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Mirage Plays

Many thanks to [ profile] imperfekti for a) informing me that Mirage of Blaze Showa period stage plays exist and b) doing excellent summaries so that I can sort of tell what's going on. I have got my hands on the DVDs for the first two, thanks to [ profile] demitas, who used her Japanese skills to order them for me. And now I have thinky thoughts. To begin reviewish stuff:

Caveat: I can't fully "review" these plays, of course, because I can't understand 95% of the script. For the same reason, I can't fully assess these plays against any other Mirage material that hasn't been translated into English, so please take my thoughts with the appropriate grains of salt.

In a word, I loved these plays. They're very successful theater: wonderful use of lighting and sound effects to create very much the same level of physical excitement I personally get from a big budget movie. It's a great way to bring a text with comparatively small financial pull to life (and I'd love to see more of this in the fine arts). The acting, in general, is very good and the characters very in character. I would recommend these plays to anyone who is a serious Mirage fan. They are an important addition to the universe. I laid down a fair amount of money (~$160 USD) to buy them and get them shipped from Japan, and although I am not rich, I consider it money well spent. They're that good.


Setup: The plays take place c. 1958, that is, the beginning of the events that culminate in all the Minako-era horror (the two plays do not nearly get that far). Basically, everybody is in the body they possessed just before the original Mirage novels. These two plays concern the resurgence of Nobunaga with the Yashashuu attempting to foil him and being depressed at the idea that he's back. They also meet and begin to befriend Minako.

Plotty side note: most of what I know of this era in novel canon comes from summaries and discussions, and it's a bit hazy, but I have a suspicion there are some changed premises from the narrative in the original novels. I welcome clarifications.

At this point in time, Kagetora is Kase, a World War II veteran (and, thus, a significantly physically older Kagetora than we are accustomed to). Naoe, in contrast, is in the body of Kasahara, a lad at medical school and thus physically much younger than Kagetora, which is weird and interesting. For further summary, I'll refer you to Imperfekti's links above; she does a wonderful, thorough job and with pictures.

Generally, the acting and character concepts are very good. Irobe, Haruie, and Nagahide (who appears only in the second play) are very much themselves. Nagahide feels a little lighter than I'm accustomed to, a bit more playful, less mean, but that could be perfectly in keeping with life before everything really goes to hell. A few actors are doing dual roles: original personality and person/spirit possessing the body, and they navigate this really well. This includes Minako. The actress has good range and brings a nice subtlety to a basically "good girl" part.

But let's talk about Naoe (Aramaki Yoshihiko) and Kagetora (Tomita Sho). (I think I have the actors right, but somebody let me know if I have them backwards.)

I'm going to start with just about the only negative thing I have to say about these plays. I don't think Aramaki carries off Naoe. He's a very gifted physical actor. I wouldn't be surprised if he had a background in dance, and he's competent in every respect, but Naoe is a complicated character—Naoe stuck in the body of a college student even more so—and I did not get a real sense of "Naoe" out of this performance. I suspect the script is good and the character well written, and if you can understand the dialogue, that doubtless helps the overall effect, but the acting per se feels wooden to me, the gestures a bit contrived, the facial expressions stiff, and so on.

I will give some handicap points for the fact that Naoe is stuck in a body he himself is not comfortable in. He's only been in it for three years. He's socially treated as younger than all his compatriots, and this is awkward. So a certain woodenness may be exactly what Naoe's feeling. But that allowance made, I still didn't feel the spark.

This slight "miss" in the performance stands in radical contrast to Tomita as Kagetora, who is a revelation. So now that the negative is out of the way, let me gush. Damn, this man is a good actor! While it's a stage play, and everyone broadcasts to the back rows, there's a tremendous nuance in his performance (facial expressions, etc.), much of which I expect the audience can't directly see in a live production but which undergirds the whole feel of the character. And he can cry on demand! Which brings us to…

Kagetora (and Naoe)
This theatrical conception of Kagetora is brilliant combination of scripting, casting, and acting that finds the sweet spot of being unexpected but also utterly in character. As Imperfekti observes in her summaries, Kase is not Takaya. But he is the person who will become Takaya and stands as both a fascinating presence in his own right and an instructive lens through which to read Takaya and his dynamics with Naoe thirty years later.

Kase brings to life a lot of things the novels tell us about Kagetora but don't show much. He is reserved, low key, very much in control, and sells better than Takaya the idea that he's the leader everyone on his team looks up to. Unlike Takaya, he rarely shows the chinks in his armor. When he does, it usually comes out as grandstanding at Naoe, which is, in itself, a refusal to really show the chinks. Or occasionally, he'll give a speech about how hard it all is, but this is a far cry from Takaya's tendency to launch into long spiels about the details of his anguish with people who, on a conscious level, he thinks are complete strangers (Ujiteru, Kaizaki).

This greatly enhances my understanding of why Naoe is so intimidated by Kagetora, why he so often accuses Takaya (even poor teenage Takaya without most of his memories!) of treating him like a dog. Kase really does do a number on Naoe—Takaya does too, and Naoe and Kagetora surely do it to each other—but Kase does it with far greater consistency and, I think, more explicit manipulation than Takaya ever achieves. Takaya seems to go into a sort of "Kagetora mode," in which he berates Naoe for being a worthless sycophant and dares him to leave or not to leave, but this feels more like habit, like an inability to snap out of it, than a reasoned strategy for dealing with Naoe. In fact, it often runs directly contrary to what he wants to express. With Kase, it feels like a strategy, at least in part, a performance he passes on to Takaya even though, by Takaya's time, he no longer really wants to use it.

It is worth noting that Kasahara!Naoe is bad to Kase too. In fact, he's much more physically aggressive than I expected from Naoe in that era. (I wonder how much this is a changed premise for theatrical effect? I had the impression, based on what I don't know, that Naoe in that era was reserved and correct until it all busts out with Minako.) In any case, Naoe's behavior is bad, no question, but I do understand his sense of extremis.

Kase's pattern of behavior to him is psychologically manipulative, arguably to the point of abuse. It consists of a push-pull in which a dominant sense of combative disapproval, for what seems little reason, is occasionally interrupted by a tender, relative openness: sharing a drink, a vulnerability, a reminiscence, etc. This is a formula for profoundly wounding someone by giving them just enough affection to keep them emotionally dependent and in a constant state of fear over when the other shoe is going to drop. Mind you, I don't think Kase does this completely intentionally. He's trapped in a wounded relationship with Naoe too, needing him and unable to admit his need. But he sure as heck knows he is pushing Naoe's buttons, and he strategically does so to assert his ownership over someone he is fundamentally afraid of losing.

I find it interesting to set this "pure," un-Takaya-mediated dynamic against Naoe's later pattern of behavior to Takaya, which is abusive in a remarkably similar way: a push-pull in which he embodies loving support only to undercut Takaya's sense of security by lashing out in ugly, violent, nasty outbursts. Naoe, too, doesn't do all of this systematically. By the Takaya era, he's trapped between trying to forge a new, better relationship with Takaya and falling into the old patterns based on the old resentments against Kagetora. Still, there's an element of turnabout here, and it's certainly an effective way to get Takaya to feel very much what Kagetora has made Naoe feel.

All in all, this dynamic provides wonderful context for the craziness that is Naoetora in the novels.

There's a lot more to say, but I'll break here and pick it up in another post.


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