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Written by Alexa Huang
“Yukio Ninagawa as a Great Shakespearean” by Katherine Bradshaw (Dean’s Scholar in Shakespeare, George Washington University)
Japanese theatre guru Yukio Ninagawa has earned international recognition through his stunningly beautiful interpretations of Shakespeare. He has directed almost all of the 37 plays, and will finish the canon in 2016. But, did you know that he never intended to become a Shakespearean director? Learn about Ninagawa’s fascinating journey and productions in Alexa Huang’s absorbing new essay “Chapter 3: Yukio Ninagawa” (in Brook, Hall, Ninagawa, Lepage: Great Shakespeareans Vol. 18, edited by Peter Holland). Huang places Ninagawa’s mesmerizing productions in their national, personal, and theatrical contexts, showing what makes Ninagawa a “Great Shakespearean.”
Find out what makes Ninagawa’s directorial style so successful. Huang sets Ninagawa in the context of Japan’s multiple theatrical techniques. The traditional Kabuki and Noh are heavily stylized, while the modern Shingeki emphasizes realism. Ninagawa was exclusively trained in the Shingeki method. Interestingly, Huang suggests that Ninagawa successfully combines older styles with Shakespeare because both are not his familiar format.
Ninagawa originally studied painting, which might explain his knack for stunning visuals. Yet, after attending a visual art program during college, he began training as a Shingeki actor. After he became an experimental theatrical director, Ninagawa had a strange and terrifying experience that confirmed that he should continue as a director. A young man threatened to murder Ninagawa if Ninagawa faltered in his commitment to theatre. So, Ninagawa always directs as if 1,000 young men sat in the audience, their knives ready to kill him.
Examine the results of Ninagawa’s commitment and dive into his awe-striking 1980 production The Ninagawa Macbeth. Huang unpacks the opening scene of the Ninagawa Macbeth (http://globalshakespeares.mit.edu/macbeth-ninagawa-yukio-1985/). She explains the significance of the performance’s set – a gigantic Buddhist altar.
Many of Ninagawa’s other productions are similarly surprising. Ninagawa’s Pericles opens with the sounds of an aerial bombardment and Ninagawa sets the play in a time after an unidentified war (http://globalshakespeares.mit.edu/pericles-ninagawa-yukio-2003-2/). This interpretation is refreshingly unconventional, since the play’s text does not explicitly include war. Huang explains all. Early in Ninagawa’s career, he was a heavily political director of controversial new plays. Although he has moved to older material, Ninagawa still retains his desire to explore the themes of war, social unrest, and violent protests.
Ninagawa takes more than a purely academic interest in political and international friction. In fact, as Huang relates, Ninagawa strives to foster intercultural communication through his adaptations. Of course, there is the obvious trans-national connection to Shakespeare. Yet, Ninagawa went even further during his tri-lingual production of Euripides’ play The Trojan Women. Discover how Ninagawa did this, and what happened during that production.