Kabuki and Tarantino

For the afternoon, I had tickets to see a Kabuki play at Shinbashi Enbujo, near Ginza. While Kabuki-za is still being renovated (set to reopen later this month or April, I believe), Shinbashi has apparently picked up as the main Kabuki stage in Tokyo these past few years.

Once again, I thought I was hopelessly lost (can more streets please have names? Just a few?), but in reality I was right next to the really unremarkable building. I was about to walk away when I saw two middle-aged ladies in beautiful kimonos walking by, so I made a screeching U-turn on my heels and stalked them for a few minutes -indeed, they were going to the theatre.

The play I saw was “Ichijo Okura Monogatari”, about a married couple from the Genji clan who infiltrate themselves in the Heikei clan to spy on its leader and a Genji widow. As it turns out, the former’s madness and the latter’s debauchery are just a façade and they remain loyal to the cause. There’s a bad guy who threatens to tell all before being struck down, and then one poor lady who was really just passing by has to commit suicide just because her husband’s a jerk. Talk about collateral damage.

My seat was, uh… very affordable. I was on the third floor, on the very leftmost side, with an unparalleled view of the seats in front of me (as seen in the picture above). There was a catwalk protruding from the stage in which the actors sometimes performed a dance, but I couldn’t see it from my seat. They had put a TV screen on the third floor to display the catwalk (but I couldn’t see it from my seat…).

Barring that, though, it was a great experience. As similar in concept as kabuki is to opera, the movements, makeup, and clothes are so refined and codified that it’s amazing to see for the first time. As is the case in, say, Artaserse, kabuki is played exclusively by men, who dress, paint, and conduct themselves as women for the female characters. The music is played right on the stage, by two men sitting on a movable platform. One of them sang, narrating the story, and the other played the shamisen.

In the best possible way to open up kabuki to foreigners (there were a few of us in the audience -I would say in a number roughly equivalent to that of women and men in kimono), Shinbashi rents out earpieces through which you can listen to an English translation of the dialogue. Thanks to the running commentary I could follow the entire play without problems, and in the parts with no dialogue they would sometimes insert explanations on the settings, the dresses, etc. The service costs about €6, but it’s totally worth it.

To end the day on a geekier note, I met Sawako and her friend Kaoru for dinner at Gonpachi Nishiazabu, the restaurant that inspired Kill Bill’s House of Blue Leaves. The movie’s version is obviously an idealized, expanded interpretation of the smaller original, but nevertheless it is recognisable. The restaurant has also milked the reference for all its worth, cashing in on all the tourists looking for the Tarantino experience. There were more foreigners sitting at the tables (and working in the open kitchen) than anywhere else we’ve seen! It is definitely a touristy experience, priced as such, but well, you don’t go out of your way to go to “the Kill Bill restaurant” for the cuisine. It is a spectacle, as the entire staff joins in for the “Irasshaimase” everytime a customer walks in.

The restaurant is a 20 minute walk from Roppongi station, and again I got utterly lost on my way there (I had already accounted for getting-lost-time when planning, though, so I wasn’t late!). I really made yesterday Japan’s First National Help A Gaijin Day, as I had to stop for directions twice.

The second time, as I was circling the spot and getting closer, I entered into a very fashionable clothing store and asked the girl for Gonpachi. She nodded, began to explain, looked at me, and decided that I may do better with a written explanation, so she drew me the following super detailed map:

In truth, the restaurant was literally two doors down on the same street, so the map really is accurate -I just find it hilarious that you would politely draw that rather than saying “Dude, you walked past it to get here”. If you go looking for it, it’s right on Roppongi street, on a corner, with a highly visible terrace lit by lanterns and a tree wrapped in LED lights -it’s very shiny, it’s just that you don’t associate it with the place you’re looking for (it only says Gonpachi in tiny print on the menu display).

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