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Reviewed by:
  • Performing Shakespeare in Japan
  • Katherine Saltzman-Li (bio)
Performing Shakespeare in Japan. Edited by Minami Ryuta, Ian Carruthers, and John Gillies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001; xiii, 259 pp.; illustrations. $74.95 cloth.

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At a recent conference in honor of Leonard Pronko, "Theatre East and West Revisited," the concepts of fusion, transcultural, and intercultural theatre were at the forefront of much intellectual debate. From a panel discussion on fusion theatre by leading American scholars and directors (including Andrew Tsubaki, James Brandon, Leonard Pronko, and Samuel Leiter), to reports on fusion and intercultural performances and playwriting, participants grappled with the difficulty of defining these terms. Yet the necessity of doing so was not unanimous: an invisible line seemed to divide scholarly, analytical needs from artistic requirements.

The beauty of Performing Shakespeare in Japan, a book which came out of a seminar, "Japanese Shakespeare Productions: Problems of Stylization and Localization," at the Sixth World Shakespeare Congress in Los Angeles in 1996, is that it brings together both scholarly and artistic voices, allowing us to consider questions of genre while also giving us the views and visions of artists engaged in performance. Its contributors include Japanese and Western scholars as well as Japanese and Western theatre artists. Edited by Minami Ryuta, Ian Carruthers, and John Gillies, together uniquely qualified to address this complex and deeply resonating subject, Performing Shakespeare in Japan is intended as "a new step in the history of Shakespeare studies" (xi). This collection thus situates itself, significantly, not in Japanese studies or drama, but in a growing transnational focus on the transfer of Shakespeare's plays into various national and cultural contexts, and on questions of whether or not productions of Shakespeare in Japan (or India or elsewhere) are implicated in globalization or localization. If localization, as many discuss in the book, then what exactly is meant by it? (Among others, John Gillies addresses this issue directly in the afterword.) Does localization involve "cultural translation" (as discussed in Ohtani Tomoko's essay on a 1950 Takarazuka Revue Company version of Romeo and Juliet), "radical re-creation" (as discussed by Minami Ryuta regarding contemporary Shakespeare productions), or "reinterpretation" (as discussed by Suzuki Masae regarding Noda Hideki's play on Richard III)? These are not the only suggestions offered, only the more salient.

Following an introduction by the three editors, the essays are divided into three parts: "Early Modern and Traditional Theatre Productions," "Modern Productions (Post-World War II)," and "Interviews with Directors and Actors." ("Early Modern" is a poor choice for Part I: it is used here to include the late 19th and [End Page 167] early 20th centuries, whereas Japanologists use "early modern" to refer to the period from 1600 to 1867.) The introduction gives a brief historical orientation to Shakespeare translation and adaptation in Japan as well as to the theatre groups that have produced Shakespeare's plays. In addition, it addresses international theatrical contact as background to the essays that follow.

Also setting the context for the book is the first essay, Anzai Tetsuo's "What Do We Mean by 'Japanese' Shakespeare?" Anzai addresses the range of ways in which Shakespeare has been approached in Japan, from Ninagawa Yukio's intercultural production of Macbeth, faithful to the text while interweaving "even aggressively conspicuous" Japanese features (17); to Suzuki Tadashi's King Lear, "a dramatic essay on his metaphysics of the dramatic" (18); to the work of Deguchi Norio, "closer to the Western style" and exhibiting "little gesture of Japanization" (18). Despite such distinctive approaches, Anzai finds common elements among these three:

[T]hey all approach Shakespeare basically as an archetype of the theatre, in which they expect to re-discover and explore what is quintessential to the theatre [...]. The apparent Japanesque features of their productions are nothing more than an incidental outcome, and not the goal, of their own creative activities.

(19-20)

Perhaps we might look at Parts II and III of the book through this proposition. The various case studies of Part II, together with the interviews of Part III (including interviews with each of the above three directors), all give readers ample opportunity to probe Anzai...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4715
Print ISSN
1054-2043
Pages
pp. 167-169
Launched on MUSE
2003-06-03
Open Access
No
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