Kabuki: Naruto Anime

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Minamiza Kabuki Theater

One of the highlights for me this year was going to Kyoto to watch a Kabuki performance of the very popular anime, Naruto.

If you’re not familiar with the anime, you can skip this post. I just wanted to capture my impressions of the play.

(Spoiler alerts and what not are in play for this post. You’ve been warned.)

I even wrote about it for Taiken, an e-magazine about Japan.

In general, I loved every single bit of the play. I loved how they condensed 15 years of the anime into three hours of fun. The actors captured the essence of the characters well and portrayed them according to how the creator made them out to be.

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The view from the balcony seats

The music was really good, with a blend of rock and traditional Japanese music. I think I appreciated the more traditional instruments without the interference of the electric guitar or the drums. For example, in the scenes where Madara and the Akatsuki group were talking or explaining the plot, you could hear the beat of the taiko drums, the tap of wooden blocks on a wooden board, the shakuhachi flute, and the shamizen strings.

The stage was dark with mist swirling around. The mood was so eerie and so creepy.

I loved it.

During the action parts of the play, guitar strings intermixed with the shamizen and the taiko drums. It was exciting but there would be moments where I sat there with a frown on my face because something felt off.

Technology played a big role with the production. I loved the background images that they projected onto the back of the stage. There was animation along with the live action. At times there was accompanying light shows. Most of the time it was static, but the animation and the artwork was fantastic.

The staging for climactic scene where Naruto and Sasuke fought their final battle was amazing. They used real water to show a waterfall, flowing from above. As they were setting up the scene behind the curtain, you could hear the water flowing, which was really cool. It continued to flow for the final thirty minutes.

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The actors battled each other and thrashed around while they fought—exactly the way they did it in the anime. In the anime, the fight was not pretty. Both Naruto and Sasuke were tired and they were just kind of swinging at each other with no calm analysis or coolly choreographed moves. They were just landing blows wherever they could. They did this the same way in the play. Each time they landed a hit, they would fall on the water and splash about. It was really funny and exciting and thrilling all at the same time. I think this was the best part of the play. I wish I could have taken a video of it. I’m sure there would be a DVD of it floating around online somewhere.

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It was definitely worth the ¥8500 yen I paid for it. The only regret I have is that I should have tried to get the first class tickets down on the first floor or the second floor. Now I know. The next time they have a production of it in Tokyo, I might decide to go again. I will definitely pay for the more expensive seats with better views.

I wasn’t expecting it to be that good. But I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the whole thing.

I was also expecting the play to be done in the stylized kabuki singsong language where they used archaic Japanese. Instead, the actors spoke in standard Japanese, which made everything easier to understand.

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Goods for sale at the concession stand

I think because I am such a fan of the anime, I really got a big kick out of everything. I wondered how they would portray a lot of the elements of the story into such a condensed and stylized form. I’m glad that they focused more on the themes of friendship and sacrifice in both Sasuke’s and Naruto’s story. They also showed the importance of family and being surrounded by people we love and respect.

The audience was mostly made up of older people. I wonder really if they understand what’s going on  in the show. Even though it was a kabuki play, the language was directly lifted from the anime. They used words like chakra and ninjutsu. I doubt that all of them have watched the anime or read the manga. I’m glad they went to go see the show but I wonder how much they understand. I wish I had talked to more people during the show and asked what they thought of the play.

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In short, I would gladly do it again. I’m also now curious about other productions. The whole experience has made me want to go see a traditional play and see how it compares to the more modern live-action play of Naruto.

I really loved it. I hope more people go see it. I also hope that they continue to make shows like these that appeal to a lot of people.

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