Review: Kafta on the Shore by Ninagawa Company (Japan)

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A spectacular display of creative setting and visually daunting motion with a group of endearing and sophisticated cast.

THE STORY

A brief introduction. The story is told through two parallel narratives. In the first, a teenage boy has run away from his father’s home to try to find his estranged mother and sister. He calls himself Kafka(Nino Furuhata), after his favorite writer, without revealing his real name. During his journey he frequently interacts with his alter ego, or imaginary friend, Crow (Hayato Kakizawa). He ends up in a remote private library in a seaside town, Takamatsu, run by the mysterious yet beautiful Miss Saeki(Rie Miyazawa), and is permitted to stay. There he befriends Oshima(Naohito Fujiki), a transgender librarian and later both meet and discuss about life and literature everyday. Kafka begins to work at the library and spends his days reading books – until the police arrives to question him about the murder of Kafka’s father.

The novel juxtaposes Kafka’s story with that of Satoru Nakata (Katsumi Kiba), an elderly simpleton who is considered slow and simple that cannot read or write. As a child he was involved in curious incident while on a school trip. His entire class was rendered unconscious following a bright flash of light in the sky. Nakata took longer to recover than his classmates and when he did regain consciousness he lad lost him memory but gained the ability to communicate with cats. Now, in his old age, he makes a small living by using his unusual talent to find lost cats in the neighborhood. what better way to find a cat by asking other cats? With the helps of cats and Hoshino a truck driver, he befriends Nakata, due to his resemblance to his own grandfather, and transports and assists Nakata towards his uncertain goal. When Nakata meets the infamous cat-killer, the iconic Johnnie Walker (Masato Shinkawa) with a scary aura wearing in black boots and top hat, who collects the heads of his little victims after killing them with atrocious skill.  The sadistic Johnnie Walker forces Nakata to watch his acts of torture and Nakata could no longer withstand the torture and stabs him to death.

THE REVIEW

I felt that the play was very visually impactful – almost like as if it was throwing punches to my eyes with its imagery.

I liked how the space on the stage was used, especially when it was filled with Plexiglass cubes that glided fluidly on and off the stage with a non-stop mix-and-match of boxes by the backstage crew, who acted like the kuroko (黒子, ninja-like stage hands that wear all black, from head to toe, in order to imply that they are invisible and not part of the action onstage) from kabuki, was a choreographic feat to watch.

The large cubes also contained dazzling arrays of sets – from a bus and a truck to patches of forests and interiors of a library which allows the characters  to go in and out of them. I thought the whole entire process was pretty amazing. Along with such strong set design, I have to praise the contribution of Motoi Hattori’s feverish fluorescent lighting, Katsuji Takahashi’s alarmingly metallic soundscape, and original music by Umitaro Abe to create the hypnotic nature of the piece I saw.

Being able to follow the conversation (with knowledge of the Japanese language) really helped too. Although the play had two TV monitors to display the English translation for non-Japanese speakers, if you understand Japanese, you will find that the translations do have missing parts especially when the characters are having conversations.

For me, although I have heard of Murakami’s famous name I have not read his novel. Overall I have enjoyed my first play with such intriguing depth and filled with such  energy and fun. I was not able to link the play nicely but definitely a good experience. With a strong cast and great stage visual and sound support, I will definitely watch it again.

Watch the preview here:

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