Would You Like a Drink of Tea?

The great emptiness in Salzburg

Filming for the drama series, “Anatani-wa Kaeru Ie-ga Aru (You Have a Place to Go Home to),” finally finished and I have been spending some time in Salzburg regaining my daily rhythm.

All the members of the staff were wonderful, including Masanao Takahashi of TBS, who has been offering me compelling proposals for the past two years, Mahoko Takanari, whom I met for the first time in many years, and Director Shunichi Hirano whose masterly direction gave the story its dramatic structure. There was also Hiroshi Tamaki, who gave an unrestrained and comical performance, with exquisitely executed timing, of my hopeless husband, who was a mixture of gentleness and weakness. Meanwhile, Yusuke Santamaria gave a rich and yet acutely sensitive performance of a pitiful, sad, cuckolding husband who was twisted in his domination of women, and Tae Kimura gave a superb and well-controlled performance in acting out the fragility, seductiveness and even the luridness of women. I was blessed with such a dependable cast. In acting the part of a working wife every day, I struggled with the realistic, down-to-earth and tumultuous script written by Satomi Oshima. I strived to cast aside my sense of shame and self-esteem, and free myself of all inhibitions in my effort to act out the capriciousness of my character, Mayumi.

Incidentally, I have been devoting myself to doing nothing all day but mowing the lawn, transplanting vegetation, and planting vegetables and herbs while in Salzburg. The days just speed by, and I am beginning to feel as though I am busier now than I was during filming. As I devote myself to the farm work, covering my head with the hood of a UNIQLO UV-cut parker, and further protecting myself with a wide-brimmed straw hat, I forget that I was playing someone else only the other day, and find myself returning to being just another human being.

While spending my days in such tranquility, I had an exciting experience today. I have been working with Ito En for many years, but they booked an entire Nanagatsu Okabuki show which is currently being performed at Kabukiza Theater, to which their valued fans and clients were invited, and I was assigned the vital role of serving them tea on this celebratory occasion.

I have been drinking Oi Ocha almost all my life, since my teenage years, to the point that I can almost say “I have Oi Ocha, not blood, flowing through my veins.” Ito En has been making sweet and pleasant-tasting matcha tea known as “Gunkaku-no Shiro,” and I served the tea in aka-raku tea bowl and other such bowls made by the 10th Kichizaemon Tan-nyu of the Raku family. This was all made possible thanks to the support of all the people of the Tea Ceremony Club at Ito En. The brief time I was able to spend with the 300 or so customers who came, had tea, and left, is an experience that I shall cherish and etch into my memory.

It may seem as though I am rushed off my feet, but I am once again off to Salzburg, as I pray that it has rained and my Japanese basil seedlings are doing well….

The Most Potent Organic UV Protection Essence

TV&MOVIE Bright UV Essence 50

I am currently filming a new drama series, “Anatani-wa Kaeru Ie-ga Aru (You Have a Place to Go Home to),” which will begin broadcasting on April 13.

The drama series, based on Fumio Yamamoto’s book, is a story about the true feelings and secrets of two couples. I play the part of Mayumi Sato, a housewife who has just overseen her daughter’s junior high school entrance exams and returned to work, striving to juggle housework with her job. Her husband, Hideaki, who seems gentle, yet wanders off in unexpected directions in life, is played by Hiroshi Tamaki. Taro Nasuda, the moral-harassing junior high school teacher, who is a customer of the house manufacturer where Hideaki works, is played by Yusuke Santamaria. Meanwhile, Mayumi’s husband, Hideaki, finds himself attracted to Nasuda’s beautiful and faithful wife, Ayako Nasuda, played by Tae Kimura.

I spit out my stinging, yet comical lines expressing my feelings of discontent toward men, on behalf of all women who have no doubt felt the same way at one time or another regardless of whether they are married or single, despite normally refraining from expressing such words of abuse for the sake of decency. It seems to me that there are still many men who don’t help with the housework, and yet they demand so much from their wives and girlfriends. There are no doubt men who also brag about simply putting out the trash or bathing the children, thinking, “I’ve done my share of the housework.”

The drama tells a realistic story about the bitter, silent screams of women who have felt anger, sighed in disgust, sensed resignation and finally given up on the hopelessness of such men. But at the same time, the humor makes light of the theme, which would otherwise have turned the drama into a heavy and miserable story. I hope to portray a woman who gets through life with a tough attitude. But having said that, if I were to say a few words on behalf of men too, who seem to have nothing to cling on to except the titles on their business cards (how condescending!), it seems that they, too, have lots of feelings of discontent toward women, and the drama also includes many lines dredged from the depths of men’s thoughts.

The other day, when I was engrossed in the new script at a café on a beautiful sunny morning, I was overcome by convulsions of laughter. I burst out without a care in the world about the attention I was attracting, because of the humor in the script. It even prompted a stranger sitting nearby to laugh at me.

I battle it out daily with Mr. Tamaki, who plays my husband, in the charming cityscape of Kamakura of Shonan, where the story is set. I do not give in to the merciless sun blazing down on me, but rather thrive under it. Damage to my skin from sunburns is matter of concern around this time of the year, not only because of the glaring sunlight during filming, but also because it’s the season for enjoying hiking and riding my road bike. This prompted me to produce TV&MOVIE’s most potent organic sunscreen ever with an SPF 50 rating, known as Bright UV Essence 50. Centered on horse oil, horse placenta, strong manuka honey, black jack, and other beauty essence ingredients common on TV&MOVIE cosmetics, pearl has been added to the baby pink base color, turning the skin one shade lighter in color and giving it a beautiful appearance. The fragrance comes from the precious neroli oil, which has been extracted from natural materials only by a French perfumer, and it boasts great spreadability requiring only a small amount about the size of rice grain to cover the entire face. From now on, I can rely on this Bright UV Essence 50 to go outside without a worry in the world, and now I can spend every day spouting out abuse at my husband without a moment of hesitation.

The TBS Friday Night Drama series, “Anatani-wa Kaeru Ie-ga Aru,” will begin on Friday, April 13, at 10:00 P.M. The first episode will be 15 minutes longer than usual. I hope you all watch it.

There Is No Need to Understand

Dahn Vo Exhibition at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York

I visited New York, although it was only for a few days. I went to see Dahn Vo’s exhibition, “Take My Breath Away,” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which I always visit. The artist, who is the same age as me, was born in Vietnam. However, his family set sail in a wooden boat made by his father when he was still young, becoming “boat people,” in order to escape the communist party. Fortunately, they were rescued by a cargo ship, and as fate would have it, they ended up defecting to Denmark.

At his exhibition were items displayed almost exactly as they were, unaltered, such as ready-made goods associated with the war and the history of colonization in the country of his birth. The items included rusted cookware and farming equipment, photos, a Rolex watch and a Dunhill lighter that his father took with him when escaping the country, the tip of a fountain pen, a gorgeous crystal chandelier from a hotel in Paris where the Vietnam War peace talks were held, and a letter written by Henry Kissinger. Of course it was Dahn Vo himself, who chose which items to display how inside the peculiar spiral gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The exhibition tells a real and personal story that only Dahn Vo can tell. But his form of conceptual art originates from Marcel Duchamp’s readymade who once created a furor over his exhibition of toilet seats, or Joseph Beuys who sowed the seeds for much debate by exhibiting garbage, uncompleted artworks, signboards, etc., and as such, I also expect Dahn Vo’s exhibition to create great controversy among those who see it.

A valuable Greek sculpture made of marble, a wooden crucifix and an image of the Virgin Mary had all been slashed ruthlessly by Dahn Vo, then rejoined to create a new work of art. Whether you are able to appreciate the beauty of such a creation, or you are disgusted by its hideousness is entirely in the eye of the beholder, but I personally found myself attracted to the profound boldness of this creations, which seemed to be an expression of the inner struggle and contradictory emotions within himself.

Dahn Vo rose to fame in the world of art through his exhibition titled, “We The People,” in which he created a life-sized replica of the symbol of New York, the Statue of Liberty, in individual pieces of copper. At the exhibition this time too, there were several pieces scattered carelessly over the floor.

In an age when countries all over the world struggle with the problem of refugees and immigrants, it is no doubt very meaningful that Dahn Vo, a refugee himself, should recreate and exhibit the world’s most popular copper statue symbolizing freedom for the people who in the past crossed to America from Europe.

Dahn Vo’s creations make people uncomfortable, and sometimes even unhappy and uneasy. This is probably because his creations have the power to completely overturn our sense of values, which we held so dear to us. By boldly exhibiting junk from his past life at the Guggenheim that artists all over the world aspire to, Dahn Vo is apparently trying to be provocative, and perhaps even poking fun at the current monetary system, consumer society and the way we are being manipulated by the monotony of information available through the media. At the same time, by exhibiting ready-made products and letters written by other people, and modifying the works of others to turn them into his own creations, he is sowing the seeds for controversy as to who the works can be accredited to.

I have yet to fully understand his works. But I believe that you need not pretend to understand such works, or go out of your way to try and appreciate them. In fact, they are intended to invoke different emotions in each and every one of us, and the works only attain completion upon the intertwining of the different perspectives of all who see them.

I felt that the space at the Guggenheim was a little too narrow for this exhibition.
If the exhibition had simply been held inside a white square space, allowing us to appreciate it a little at a time, it may have left a different impression on me.

At night, I went to Carnegie Hall to immerse myself in the flood of sad yet pleasant dissonance of Adagio, the first movement of Symphony No. 10 composed by my favorite Gustav Mahler, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

For more information, check out my article series, “Fumi-wa Yaritashi,” in Shousetsu Gento.

Snow museum

Snow scape in Salzburg

I went to Salzburg for a while for some rest and recreation after driving myself to exhaustion on stage.

All the excitement has recently centered on Yuzuru Hanyu’s graceful performance resulting in his gold medal at the Olympics, but Salzburg too, is a mecca for extreme sports, bustling with people, both professional and amateur, who come to enjoy all kinds of winter sports. People here grow accustomed to snow since childhood, and they not only enjoy skiing and skating, but they also wear narrow skis to have fun skiing on the snow as if ice skating, enjoy the thrill of ice climbing on frozen walls of ice, and climb 3,300-meter snow-covered mountains that are only slightly lower than Mt. Fuji to ski down its slopes while keeping an eye out for avalanches, and they often do this on a daily basis. So it is not at all unusual for children of ordinary families to own around three types of skis for every time, place and occasion, and own avalanche beacons for emergencies, or for families to own avalanche airbags.

With my fear of heights combined with my fear of speed, I am unfortunately unable to ski, skate or snowboard. However, I began walking with snowshoes last year, and during my one-week stay in Salzburg too, I went hiking almost every day in the mountains behind the place where I was staying, making squelching sounds as I walked on the virgin powder snow that had not been trampled by anyone. The air temperature was minus 2 to 3℃, numbing the tip of my nose and turning my cheeks pink as if I had applied rouge on them. But all it took was for me to take ten steps in my snowshoes to start feeling so warm that I quickly became hot. It was a very peaceful time. In the tranquility of the mountains, all I could hear were the sounds of my own breathing, my feet sinking into the snow, and the wind gently caressing my cheeks, with the silence occasionally broken by the thudding sound of snow as fell from the branches of trees unable to withstand its weight. Far from my worries of having to remember long lines, or the hassles of filling out tax return forms, I was able to spend a moment of supreme bliss, not thinking about anything but simply spending time staring up at the sky, trees and snow as if meditating while walking. The delicate tracks of wild deer carved into pure white snowfields, with snow covering every delicate twig and leaf stretching across the empty sky, created sublime beauty that no art in any art museum could ever hope to capture.


Flagship store of BVLGARAI in Rome

Last summer, I traveled to Rome on a photo shoot for “Fujingaho” and visited BVLGARI’s flagship store in Rome. I was given the opportunity to wear BVLGARI’s luxurious jewelry, known for their gemstones that were loved by Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. It was only for a short while during the shooting session, but it was a very valuable and meaningful experience for me in playing “Kurotokage (Black Lizard),” for which the final performance was held just the other day. I was given the opportunity to wear a long necklace decorated with diamonds and a huge emerald, similar in size to the 113 carat diamond, “The Star of Egypt,” which Kurotokage was infatuated with in the play. The shooting session took place early in the morning, in Piazza di Spagna, and as the jeweler, Shobei Iwase says, “Anxiety always accompanies jewels. It’s the anxiety which makes them beautiful,” and we were accompanied by three security guards keeping an eye out to protect the dazzling jewels. Wearing jewelry that was beyond my reach, I was awestruck by its beauty. On the other hand, the page that the photos were to be shown on was based on the theme, “Joy,” so I had to act with dignity without seeming to bat an eyelid before the jewelry. Although it was only for a fleeting moment, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of wearing the jewelry, which was designed to closely fit the curves of the body.

The cover of a photo-book of Jeanne Moreau I once bought in a secondhand bookstore in Paris had a photo of her on the cover showing her elderly hand, covered in wrinkles, sporting a ring with a huge gemstone. The photo left a powerful impression on me, and made me realize that only experience and the wrinkles that accompany aging are what make a person worthy of wearing such jewelry. Because of this, I rarely showed interest in gemstones in my younger days, but I have found with increasing age that I am learning to appreciate their beauty.
Yukio Mishima’s Kurotokage feared belief in living things and people with compassion, and she said, “Gemstones represent complete microcosms that are transparent and filled with their own dazzling light.” And just as Kurotokage tried to steal “The Star of Egypt,” the fathomless allure of complete and flawless gemstones is uplifting, and they supplement the sheen of the skin and the glitter of the eyes which begin to wane with age.

BVLGARI’s flagship store in Rome, said to have been visited by Elizabeth Taylor while shooting a movie, had a secret room that was said to have been used by her to meet her lover in secret. That combined with the ancient, historical cityscape enveloped me in a romantic feeling.

Photos of BVLGARI’s beautiful jewelry can be seen in the March issue of “Fujingaho” currently on sale. I recommend everyone to take a look.

Before and after the Dream

The enjoyable emptiness

All performances of “Kurotokage (Black Lizard)” finished on February 5. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who came to see the play, and all the people who kindly delivered flowers, sweets, box lunches, and a variety of other gifts.

After my previous play, the “The Hunting Gun,” I had actually vowed never to act on stage, so I never thought the day would come when I would perform once again on stage.

I was given the chance to see outstanding plays both in Japan and overseas, and because they had become my de facto standard, I found that every time I became involved in a play it was physically, psychologically, timewise and economically taxing on me. This is why I had thought I would never be able act in a play again. However, thanks to Yuko Murata of the Umeda Arts Theater, I was given a rare opportunity to perform in Yukio Mishima’s masterpiece under the direction of David Leveaux. I was involuntarily drawn to the play, but in the end, I found myself once more, struggling every day with the beautiful words in my effort to take flight. But this journey was unexpectedly warm and comfortable. It almost felt as if I was climbing the high mountains of the Himalayas with the full support of Sherpas,who would supply me with oxygen, food, and pander to my every whim, allowing me to reach the summit effortlessly. It was all thanks to David Leveaux’s expert direction, who imparted his love equally on all performers, taking care not to pressure them more than was necessary,and directing everyone with care and sensitivity as if nurturing a baby. This led to the forming of a sense of solidarity among everyone in working toward a common goal.

Yoshio Inoue was like a climbing partner to whom I could entrust my life, with his reliable acting propped up by experience and effort, and his ever-so expressive voice. He offered me constant reassurance with his ability to cover up all my mistakes and anxieties. Despite acting on stage year round, he refuses to become complacent, continuing to take on new challenges all the time. I have nothing but the deepest respect for his attitude of staying on his toes.

Itsuki Sagara had a calm and charming air about her that was beyond her years, which worked to her advantage regardless of whether she was playing the innocent Sanae, or Sanae’s substitute, and I was made to realize day after day that Mishima’s character could not be played by just any young actress. Her voice made my heart race as she talked about love with the slave, Amamiya, in the scene where they were locked up in a cage, and I too was saved many times by her acting and overflowing maternal instincts.

Hikaru Asami had refined techniques and instincts, while never bragging about it as she demonstrated dependability in acting the part of a housemaid by the name of Mrs. Hina. But upon discarding her disguise to show her true self as Aoi-Kame, Kurotokage’s servant, she showed her loyalty and deep love for Kurotokage like a member of some religious organization with blind faith for their leader. After Kurotokage’s death, the sight of Aoi-Kame’s dancing as she departed was filled with sorrow, leaving a lasting impression on me.

Taka Takao’s insights and love for literature were particularly worthy of note. He was able to play the part of the jeweler, Shobei Iwase, with great humor thanks to having read Yukio Mishima and Junichiro Tanizaki novels in his younger days as substitutes for erotic novels, resulting in his great respect for Mishima’s words. Despite having lived his life on stage, it was truly enlightening to learn that he still finds himself nervous before every performance.

Songha’s gushing passion and phantasmagorical acting added a dash of color to this play despite his appearances on stage being brief. It was as if he was born to be an actor, because he had everything that I lacked as an actress. He was my diametric opposite for which I envied him, but he also made me realize my limitations. Only he could have acted out Amamiya’s perverted, pathetic character without a moment of hesitation.

Moreover, the exceptional teamwork among the people of the ensemble was almost beyond my imagination. This was due to their irrefutable capabilities, and not one of them showed any sign of dissatisfaction or discontent as they placed their trust in Mr. Leveaux’s direction and devoted themselves to the play.

The two dancers too, who played the dwarves, had a dramatic influence on me. Every move they made seemed like metaphors reflecting Kurotokage’s inner self. I felt so envious of Nozomi Matsuo and Shino Komatsu’s ability to express themselves so dynamically without having to utter a single word.

And of course, a vital part of creating the atmosphere during the play was the tango-based live performance put on by Black & Shadows led by the composer, Keita Egusa. Thanks to the band members who immersed themselves in the play to convey our emotions through music, the poetic words of Mishima, believed to be difficult to interpret, were made more accessible.

Incidentally, all the basic skin care products and foundation I used on stage, as well as my lipstick and mascara were TV&MOVIE products. I used an eyeliner of another company on purpose so that it would run with the tears of Kurotokage, but the beauty lotion-like mascara, made using generous amounts of manuka honey and horse placenta extract stayed on beautifully, making my eyelashes radiate out from my eyes even when they became wet from my tears. My lashes retained both their length and volume!

Our final performance was held at the Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka, and we all disbanded to once again go our separate ways, wrenching us out of the dream-like world depicted by Yukio Mishima, and returning us to the real world.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff members, the cast and the audience for their support during performances of “Kurotokage.”

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.


“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.