24 August 2017 @ 09:41 pm
Review of the Mirage Plays  
I guess it's only fitting that my first post in five years is Mirage-related. I've been away for so long that it actually feels kind of strange to be writing a post. Anyway, I've to thank [personal profile] labingi  for making me remember the Mirage plays. Truth be told, when I first saw the announcement that the Showa prequel was going to be adapted into a stage play in 2014, I was skeptical. And then I was out of fandom for a long time due to RL, during which I completely forgot about the project. But I've purchased all three DVDs now and I guess this is my long, rambling review of the plays.

Note: This post will contain spoilers.

^My DVDs with the free tote bag (calligraphy by Tomita Shou) and photo that came with my purchase.

There's a lot to like about the Mirage plays and it's clear that the people involved made a concerted attempt to put on a good stage adaptation of sensei's novel. I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed them despite one glaring negative. In fact, the plays have seriously woken up the fangirl in me. I've been revisiting some of my old posts and have this strong urge to get back into translating. If only I had more time!!

On the actors
Although I enjoyed the plays, there's one negative and unfortunately, it has to do with one of the leads. Casting Naoe and Kagetora right is the most important thing for any Mirage adaptation IMO. They should be the best actors in the production due to the complexity of the characters. I can sort of overlook less than ideal casting choices for the supporting characters, not so much for the main duo. In general, I think the play is well-cast but Naoe is just... wrong. This is going to sound harsh and perhaps Aramaki Yoshihiko has fared better in other stage productions but he completely fails to capture Naoe and I find his acting appalling, especially in the first two plays. While he's fine in the fight sequences, his line reading and gestures in the more dramatic scenes alternate between stilted awkwardness and overacting. Some of his choices, e.g. narrowing of eyes to convey anger/defiance, look so calculated that it comes off as more contrived than authentic. I can see that he is trying and to give him a bit of credit, he does improve over the course of the three plays (most notably in the third) in the way he reads his lines - more expressive and more layered. The script certainly does help with the characterization but I think he doesn't have the ability or the maturity as an actor to bring Naoe to life.

Fortunately, Kagetora is perfection. Tomita Shou is absolutely stunning as Kagetora! Being the Kagetora fangirl that I am, I was freaking out (still am) over his performance. I'm almost shocked at how well he managed to embody the character. He has the right amount of fierce charisma, controlled calm, kindness, vulnerability, empathy, even a kind of world-weariness in his performance. There's a lot of nuance in his face and even his vocal inflections, which is especially effective in scenes where Kagetora's stoic expression is betrayed by the emotion in his voice. He's also really compelling in the prologue of the first play, giving us a very emotionally raw Kagetora during his first moments as a possessor. Tomita Shou is truly the best part of this production and his performance alone is worth getting the DVDs for. There was a tweet by Kuwabara-sensei some time ago about the director IIRC and Tomita expressing interest in adapting the main series for the stage. I'm not sure how feasible that would be but it's great that Tomita is so invested in this project. Personally, I'm more interested in seeing a stage play of the Kaiko prequels with Tomita as Kurata!Kagetora especially after that teaser we got in the first play. Story-wise, they would probably be easier to adapt than the main series.

The other member of the cast who I really like is Tsukui Minami, who plays Haruie. Her spunk comes off really well and she's exactly how I imagined Haruie would be. She has a radiant presence on the stage and she's my second favorite in the plays. The actor who plays Irobe is fine as well. I expected Nagahide to be more caustic but still liked the portrayal anyway.

Kudos to Masuda Yuuki and Nakamura Ryuusuke who play Kuchiki Shinji and Shinonome Jirou respectively. I thought they shifted between two personalities very well. The rest of the actors also acquit themselves well. Kousaka threw me off a little though. I'm not sure if it was the direction the actor was getting or his interpretation of the character but I didn't really get it.

On the Story
Play 1 - Yonakidori Blues
I have briefly skimmed through the first volume of the Showa prequels - no time to read in full - and overall, I'm actually surprised at how much of the actual story they've managed to preserve in the play. There are changes in the sense that some peripheral characters have been removed, several scenes are consolidated to one location or sequence (understandably due to time and space constraints) and the friendship between Kase and Kuchiki is explored more. But they don't affect the overall story as much and I think the play is a very successful adaptation in this regard.

There are also slight changes in the scenes with Naoe and Kagetora. I wonder if the producers were striving to establish the turbulence in their relationship for this first play hence the changes. Their first angst-fighting scene in the play is a combination of two sequences in the original text. In the book, instead of the aggressive wrestling about a chair, Naoe simply pins Kagetora to the wall when he's arguing about Kagetora's regret/dilemma of choosing between helping the living by stopping the war and his exorcism duties. The argument does end with them having a drink together but it's a rather sweet moment in the book as opposed to the play where there's still some lingering tension. There's also another scene between them (about redefining their connection as master and subordinate in the modernized society of the Showa period) that's again intense in the play - the scene where Naoe grasps Kagetora's chin - but much a much quieter moment in the book. In the book, Kagetora was almost literally inviting Naoe to do whatever he wants - they were in a room alone together - but Naoe only reaches out and retreats at the last moment (which stage!Naoe does quite a bit as well). Kagetora seems to be trying to break the master-subordinate dynamic that they've been stuck in for the past 400 years and is encouraging Naoe to change as well.
That said, I'm fine with the changes in the play because they still feel true to the characters.

Play 2 - Ruritsubame Blues
I haven't read the third and sixth prequel novels that the next two plays are based on so I can only comment on what is presented in the plays themselves.

I really enjoyed the story of the second play. One thing I really like about these Showa prequels, which surprised me, is the Nobunaga-Kagetora conflict. Just from what is revealed in the main series, I always assumed the fight between the Oda and the Uesugi 30 years ago was the standard clan warfare though especially fierce since it's Nobunaga we're talking about. But introducing Kuchiki's memories into the mix as well as his genuine friendship with Kase gives more personal depth to the conflict. And I think this comes off really well in their confrontation on top of Tokyo Tower, also due to how well Masuda and Tomita play off each other.

Play 3 - Yashashuu Boogie Woogie
The third play is a collection of shorts that focus on different members of the Yashashuu. Not all of the stories are equally interesting and I think part of the success of the story depends on how well the main actor(s) of that particular short carries the tale.

Briefly, about each story:
Huangpu River Waltz / The adventures of Nagahide in Shanghai. Essentially about Nagahide meeting and agreeing to become the bodyguard for a popular singer in Shanghai, eventually helping her with her troubles involving gangsters. Not a bad story but it's the weakest one in the play.

Love Fireworks Rhapsody / Features a young Marii (Haruie) and her attempt to reunite an American soldier in Japan with the Japanese girl he fell in love with before the war began. A touching story with a bit of commentary on the Japanese mindset towards the Americans after World War 2. Tsukui Minami is splendid as usual. Also has a surprise appearance by Yamaguchi!Naoe.

Passion Cocktail / The boss of Regalo asks Kase to create an original cocktail for Christmas and the theme of the drink is "passion". A rather amusing story which delves a bit into Kagetora's opinion on passion. Nice little exchange between Naoe and Kagetora here involving the "passion" cocktail. And Haruie is hilarious in this!

Elegy of the Greedy Doctor / A serious story about Irobe's encounter with a brilliant but seemingly unscrupulous doctor. I was reminded a bit of Black Jack when the doctor was introduced (brilliant and unorthodox but overcharges his patients). A solid story about the business of saving lives.

Possessor Bolero / They really left the best story for last. This was scripted by Kuwabara-sensei specially for the play and, if I'm not mistaken, is an expansion of one of the short stories in the book. It begins with what I think is a visual depiction of a mental debate going through Kagetora's mind as he's standing in court, being questioned about his long life. Then the story opens proper with Kase attending Yamaguchi's funeral and meeting Naoe in Kasahara's body for the first time. There's much angst about performing kanshou in an adult body, the guilt and the resulting impact on the host body's acquaintances. The change in Kasahara Naoki's personality has attracted the attention of a branch of the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) including a reporter who has managed to figure out that Yamaguchi and Kasahara are the same person.

I know I've already gushed about Tomita but he deserves special mention here. This short story is really more Naoe-centric although Kasahara and Kase are featured almost equally. But Tomita completely steals the show. There's a scene where Kagetora is captured by the GSDF. He's beaten up and drugged with truth serum. During his drugged state, he hallucinates seeing Matsuda Takahide (Saburou's rapist), Kenshin and Naoe. This scene has Tomita giving a one-man performance and it's riveting, heartbreaking and the highlight of the play. Kagetora relives the moment of his betrayal and rape by the Houjou retainers, sees Kenshin and expresses resentment that he and the rest of the Yashashuu have had to live for so long for this mission with no end in sight, then lastly sees Naoe and cries that he has made Naoe suffer by using him but has no choice because he can't live on without Naoe. In fact, what he says about Naoe here really reminded me of Takaya's state of mind in the later volumes of the Karin arc. This is Kagetora at his most emotionally naked and I honestly can't praise Tomita enough for successfully showing us this side of Kagetora in his performance. The scene also ends with the most loaded words stage!Kagetora has uttered so far, "骨までしゃぶれ", which I feel is quite tricky to translate into English to fully convey the meaning and be true to the sexual-emotional context of the scene as well. Considering that Kagetora tells illusory Naoe to "consume my heart and give me comfort" prior to that, I would probably translate "骨までしゃぶれ" as "Suck me dry" - Kagetora is still hallucinating when he says this but it's towards the real Naoe (And they cut the lights immediately after that! Why damn it???).

On the Production Values
I was pretty impressed with the sets in the plays, considering that this is a relatively small production. There's clever use of lighting and back screens, particularly in the way the spiritual powers of the characters are shown. They help to generate some of the excitement and tension in the scenes and I was genuinely engaged. There are also some very well-choreographed fighting and grandstanding, particularly the ending exchange between Nobunaga and Kagetora in the third play. 

On a last note, I believe these plays are well worth owning for any Mirage fan. So if you can, do support the production by purchasing the DVDs. I realize the DVDs are not easy to get because the main shop doesn't ship outside Japan. You can try finding a parcel forwarding service for your country though you'll need to understand enough Japanese to order the DVDs on the website. Otherwise, look for a proxy shopping service. I can recommend CDJapan. Their site is in English and they can purchase items sold on other websites on your behalf (with service charges) and ship almost anywhere internationally. The three Mirage plays are already listed on the Proxy Shipping section of their site (1,2,3).

The Mirage of Blaze Showa Hen plays are a great addition to the Mirage universe and I'm looking forward to owning the fourth play on DVD. In fact, I'm hoping that these plays will be financially successful enough to move beyond the Showa prequels.
Current Mood: impressed
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labingi: inu[personal profile] labingi on September 2nd, 2017 07:08 am (UTC)
Finally found a moment to read your review. I agree with every single thing you said about the acting. I think our views of the actors are pretty identical. By the way, I don't know if you've read that Naoe, Nagahide, and Kousaka are being recast in the fourth play. Naoe and Kousaka have been weak links, so I wonder if this is a move in response to that. I don't want to be overly optimistic and then disappointed, but I'm hoping for a more authentic Naoe.

I've had a thought about this. There was a blog post by Tomita that Imperfekti linked to/summarized in which he discussed the casting changes with what seems to me to be a very polite, professional, Japanese sense of worry and dismay. This certainly makes sense given the challenges of gelling with new actors in the midst of an ongoing set of productions. And I have the sense he is friends with Aramaki, so limp acting aside, he may just enjoy working with him. But my thought was it might be a nice gesture to write Tomita a brief fan letter saying thank you for all the work despite complications signed by a number of us fans from around the world. I haven't floated this on the forum yet, though it's been in my mind to do so. Thoughts?

Anyway, thanks for the low-down on the third play, which I don't have the DVD for yet. I'm a little disappointed to hear it's short stories, but you also whet my appetite for some of it.

I'm curious about how many plays they plan for the Showa era stuff. They seem to be pretty far away from concluding it, and I worry they'll run out of funding or just actor interest if it goes on for too many years. I'd rather it didn't end up in the air, but I'll take whatever they can produce!
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quaint_twilight: tomita[personal profile] quaint_twilight on September 2nd, 2017 03:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, I didn't know Kousaka and Nagahide were recast. I saw that Naoe was though and was hoping that they'd go for an older, more experienced actor who can pass for a college student but we'll see how Hiramaki fares in the role.

Aramaki and Tomita are from the same entertainment agency and they've worked directly together on other projects before so I think they're pretty good friends. Aramaki does seem to have a certain admiration for Tomita too, he stated that Tomita is his "#1 sempai (senior)" in the curtain call of the third play, and this spills a bit into his performance as Naoe IMO.

I definitely think it'd be really cool to send Tomita some form of written appreciation. He seems rather active on Twitter too and I was thinking of sending him a tweet but couldn't figure out what to write because of the darn text limit... But yes, I think it's a good idea.

The Showa prequel series is ending soon. If I'm not mistaken, there's only one novel left to be published and the upcoming play is based on the third-to-last book. So at most, there'll only be two more plays after Gurensaka Blues this year. I doubt they'll go back to the novels that they skipped. Which is why I'm hoping they've made enough money off the current plays to consider adapting more of Mirage. I'm thinking if there's a way to stimulate more interest in these plays to help boost the DVD sales.
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