Immaterial girl

After a taster from the Ninagawa Company in the Edinburgh Festival. the autumn Japan Festival gets into full swing with the arrival oftwo companies in Scotland. Jackie McGlone checked them out on home ground.

One of the biggest hits ofthe 1990 Edinburgh Festival was the Japanese theatre company (Thijinkai‘s acclaimed production of The Great Doctor Yabttlzara. described by one critic as ‘a landmark event’. Now. as part of the nationwide Japan Festival celebrations. the company returns to the capital with the remarkable ()rt'rt.

Directed by the company‘s leader. Koichi Kimura. ()rr'n is one of the most successful productions in Japan. having notched up more than 400 performances and known among critics as ‘the ()rr'n phenomenon‘. Starring lneko Arima. one ofJapan‘s best-loved stage and screen actresses. and the dashineg handsome Seiji Matsuyama (who. according to my young woman

interpreter in 'I’okyo. is something of a heart—throb .

in modern Japan she was positively weak at the knees after our interview with him). it tells the heart-reading story of a blind girl and her lover. Set during the First World War. the play concerns two outcasts who fall in love and start to travel together. One is Orin. a blind ballad-singer. and the other is a deserter from the Japanese army. During the play the soldier is arrested and killed and it seems that Orin is destined to carry on travelling forever— like an oriental Mother Courage. eternally dragging her cart through a



whirling snowstorm.

"l‘he ending is open-ended] points out director Kimura. noting that ()rin’s blindness is ofcrucial importance. ‘It is said that while blind people cannot see. they can see into human hearts. ()rin cannot adapt herself to society because she cannot understand society. but she can embrace the more important things in life.‘

I saw a performance of ()rt'n in the suburbs of 'l‘okyo recently which. with its haunting. traditional folk music. extraordinary dancing and moving central performances. left not a dry eye in the house. Which is not to suggest that Kimura‘s spectacularly visual direction of this deceptively simple tale is at all sentimental.

Arima. who is an incredibly youthful 5‘). plays the 17-year-old Orin with immense emotional truth. while Matsuyama brings an authoritative presence and great stature to the role of l-leitaro. her lover. 'I‘hey acted with such freshness and commitment that it was hard to believe that this was not the show's opening night.

The author of ()I'ili is the novelist and playwright ’l'sutomu Mizukami whose works. Kimura

lneko Arima and Seiii Matsuyama in Orin

believes. relect ‘the essence ofwhat is Japanese‘. The writer. he says. ‘is uninfluenced by Western culture and maybe considered more Japanese than most people in modern Japanese society.’ In her quest to find a sense of freedom before meeting her unhappy destiny. the blind Orin expresses a rare beauty. purity. simplicity and tragedy. Qualities which. Kimura feels. capture something essentially Japanese and which he hopes will lead British and Japanese audiences to question the meaning of happiness in our ‘materialistic and contemporary culture‘. Kimura sees the play as being a morality tale about the battle between the power of the individual and that of authority. "I‘he purity and simplicity in Orin. for example. are actually universal qualities and I would hope that she can help the British people find themselves. Alsol think the British are very confused about Japan. thinking perhaps that it is very exotic. whereas I believe that it is like Orin. pure and simple.‘

()rt'rt. King's Theatre. Edinburgh, Wed 25—Sut28 September.

Noh business

There are people in this country who believe that going to see Japanese Noh theatre is about as exciting as watching paint dry. It is certainly not everybody's cup of green tea, but opinions may change when the Umewaka Kennokai group arrives in Scotland later this month.

Led by actor Makio Umewaka, the group's lamilytree can be traced back l to the renowned Tamba Sarugaku

performers of the Middle Ages. The Umewakas are known throughout Japan as one of the oldest and

! prestigious lines of Noh actors, firmly

together, stays together.

The Unewaka Noh Theatre be anywhere.’

believing that the family that plays

In Tokyo, Makio Umewaka told me

that the group is now dedicated to promoting Noh in the West and ‘to bringing Noh closerto everyone’. He points out that long ago Noh was staged out of doors and performers even danced on the ground. ‘Partly to restore this kind of energy to Noh and partly to make new friends, we put no limits on

our performance area. The space may

its striking masks, colourful costumes, stylised dancing, and minimalist techniques, the ultimate goal of Noh theatre, according to Makio Umewaka, is for the actor ‘to state the great sense ; ofexistence'. Recentlythe Umewaka Kennokai group has done joint performances with Spanish flamenco dancers and other modern dancers. ‘This is no . longer Noh,‘ says Makio Umewaka, ‘but it is always worthwhile to try something new.‘ (Jackie McGlone)

The workthe company will stage in Scotland, as part of the Japan Festival, ‘transcends any difference of language and is aimed straight at the heart’. With


The Umewaka Non Theatre, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, Thurs 26-Fri 27 September.

The List 13-» .‘I\ September 190143