Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jane Eyre the Musical in Japan/ ジェーン・エアミュージカル

OK, this post is only about.... six months late. But it's not like you guys were all going to hop on a plane and fly out here to see it, so nobody got hurt. 

Justin and I love Jane Eyre. It's his favorite book, and my favorite "classic" (my favorite book could probably not be chosen if you held me at gunpoint). It's also a favorite of my sister's, and back when we were in high school, we used to listen to the soundtrack to the short-lived Broadway musical together. The musical is actually quite good, but I can understand why it didn't do well on Broadway. First, literary revivals aren't exactly "the thing" these days (maybe if they'd done the musical with songs from a band that was popular in the 80s, or made it somehow ironic), and second, the story doesn't lend itself to visual spectacle, a Broadway hallmark.

But a translated version of the Jane Eyre musical has actually done quite well in Japan, where the expectations for musical theater are very different. We were really excited to see the posters around town, since we figured it might be our only chance to ever see this show.

Our beloved music teacher friend Aki is my ticket hookup for Japanese musical theater. She has helped us with our Takarazuka tickets (although not the show in this post; we've been to 3 others), and also the tickets for Elisabeth in Osaka. She told us that the actress playing Jane, Takako Matsu, is a really big deal with a long theatrical and film career. In fact, Matsu played Jane Eyre before, and some of these performances are available on Youtube. Here's one of my favorites, a scene in which Jane paints a portrait of herself and her rival and finds herself lacking:

Japan (and East Asia in general) has a huge bias towards sopranos in popular music. I'm not an expert and can't give you a breakdown or anything, but I hear a lot of women on the radio or in public sound systems singing in chirpy, childish voices that sound very odd to Americans. There are a lot of other things to be said about this, and what it implies about gender in Japan, but that's too much for now. We can summarize by saying this is not the land of Adele, and that I enjoyed hearing Matsu sing like a young but definitely post-pubescent woman.

On the other hand, I didn't always love her speaking voice. She sounded artificially high, borderline chirpy territory, in a lot of her dialogue. It might have been an attempt to make Jane sound younger, or to have her sound conventionally feminine, but it sounded all wrong to me for Jane. Whether or not it sounded wrong to Japanese people, I can't say.

And then Rochester. My goodness, Satoshi Hashimoto is one heck of a Rochester. In fact, I'd say Hashimoto is the best Rochester I've ever seen, and yes, I've seen Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens. With his long hair and six-foot frame, he was a dominant physical presence on the stage, and he can sing like anything. Plus, let's be honest: he's pretty ridiculously hot. Fortuitously, he was also Rochester in the 2009 version, from which these Youtube clips derive, so you can see the awesome for yourself. This is the musical's flagship song, Secret Soul in English, and the main idea is how Jane and Rochester love each other but can't share or talk about it. Hashimoto comes in about halfway through:

HOO boy.

There's a problem which faces any writer adapting Jane Eyre for film, TV, and stage adaptations: Jane, for all that she's a wonderful, lively first person narrator in the book, doesn't always talk enough to be as interesting when you can't hear her thoughts. About halfway, this (and many other adaptations) stops being Jane Eyre the musical and starts being Edward Rochester the musical. The proposal scene was the turning point, and you can see the problem pretty clearly in this video. Jane has a solid two minutes of just sitting and listening to Rochester sing about how flawed he is and how much he hopes Jane can save him. Then, after a momentary break for four words of dialogue, she gets to listen for another minute. In the book, she's having all sorts of thoughts and reactions to this sequence. On stage, since we can't hear any of that, Rochester takes over the scene.

Which, you know, he can handle. But still, it's a bit odd to lose Jane so frequently. That's a flaw in the script and writing, though, not in the performance of this cast.

The last thing I'll mention, because I couldn't think of another place to put it, is the staging. Hakataza (Hakata Theater) usually looks like a typical stage, but for Jane Eyre they added additional risers of seating in the back. It wasn't quite a theater-in-the-round, but it had a very open and interesting layout. It's the same as the one in the 2009 staging, so the videos you can click on up there look like what I saw in Fukuoka. I took this photograph before the show began to show the spare set and stage.

As Justin pointed out, you know you're in a 19th century novel when there are that many crosses lying around to mark the many graves you're going to need to get through the story.

Overall, this was an outstanding evening of theater, and I wish some of the US Jane fans could have seen it. I am very glad to have had the chance to see a great professional production of one of my favorite soundtracks, even if I only technically understood less than one in twenty words.

Okay, one in fifty. Just memorize the soundtrack before you go, and you'll be fine.

1 comment:

  1. I ran across this blog entry while searching for more information about the staging of Jane Eyre The Musical in Japan and was delighted to read your impressions upon seeing the production. I was introduced to it on YouTube, and I, too, was very impressed by Satoshi Hashimoto's depiction of Rochester. I, too, have the English soundtrack memorized, and it's great fun to compare the Japanese interpretation, even if I can't understand the language. (My LiveJournal musing the other day on the various performances is here.)