Actress Kayoko Shiraishi is famed for her portrayals of male and female characters of all ages almost as if she were possessed by their souls.
Last year in October, however, she left legions of fans lamenting when, after 22 years, she finally completed her “Kayoko Shiraishi’s Hyakumonogatari Series,” in which she performed solo dramatic readings of the 100 scary stories to which the title refers — less one, that is, as tradition dictates to avoid bad luck.
Now, though, Shiraishi, 73, is set to return with two new works in which she will this time be joined by an intriguing array of co-stars.
Firstly, the curtain rises this month on a drama reading of “The Dance of Death” by the iconoclastic Swedish playwright August Strindberg. In this work from 1900, Shiraishi is the ex-actress wife of octogenarian Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays her naval officer husband, while 58-year-old Toru Masuoka takes the role of a visitor to their home.
Interestingly, Nakadai, who is renowned for his work on both stage and screen — including his starring role in Akira Kurosawa’s epic 1985 film “Ran,” based on Shakespeare’s “King Lear” — has, since 1975, run Mumei Juku (meaning “Nameless School”), a private Tokyo acting academy where Masuoka once studied.
This time, however, old-school bonhomie may be none too evident on stage, as arguments rage between this couple approaching their silver-wedding anniversary. But according to Hiroshi Sasabe, whose script is used for this piece, all may not be as it seems between these apparent tormentors.
“It’s often said that Strindberg always portrays women as evil, but he is actually a writer who expresses human relationships very deeply,” Sasabe, who is also the producer of this piece, told me in a recent interview.
“If the characters were simply hating each other, they wouldn’t be able to continue a fight like we see in this work, would they?” he reasoned. “So, behind the exchange of terrible words, we are able to perceive the light and shadow that love brings about in men and women — and there are also lots of comedic elements,” he added.
Directed in his stage debut by Masahiro Kobayashi — whose recent films “Haru’s Journey” and “Japan’s Tragedy” starring Nakadai won awards both at home and abroad — this absorbing tale of complex and conflicting emotions promises to be a rare treat with three such outstanding actors comprising its cast.
Then, in April, it’s all change for Shiraishi with “The more you laugh, the more you get scared Vol. 1,” the first in a projected follow-up series to “Hyakumonogatari.”
With Shiro Sano, 59, who is known for his recitals of ghost stories by Yakumo Koizumi (aka Lafcadio Hearn, 1850-1904), joining Shiraishi this time, the pair will stage dramatic readings of short stories by Keigo Higashino and Mariko Koike, two authors of popular mystery novels who are known for their suspenseful plots with a twist in the tail.
Interestingly, too, this production will be directed by Shuji Onodera, 48, who is renowned for incorporating elements of mime and dance into works by his Derashinera theater company. So the chances are that he’ll introduce some physicality to add extra sparkle to this piece in which both performers will hold their scripts in hand.
With three quite different types of married couples appearing in Shiraishi’s thrilling upcoming dramas, audience members accompanying their partners may confront many issues they skirt around in day-to-day life — though these plays may not bring such couples closer than they were before.
“The Dance of Death” plays Feb.17-22 at the Hakuhinkan Theater in Ginza, Tokyo, and Feb. 24-25 at Ryutopia (Niigata City Performing Arts Center). For details, visit theater. hakuhinkan.co.jp, or www.ryutopia.or.jp. “The more you laugh, the more you get scared Vol. 1” plays April 15-19 at Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre (Theatre West) in Ikebukuro, then tours 10 venues nationwide from April 22-May 17. For details, visit www.geigeki.jp, or www.j-clip.co.jp. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.