Monday, September 26, 2016

Illuminations 9.26.16

Deguchi Norio, Japanifying Shakespeare

Image result for Deguchi Norio
Deguchi Norio in all of his splendor
Japanese Shakespearean director Deguchi Norio’s career as a has evolved dramatically since the early 1950s and 60s. In the earlier course of his artistic enterprise, Deguchi developed a “keen awareness for the suffocatingly restrictive limitations of the modern realistic theater and [persistently] urge[d] to break through the limitation and discover a freer, more dynamic, exuberant, and imaginative kind of theater” (1). Deguchi was an integral part of the Little Theater Movement- a response to the westernization of the theatrical sphere during post-war Japan. Little Theater rejected the Shingeki (新劇, new drama) style of theater that was approved by the Allied Occupation for Japanese audiences. Being forced to oblige to western styles of theater is what heavily defined Deguchi’s theatrical career. His decision to turn to the works of William Shakespeare, which, despite being a metonym for Western culture, exemplified this definition.

Earlier in Deguchi’s career, he desired simplicity in his adaptations and rejected intricate costume design and embellished background. More in favor of a “powerful emphasis on language and actor presence,” Deguchi tapped into pseudo-Nationalistic notions of Japanese acting ability (1). This simple style can be seen in Deguchi’s JeanJean period, where he directed many of Shakespeare’s plays (in which all the characters wore jeans). Much of Deguchi’s career centers on appealing to younger audiences. He endeavored to give them a culture to identify with in a world dominated by western ideology.

But as a man of experimentation and innovation, Deguchi Norio gradually moved away from his simplistic stagings of Shakespeare's plays. In 1994, Deguchi staged three different adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; each performance uniquely represented a playful approach to Shakespeare. In one adaptation, the actors wore masks to conceal their identity adding to the mystery and intrigue of the play. In another performance, Oberon and Titania (Shakespeare's king and queen of the fairies) were portrayed as owners of a bar, and the fairies were made into bar girls clad in short black dresses. Deguchi's bar-scene incited feelings of promiscuity and sexuality, which appeared almost dream-like to the audience; imperative in a play centered on dreams as they are “past the wit of man” (IV.I 1762).

The bar scene with Titania and Oberon on the right
and the bar-girls/fairies on the left
The works of William Shakespeare carry with them age-old conversations of gender, race, identity, violence, marriage, etc. that directors like Deguchi Norio engage in when appealing to contemporary Japanese audiences. Shakespeare, highly regarded as a theatrical playground for experimentation and re-imagination, will continue to play a crucial role in theater for years to come for anywhere-not just in Japan- that a young mind can appreciate the intricacy of Shakespeare’s work.  

- Christopher LaSasso

1. Minami, Ryuta, Ian Carruthers, and John Gillies. Performing Shakespeare in Japan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

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