In 1985, director Akira Kurosawa released “Ran,” a Japanese take on William Shakespear’s masterpiece “King Lear.” Kochi’s Meitoku International Players are taking a similar approach to Namiki Gohei’s 1840 kabuki piece “Kanjicho” by presenting it in an Italian setting and performed in English.
Gohei’s “Kanjicho” is based on “Ataka,” a play written in 1465. The story is set in the late 12th century and involves Benkei and his master, famed warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), trying to get past a border guard named Togashi Saemon. Benkei must use his knowledge of Buddhism to convince the guard that he is a priest so that he would be allowed to pass.
For the new play, the characters take on new identities with Benkei becoming Benedict and Yoshitune becoming Lord Justinian. The barrier at Ataka becomes the border with France and Buddhist references are changed into Christian ones.
Gavin Bantock, director of the Meitoku players, says the idea behind this type of performance was actually a suggestion from kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro (previously known as Ichikawa Somegoro), who has played the role of Benkei numerous times. “It is very rare indeed for kabuki to be acted in English,” Bantock told The Japan Times by email. “Perhaps it’s the first time ever a kabuki play has been presented in Shakespearean style.”
“Kanjicho” will be performed (in English) on the Pia Stage at Haruno Bunka Hall in Kochi City on June 24. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost ¥500 in advance. For more information, call (088) 894-6767 or visit www.meitoku-gijuku.ed.jp.