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SMAC! Web Magazine

The Artists Village Insider #06 – The Smash-Hit Manga Comes Alive At Kumamoto Castle

Today we’ll be seeing the talented actresses in action! An all-female theater group, the “096k Kumamoto Drama Company” is an ambitious project from COAMIX Inc. that aims to support young actresses from all over Japan and offer them a place to nurture and develop their talents. At the same time, one very important aspect of this project is to contribute to the development of the Kumamoto region. For this reason, the actresses not only practice acting, but are also actively developing other skills by being active in various areas that help them connect with the people around Kumamoto.

Their main work, however, is theater – currently, they’re most known for their debut work “Keiji’s Kabuki Adventure The Stage Play – Chapter of Kiyomasa Katō: The Tiger of Kumamoto.” The stage play portrays the story of “Keiji Maeda,” one of the most outrageous samurai of all time who lived in feudal Japan and set off on an adventure across the ancient provinces of Japan in the aftermath of the Warring States Period and the newly-established peaceful era.

The stage play is performed at the Kumamoto Castle Museum Wakuwakuza, which is just a brisk walk away from the entrance of Kumamoto Castle itself. In this way, the stage play is the bridge between the past and the future, and is being performed right in the near vicinity of the place that the fictional tale is based on. The stage play is in fact an adaptation of manga “Keiji’s Kabuki Adventure,” its original title being  “Maeda Keiji Kabukitabi,” written by Tetsuo Hara-sensei and Nobuhiko Horie, and drawn by Masato Deguchi-sensei. As of last week, you can check out its first chapters in English for free on Manga Hot!

The manga was inspired by real historical events but the story took on a life of its own, taking an unknown path of “What if…Keiji Maeda encountered other famous historical figures, such as Kiyomasa Katō, Muneshige Tachibana, Kojirō Sasaki, and Musashi Miyamoto during his travels?”

The stage play follows the first arc of the manga, in which Keiji Maeda decides to leave the bustling capital of Kyoto and head south to the island of Kyushu, where allegedly, the spirit of war still roams freely. There, Keiji meets Kiyomasa Katō, the son of a tiger, the legendary castle-builder, Hideyoshi’s trusted ally, and a charismatic leader that strived to unify the country…just a few of the titles that crown the man who built the symbol of Kumamoto: Kumamoto Castle. Seeing the grandiose castle being built with his own eyes, Keiji immediately realizes that Kiyomasa is a unique and powerful man. He’s infatuated with Kiyomasa’s architectural achievements and with his vision for the country. Just as big as Kiyomasa’s plans are, however, there are also troubles emerging from Nusubito Island, the spot Kiyomasa uses for international trade with the Spanish Empire… What on Earth happened there?

I’ll stop here with the story explanation, in order not to spoil all the fun. Instead, let’s focus on the performance and the preparations that are needed for the actresses to bring the best out of these powerful and famous historical figures on stage!

Admittedly, I had no idea until I saw the stage with my own two eyes. Not only the historical aspects and speech pattern, the actresses have to study the actions of the male roles they are portraying in a detailed and meticulous way. Moreover, they have to undergo fighting, singing, and even special vocal lessons so that their voices are artificially lower once they are set into the role. At the same time, however, they should also keep some spice that is uniquely theirs: being on stage for the 096k doesn’t mean to just take on the mantle of a feudal samurai and warlord; no, it’s more like taking the historical role and molding it carefully in a way so that you can also express your own talents and passion.

The stage is a show, after all, and the actresses from the 096k Kumamoto Drama Company  surely know how to create one! Their one-hour long performance keeps its audience wanting more – extravagant hairstyles, lush costumes, and make up that are nothing short of art itself, the narration style truly makes one feel as if they were transported into ancient times and sit under a tree or in a tavern and listen to this adventurous tale, the tap dancing fusion that is performed in pairs with a traditional Japanese drums taiko – all performed and played by the actresses themselves.  And the best part about it? Those who have seen the play more than once will be able to tell that every play is deliberately changed and modified every single time – no performance is identical to the one before!

When you think of a Japanese theater, you might know that there’s a rich repertoire of traditional as well as modern genres. In fact, one of the most famous musical theater troupes, The Takarazuka Revue, is also an actresses-only theater troupe that also had a significant influence on the “father” of manga, Osamu Tezuka-sensei. The “096k Kumamoto Drama Company” knows for sure that manga and theater are two closely related artistic genres and uses the charms of both in order to grasp the audience’s attention from the first moment to keep everybody on their toes until the end. You might be wondering: is the theater group planning any new stage plays in the future? Well, here’s a little hint: read the manga Keiji’s Kabuki Adventure and you might find out! 😉 

SMA Editorial Dept.