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Reviewed by:
  • Dojoji—A Lovers’ Duet; The Sentimental Plasterer; Nezumi, the Japanese Robin Hood
  • Samuel L. Leiter
Dojoji—A Lovers’ Duet; The Sentimental Plasterer; Nezumi, the Japanese Robin Hood. Cinema Kabuki: Marty Gross Film Productions, Toronto, Canada.

Readers of a certain age will have no difficulty recalling the days, not that long ago, when access to top-quality films of Asian theatre performance was so rare that the few available examples were familiar to anyone who had an interest in the field. To be able to see films that were not to be found even in well-stocked audiovisual departments at major colleges and universities, one might have had to visit the countries of their origins to examine the archives of leading theatrical institutions. A few decades ago, the Association for Asian Performance even established a clearinghouse for the rental of Asian theatre films that were difficult to otherwise obtain. Those days, thankfully, are long gone.

Researchers no longer have to view 16 mm films—remember all that fussing with threading film through spools, and the horror of seeing a burning frame when the film got stuck?—since video has replaced such old-fashioned technology. And video, first with tapes and then with DVDs, small in size and easy to duplicate, quickly became marketable, both to individual consumers and—most widely—to institutional consumers, from a variety of distributors. In the field of Japanese theatre, the most significant distributor of quality videos, mainly of kabuki (for which thirty-three videos are available), but with a growing library of other genres (as well as DVDs on Japanese culture and language), is Marty Gross, a Canadian, who has made available to the worldwide market a collection for which teachers, students, and theatre lovers in general owe him a debt of gratitude.

Gross’s extensive list of videos, and their prices, can be viewed at his [End Page 610] Web site, Recently, he has expanded his operations to present public presentations of high definition videos, shot with multiple cameras and using six-channel sound, in regular movie theatres, under the rubric Cinema Kabuki. In 2009, Toronto filmgoers were offered one-time only screenings of five kabuki films, Triple Lion Dance, The Peony Lantern, Dojoji—A Lovers’ Duet, The Sentimental Plasterer, and Nezumi, the Japanese Robin Hood; the first two were show in both the fall and spring, and the latter three were added in the fall. Through Mr. Gross’s kindness, I was able to view the latter trio and offer the following brief responses for those who may have the opportunity to see them should screenings become available outside Toronto, which Mr. Gross is hoping to facilitate. Each is recorded from an actual stage performance, with a full audience in attendance. They are not presently available for sale.

Dojoji—A Lovers’ Duet (Kyokanoko Musume Ninin Dōjōji, usually shortened to Ninin Dojoji) is a dance play, most famous in the version generally titled Kyōkanoko Musume Dōjōji, or simply Musume Dōjōji, and published in English as The Maiden at the Dōjō Temple; it is one of many variations on the theme of a jealous maiden who visits the Dōjō Temple, home of the handsome priest she believes abandoned her after promising to be her spouse, in order to wreak vengeance during the dedication of a huge bell. It is typical of kabuki for a popular subject to be given unusual twists in new versions, even when the traditional treatment remains a constant presence in the repertoire. Whereas Musume Dōjōji features only a single maiden, in Ninin Dōjōji there are two, offering a pair of skilled dancer-actors opportunities for complex choreography playing off their mirror images. The stars of this production, filmed at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za, are the veteran Bandō Tamasaburō V, kabuki’s leading onnagata (female-role specialist), and the younger actor Onoe Kikunosuke V, son of the great Onoe Kikugorō VII. Subtitles, including occasional exposition, are by Mark Oshima.

While Dojoji—A Lovers’ Duet stands on its own as an example of classical Japanese dance (nihon buyō) at its best, those familiar with Musume Dōj...