Geki×Cine isn’t really film and it isn’t theater, but rather an intriguing blend of the two. With geki meaning “stage,” and “cine” representing film, the finished productions are shown on the big screen. So are they stage-to-screen adaptations? Most certainly not. More accurately, they are stage plays or musicals on film, shot with cameras coming in so close to the performers you can see the sweat running off their cheeks.

A year ago, Geki×Cine producer Takanobu Kanazawa told The Japan Times: “I used to think TV and film had no idea how to portray stage shows. There was no immediacy or reality. The essence of the stage production and all the juicy bits were lost in translation. I decided there was a lot of room for improvement.”

Before becoming the producer, Kanazawa worked for Gekidan Shinkansen, one of Japan’s top theater groups. Shinkansen was eager to bring the stage to the movie theater, and to give audiences more opportunities to see and savor their stage productions without compromising the quality of the viewing experience.

“That was where I came in,” explained Kanazawa.

Last year Geki×Cine celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Kanazawa was looking to expand abroad. After all, tickets to Shinkansen’s stage productions always sold out in a few hours and those who missed the stage shows flocked to see them on Geki×Cine — it was time. This year, the Geki×Cine team has added an overseas division and brought in Hiroyuki Hata — whose PR experience in London is revealed by an impeccable English accent — to manage it.

Geki×Cine has also raised its game by coming out with a shorter, edited film version of its latest production with English subtitles. Until now, Geki×Cine films ran for over three hours (twice the length of a normal feature film), and though there were subtitles on the DVD releases, this marks the first time Geki×Cine has produced a theater version specifically targeting English-speaking audiences.

“We want to show Geki×Cine to people outside of Japan,” Kanazawa said. “Not just at international film festivals, but to local audiences and movie theaters. This is our first step in testing the waters to see what’s possible in terms of localization.”

The vehicle this year is a period extravaganza titled “Ao no Ran” (“The Battle of the Blue”), starring Yuki Amami and Kenichi Matsuyama and set in 10th-century Japan. Back then, the aristocracy were the ruling class, using the samurai as pawns in their power games.

Matsuyama plays Masakado Kojiro, loosely based on the historical rebel warrior Taira no Masakado, who launched a major coup against the government in Kyoto and laid the groundwork for the samurai to seize power. Masakado was based in the Kanto area, which at the time was covered in grassy plains for as far as the eye could see. The titular ao (which can mean both green and blue) refers to the grassy greenness of the land, the beauty of which drives Masakado to take up arms in order to protect it.

“Ao” also appears in the kanji characters of Soma, Masakado’s wife (played by Yuki Amami), whose name means “true blue.” Soma is an exile from “another land,” which in this case refers to China or Western Mongolia — and she has the heart of a warrior combined with great beauty.

Having escaped warfare in her homeland, Soma comes to Japan, meets Masakado in Kyoto and falls in love. They marry and return to Masakado’s turf in the east, but instead of living happily ever after, Soma decides to help her husband free him and his kind from the shackles of the Kyoto aristocracy. To this end, she goes out in the battlefield, sword in hand.

“Soma is a passionate woman, with a woman’s ideals of having a family and attaining happiness,” Amami tells The Japan Times in an exclusive interview, “but she also recognizes that with men in general, and her husband in particular, work will always come first. And she loves Masakado for the fact that he would sacrifice himself to protect his turf and his people. In that sense, maybe Soma is much more modern than women of later generations, because they stayed way in the back of the house and rarely ventured out into the real world.”

Coming from Amami, the words carry a lot of weight. She is a former member of Takarazuka, the all-woman theater group that trains actresses in the art of playing both women and men, grooming them from their early teens in a girl’s school established specifically for that purpose. Among the graduates are such superstars as Hitomi Kuroki, Rei Dan and Ran Ohtori.

Takarazuka stars are divided into those that play male and female roles, and the “males” are renowned for being tall, gentlemanly and romantic in a way that real Japanese men rarely are. Amami is ranked among the best Takarazuka males of her generation, standing at 170 cm, with an incomparable grace to her movements and perfectly chiseled facial features.

“In kabuki, men learn to become women,” Amami says, “and in Takarazuka, we learn to be men. The gender thing is something you acquire, and work at. I had to learn to be the ideal man, and I studied men very closely to pick up on the points that made them wonderful, desirable and romantic. And then, after Takarazuka, I had to relearn how to be a woman, and both these disciplines were crucial in the work that I do in Geki×Cine.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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