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Shun-Kin – review

Michael Billington, Wednesday 10 November 2010 22.15 GMT

Complicite's version of a 1933 Japanese story by Jun'ichir¯o Tanizaki was coolly received when first shown nearly two years ago. I don't know why. Simon McBurney's production is one of the company's finest achievements. It offers a compelling portrait of sadomasochistic love, is full of moral ambivalence and is staged with miraculous delicacy and wit.

Tanizaki's tale reconstructs a true story from 19th-century Japan. It revolves around the relationship between the domineering Shun-kin, an Osaka merchant's blind daughter, and the devoted Sasuke, who learns from her the art of playing the stringed "shamisen", and who becomes her lifelong servant and secret lover. So intense is his passion, in fact, that when Shun-kin suffers a facial disfigurement, he performs an astonishing act of self-sacrifice. But the virtue of the story is that its meaning is left open. It can be seen as the ultimate triumph of masochistic ardour, as a study in the reversal of traditional Japanese gender roles or as an attack on a hierarchial society now eroded by industrial modernisation.

By using multiple narrators, McBurney allows for every possibility. He also turns a story filled with cruelty and violence into an object of aesthetic pleasure. The domineering Shun-kin is brilliantly represented first by a petulant puppet, then by a masked female actor, and finally by one of the puppeteers. The staging conjures a vanished world with refined simplicity: poles become waving branches, flapping papers turn into soaring larks and Honjoh Hidetaro's shamisen music even evokes the horrific act. The piece is enthralling.


Libby Purves
Last updated November 9 2010 12:01AM

An old blind musician, Sasuke, mourns a love forged in 19th-century Kyoto. It is a story by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, classic in Japan but as strange to us as its whitened faces and formal movements.
Shun-kin, virtuosa on the three-stringed shamisen, was his teacher, mistress and dominatrix lover. Blinded in childhood, given the boy as her body-servant, she beats him, uses him sexually but scorns to marry him.
Locked in masochistic devotion, Sasuke finds no fault with this tiny, fragile tyrant even when she deliberately stamps on his face when he is racked with agonising toothache.
When a vengeful enemy scalds her face, she is so distressed at the thought of anyone seeing her scars that Sasuke punctures his own eyes with a sewing needle in order to resume his, now literally, blind devotion.
Simon McBurney’s theatre company Complicite enacts this story with spare elegance. The child puppet Shun-kin changes first into an empty kimono with puppet face and hands, then a real woman with limbs worked by puppeteers, finally a free actress. It is framed, however, by a 21st-century narrator: no squeaky white-faced aristocrat but a cheerful, chunkily modern Ryoko Tateishi, reading in a warm contralto into a microphone and breaking off to ring her boyfriend.
At the end, when old Sasuke is dying, a candle flickers in the ancient darkness around him while the other corner of the stage holds the narrator’s bright little desk light. A disembodied engineer’s voice goes “OK, it’s a wrap!” and the backcloth rises on the sleepless neon chaos of urban Japan.
Light is the key symbol: “Forced to live in dark rooms, our ancestors found beauty in shadows.”
I am wary of Western Japanophilia. Kabuki’n’kimono exoticism can be almost racist, its relish for cruelty odd. This production received only muted reviews here 22 months ago, but I was beguiled. Fluttering papers are skylarks, bone-white wooden limbs are sexual, the on-stage shamisen player Hidetaro is a master. It’s beautiful.
But what moved me was the underlying ache of dislocation, the gulf between modernity and the shadowy beauty of tradition. “Japan has chosen to follow the West,” says the old man sadly, and I found myself remembering the sense of vanished England in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.
This is a crazy, sadistic, knowingly post-Freudian story, yet on stage it has the power of legend that can suspend both disbelief and disapproval. And submitting to power ― as poor Sasuke would agree, picking himself up painfully from the floor yet again ― has a sort of liberating charm.



ご報告ありがとうございます - Yoshi



上のガーディアン紙のビリントンは、歌舞伎や蜷川びいきで、主要紙の中では日本演劇に一番理解のある批評家でしょう。Independentも大変褒めていましたが、前回の公演でけなしたMichael Coveney(2つ星)から、Paul Taylorに執筆者が変わっていました。前回3つ星をつけ、あまり評価していなかったTelegraphのSpencerは今回は取り上げていません。CoveneyやSpencerはもともとやや保守的な批評家ですから、予想される結果でしょうね。また彼らはマクバーニーのそれまでの作品の延長線上にある公演を期待していたようです。

水曜日にフリンジの劇場に行った時、近くに座った若者が前の日に"Shun-kin"を見た、と連れに話していました。おっしゃるように口コミで広まった面が大きいのでしょうね。 Yoshi
2010.11.14 Sun 10:10 URL [ Edit ]

- 守屋

Yoshi さん

2010.11.14 Sun 22:12 URL [ Edit ]


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