CULTURE: Shakespeare's 450th Anniversary: The Master's Multifaceted Portrayals of Humanity Still Enchant Modern Audiences

Article excerpt

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and centuries later, the great playwright's popularity and reputation show no signs of waning. In Japan as well, a nonstop flow of new stagings and new Japanese-language translations persists. Many Japanese theater groups will mark the anniversary with special performances of Shakespeare's works.

Bungakuza, a long-established theater company, plans a large-scale Shakespeare Festival incorporating the energy and effort of the entire company. Inspiration for the event came from the company's director, Hitoshi Uyama.

"What elements make theatrical performance interesting? What is the purpose of expression in this domain? If anyone knows the answers, it's Shakespeare," Uyama said. "Bringing the more than 150 members of our company together to share the Shakespeare experience and the words that have become part of our common language will drive us on to the next challenge."

The festival's opening event, stretching from February to early March, will feature three weeks of alternating performances of two comedies from the middle of Shakespeare's career, "Measure for Measure" (directed by Uyama) and "As You Like It" (directed by Hisao Takase).

Another 19 works will be performed as readings from March to December. The program includes "Sonnets" (directed by Toshiya Tsuruda) and "The Hamletmachine" (directed by Shiro Nakano), a Hamlet-inspired play by Heiner Mueller of the former East Germany.

The festival will also feature "Shin (new) Hamlet" (directed by Marie Gonohe), a stage adaptation of a novel with the same title written by Osamu Dazai.

Uyama got his first real exposure to Shakespeare when he was a student. At the time, director Norio Deguchi, who had set up the Shakespeare Theatre in 1975, was working to stage every one of Shakespeare's plays.

During this period, Uyama saw about half of the plays at the avant-garde Shibuya Jean-Jean theater in Tokyo.

All the stagings were based on Japanese translations by Yushi Odashima.

Uyama describes the plays with Odashima's translations as "colliding, scattering reflections, exploding, and filled with the freedom of words from every level intermingling in a wild dance." He says, "The Shakespeare of my 20s is built from Odashima's words."

Uyama has personally directed "Twelfth Night" and other Shakespeare plays, but he says the plays felt removed from his reality at first, with no direct connection to him and the people he worked with. …