chinese tourists in Japan too, has increased in recent years, and their shopping sprees have grown to have a significant impact on our economy. However, upon visiting China, I was made painfully aware of the reason why the subsidiaries and branch offices of various overseas companies had withdrawn from Japan to cultivate their businesses in China.

As for Macau, their casinos are thriving, and new hotels are springing up everywhere in the center of the city that never sleeps. I believe that life itself is like gambling, so even though I have no interest in gambling with money, I found myself riveted by the sight of others putting themselves on the line at a huge casino. I took the wrong turn and ended up at a certain hotel where I found myself almost blinded and even terrified by the dazzling palace-like décor intended to induce a trance-like state in which people will detach themselves from reality and become desensitized to extravagance.

Efforts to restore culture and spiritual prosperity to the daily lives of citizens that they were on the verge of losing with economic growth, were also evident in the new art galleries, theaters, concert halls, and other facilities that had been built in various areas. It seems that music lovers are also on the rise, and I found a ray of hope for the future of classical music in the level of understanding demonstrated by the audience toward a concert conducted by Andris Nelsons.

As you know, restrictions have been placed on access to Google and some SNSs in China, making communication with Japan somewhat difficult. On the other hand, the spread of IT in Chinese cities has been progressing at breakneck speed, and making payments via Alipay, an affiliate of Alibaba, and WeChat Pay of WeChat, China’s original SNS, has become a completely normal thing to do.

As I visited Shanghai, Nanjing and Macau, I was afraid of the hatred toward Japanese people, especially in Nanjing. However, I visited a hot pot restaurant with a friend in the middle of the night in Nanjing for a reason I do not wish to disclose here, and was relieved when the young staff tried desperately to communicate with me using a translation app on their iPhone, as I enjoyed an unexpectedly delicious meal of thinly sliced Wagyu beef and delicately cut vegetables and spices, with a delicious soup.The restaurant staff even gave me a mango out of their kindness. However, I was unable to use my VISA card to pay for the meal, and I did not have enough cash. I tried to withdraw cash from a nearby cash dispenser, but was unsuccessful. I went around three shops with the cute girls from the restaurant to find that none of them would accept any of the cards that I had, and I began to worry that I would end up not being able to pay for the meal. Then one of the girls and a young man, presumably the manager, accompanied me to my hotel to collect the money. I was deeply moved by the laudable actions of the girl who used the translation app to apologize to me in the taxi saying, “We’re so sorry to have embarrassed you like this.”

I became fed up with silent electric bikes weaving through crowds at pedestrian crossings without a care in the world about others, or bikes even running on sidewalks as if they had the right of way. I was also made painfully aware of the expanding gap between the rich and poor, which would be unimaginable in Japan, whenever I saw owners of small businesses operating out of miserable-looking shacks among the skyscrapers. Even so, compared to the time I visited 10 years ago, I felt that the standard of living had improved considerably. I cannot deny the sadness that I feel as if Japan alone has been left behind while our neighbors have made remarkable progress, but I believe that our country also has merits that are unique to Japan.

Incidentally, “Kataomoi,” the Drama Series W based on a novel by Keigo Higashino is being aired on Saturday every week starting at 10:00 P.M. on WOWOW. Please subscribe to the channel, and watch me play the part of Mizuki, the heroine who struggles with gender identity disorder.

Life is Wonderful

Looking up at the ceiling

I have been chosen to perform in “Kurotokage (Black Lizard),” a play to be put on at Nissay Theatre starting January 9 next year. Taken from the Kogoro Akechi detective novel series written by Edogawa Rampo, and turned into a play by Yukio Mishima, it offers top-class entertainment under the direction of David Leveaux. Kogoro Akechi will be played by Yoshio Inoue, Sanae, the jeweler’s daughter who is targeted by “Kurotokage” by Itsuki Sagara, Hina, who serves “Kurotokage” by Hikaru Asami, the jeweler who is Sanae’s father by Taka Takao, and Junichi Amamiya, the “Kurotokage’s” subordinate by Songha.

Before practicing began, a three-day workshop was held in Tokyo, and I went to the rehearsal room with a tumbler filled with tea made from an Oi Ocha Premium Tea Bag. It was the first time for me to stand on such a big stage as the one at Nissay Theatre, and I was also not used to acting on stage with over 20 other actors. I hesitantly opened the door, and Mr. Leveaux, the famous director relieved the tension of each and every one of us by giving us a variety of exercises to do to encourage teamwork, and the rehearsal room came to be filled with the laughter of adults playing seriously.

I was overcome with convulsions of laughter as if I was watching from the audience after witnessing the engaging and delightful performances of actors improvising upon being placed in their element. It was clear that with my lack of experience in stage acting, I was going to be a burden on the so much more accomplished actors, but Mr. Leveaux held out a helping hand and saved me from a state of mind in which I felt entangled in Yukio Mishima’s beautiful, yet cruel words.

Rehearsals began slowly in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, but from now on as we head toward the show, we will no doubt come to be tormented by our melodramatic lines for which we will writhe in agony to bring them to life. However, I plan to strive in preparing myself, propped up by Mr. Leveaux’s ironic words, “Life is wonderful,” a line taken from Yukio Mishima’s “Five Modern Noh Plays.”

I invite everyone to come to the theater to see this romantic love story between “Kurotokage” and Kogoro Akechi, both fascinated by crime, who are drawn to one another like magnets.

Bertitude

The headquarters of DERVAUX in Brussels

The headquarters of DERVAUX in Brussels

I visited Brussels of Belgium for an article in the October issue of “Fujingaho” currently on sale, and also for an article in the December issue, as well as to film a travel program for BS Asahi.

At the head office and studio of Delvaux, the world’s oldest leather goods brand that is the pride of the Kingdom of Belgium, I was awestruck by the esprit of Christina Zeller, the designer who is a wife and a mother, but also an independent woman who has breathed new life into traditional Delvaux bags. Everything about her is charming, from her sense of humor to her considerateness and fashion. I found myself unable to hide my admiration for her, thinking to myself, “How could I ever be such a big-hearted woman?” She is a designer, and a charismatic one that everyone wants to follow, but she is never brazen. She prioritized the image of Delvaux at all times, and left an impression on me of always talking from the perspective of the brand.

I also witnessed the passion of the craftspeople as they boldly take on new challenges in making bags, or carefully repairing bags for customers that were sold over 50 years ago. Some of the craftspeople have even been working at Delvaux for generations, and I was moved by the way they handle the bags with care, as if they were their own children. The name of the brand is not shown anywhere on the outside. Delvaux bags are unassuming and elegant, and they blend into the character of the person who owns one. They are appropriate for carrying when dressed up, of course. But they even give an air of respectfulness to casual attire, allowing you to avoid appearing overly casual.

The BS Asahi travel program, “Nakatani Miki – Berugi-rashisa-to Deau (Miki Nakatani Discovers Belgian Identity),” airs at 2:00 P.M. on September 23. Don’t miss it.

Finding Free Time in the Midst of Busyness

Iris shot in the garden of Nezu museum

Photo of Irises Growing in the Nezu Museum Garden

I have recently been working on a new drama series, and luckily, filming finished early yesterday, so I took the opportunity to visit Nezu Museum to see “Kakitsubatazu (Irises),” which is something I do every year. After savoring the beauty of Ogata Korin’s painting, I enjoyed the bright blue irises blossoming in the meticulously kept garden of the museum, an oasis in the middle of the city.

I felt somewhat overworked for doing too many things at once, from training to filming, but seeing one of my favorite works of art, and going for a stroll through the sunlight filtering through the trees made me feel refreshed.

I also visited The National Museum of Modern Art to see “The Cosmos in a Tea Bowl: Transmitting a Secret Art across Generations of the Raku Family,” for which I recorded the audio guide.

This exhibition follows the Raku family lineage, and testifies to the agony of successive generations caught between the contradictory forces of tradition and innovation, as they struggled to forge a new path, beginning with Chojiro, the first head of the family, then Donyu, the 3rd head, followed by Sonyu, the 5th head, who was the cousin of Ogata Korin and Kenzan, and Kichizaemon the current head, as well as Atsundo, the 16th head of the family to be.

In particular, the avant-garde works of Raku Kichizaemon, the current head of the family, brim with an aura of agony and rebellion against being burdened with more than 450 years of history. He demonstrates a deep understanding of Western art, and it seems that he was fighting to forge a new path for Japanese tradition. His early works reveal boldness in taking on new challenges using colors and textures, with many of his works showing a jazz-like spontaneity, or rock-like fierceness. His works from the time he lived in France were made of clay and glazes that were completely different, and the freedom of not being tied down by the Raku family tradition is evident in their colors and shapes. But the bowls that captivated my heart were the two bowls at the end of the exhibition. They seem to exude the tranquility of a world that he finally arrived at after grappling for so long with his inner self. It is as if he let himself go, and stopped resisting to entrusted himself to his instincts. The moment I laid eyes on these works, they stirred deep emotions within me, as if I was witnessing the epilog to a movie or an opera depicted on a grand scale spanning 450 years.

The works of artists, who put their hearts and souls into their creations, are capable of conveying so much in their silence.
The exhibition runs through May 21. I thoroughly recommend people to take the time to see it.

Vampire

Mount fuji from the window of the airplane

Mount fuji from the window of the airplane

I have returned to Tokyo for the filming of a new drama series, but I can’t stop eating meat.

The more I weight train, the more my body craves for protein, which the muscles are made from. So I keep a constant supply of lean meat, pork loin for shabu-shabu, lamb chops, and minced beef, pork and chicken in my refrigerator.
Tonight too, I let a beef fillet return to room temperature before lightly searing the surface, and serving it with a lightly cooked fried egg on top. Onto this, I poured garlic soy sauce with chili oil from Ishigakijima, warmed with the residual heat of the frying pan. The creamy egg yolk was the perfect match for the tender meat. But a single fillet was far from enough to satisfy my appetite, and I ended up devouring another fillet, as well as another egg. Of course, that was not all. I also had boiled broad beans, salad, soft konjac sashimi, and specially ordered handmade soba noodles. I almost feel as though I’ve become a wrestler or a sumo wrestler.

As for meat. I like it rare to the point of it being almost raw. I feel that the rarer it is, the more tender it is and the less it has an unpleasant smell.

I often hear people say that it becomes increasingly difficult to digest meat the older you get, but as for me, my consumption of meat has increased over the years. It’s hard to believe that it was only a few years ago that I was a semi-vegetarian, who ate fish and eggs, but no red meat. But thanks to eating red meat again, I have gained considerable stamina.

I plan to weight train again, today.
I wish you all a good weekend.

Wild Garlic

Wild garlic picking in Lobau

Wild garlic picking in Lobau

I am currently weight training, which is something I don’t enjoy, but it is to prepare for filming, which will begin shortly. I find that training, in which light exercises and slow movements are repeated, such as in the Pilates and Gyrotonic® methods, is comfortable and very likeable. But I really dislike training using heavy weights to increase muscle bulk. Every time I saw men with puffed up red faces training at the gym with weights that are far heavier than themselves, I thought it was a world that had nothing to do with me, and I never dreamed that a day would come when I would grit my teeth to feel tingling pain in my muscles as if they were being burned…. Of course, it’s not that I want to bulk up like a man, and I wouldn’t be able to do it easily even if I wanted to, but I have doubled my intake of protein, and begun drinking it mixed with matcha (powdered green tea) to boost my concentration and motivation.

To strengthen my adductor and gluteal muscles and boost my endurance, which were my weak points, I purchased a SPECIALIZED electrically assisted mountain bike. In purchasing a mountain bike for the first time in my life, I was surprised by the speed with which times have changed. The optional palm-sized computer I purchased with it, which is smaller than an iPhone, is capable of displaying not only a map and the distance traveled, but also the user’s pulse rate and the power left in the battery. When it is connected to an iPhone or PC, it can keep a daily record of the user’s training. However, having said that, being an inherent lazybones, who likes to spend time doing nothing on days off, I have been finding it extremely difficult to get off my backside to train even on my mountain bike without a huge carrot dangling in front of me.

On this occasion, I motivated myself by treating myself to a trip to Lobau on the outskirts of Vienna to harvest wild garlic, a blessing of spring in Europe. I cycled endlessly along a tributary of the Danube, at times switching my electrically assisted bike to full power mode to climb effortlessly up hills, while pedaling under my own power on flat roads, to finally arrive at the forest that Napoleon is said to have passed through on his way to conquering Austria. As the name suggests, wild garlic is a plant that has the fragrance of garlic, and its leaves, while still tender, can be eaten in soups or sauces such as Genovese sauce. My fatigue was blown away the moment I saw the wild garlic, growing thickly and covering everything deep inside the forest, and I became excited at the thought of harvesting my own ingredient for dinner.

I returned home before sunset, and made potage by adding the wild garlic, in addition to cauliflower and mushrooms, to caramelized onion. I added some non-fried coconut chips and a few drops of olive oil as a fragrant garnish. It was a simple, yet delicious soup.

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