Briefly Young Again

Nozomi and I generally stick to the same walking routes when we go out together. In the morning we get into the park and head west, where she can enjoy a great deal of soft grass and shade from the trees that tower overhead. In the afternoons we head south so that she can go up and down some hills that are just steep enough to encourage her to work a little harder. In the evenings we walk east onto the baseball diamond where she can enjoy a large expanse of safe, flat land after the sun's gone down. This regular pattern was stumbled upon after several months of sluggish walks where Nozomi would let me know in her way that she wasn't interested in continuing her outdoor explorations after covering about 100 meters of well-trod lawn. She's going to be nine years old next month, and she's clearly less interested in exploring all the smells of the park in one go, which is why we have three routes that are taken at three different times of day.

This evening, as we made our way to the baseball diamond, something in the distance caught my eye. The park is not very well lit after leaving the paved paths, so I wasn't quite sure what the object was, but my imagination filled in the gaps to reveal what could be a forgotten tennis ball. Over the last couple of years I've tried at times to get Nozomi to play around a bit like she used to without much success. While she still enjoys having her stuffed dog Kodama around, the toy is really more for smelling than anything else. She ignores balls and ropes completely.

A Forgotten Tennis Ball

As we got closer to what I believed to be a ball, I tried to get Nozomi feeling a little excited. I used a playful voice and asked her some nonsensical questions about running shoes and whether she stretched before coming out for a walk. My goal was to encourage her to get closer to the object so that I could see if she wanted to have some fun again like we see other dogs doing in the park from time to time.

The goading paid off. Sitting forgotten in the middle of the outfield was a relatively new tennis ball. I kicked it over to Nozomi and she responded instantly, jumping into the path of the spinning object and claiming it as hers with a playful growl. I managed to wrestle it away with some misdirection then tossed the ball a couple of meters, hoping she would chase after it. Chase she did. For the first time in quite some time a youthful, playful puppy was enjoying a warm evening outside with a ball and a game of fetch. This was the first game I taught her many years ago when we lived in Kashiwa, before the big quake hit. Watching her chase after the ball in much the same way she chased after the stuffed heart-shaped toy that she would chew on in the pet shop before we brought her home was like therapy. She growled playfully when I would approach. She wagged her tail just like she used to. Her eyes smiled with delight.

Sadly, this wasn't to last. In less than five minutes she was exhausted and wouldn't chase after the ball anymore. She wanted to continue with her walk and get home for dinner. Given that this was the biggest workout she's had in months, I can't say I blame her. This will not be her last workout, though. Not by a long shot; I brought the ball home.

She'll get another chance to chase and play tomorrow … if she's up for it.

Review: Maidenagoya’s Romeo & Juliet

“Japan 1877.

The Meiji era is in full swing as Japan transforms from a feudalistic land of warlords into an industrialized global powerhouse. However, many are angry about what is happening to their proud country – among them, former daimyo Lord Capulet. His battles with General Montague, a decorated American soldier training Japan’s army, have escalated into daily violence, causing great concern for the new government. And so in order to end the chaos, it is decided that Paris, cousin to the Prince, will woo Lord Capulet’s only daughter Juliet, and through marriage end his resistance. But on the night of her formal introduction to Paris, Juliet meets another, a boy who would change their lives forever.”

Looking for something new to do, Reiko and I took in a theatrical performance this weekend by a group that has been operating in the Nagoya area for a number of years. Going by the name of Maidenagoya, the collections of performers have done such plays as "Bent" and "Death and a Maiden". Their most recent, of course, is a rendition of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Reiko and I caught the last Nagoya showing of the play on Sunday night. All in all, I’d give this production 3.5 out of 5. While it was not quite what I was expecting, it was certainly an enjoyable 3 hour show.

Located at the Chikusa Playhouse in the heart of Nagoya, the production took place in a rounded theatre. While this was quite different from my expectations, having most of the production take place in the centre of the theatre allowed for better acoustics. This was certainly an advantage whenever the performers spoke in Japanese, as I have trouble hearing the slight nuances of some words when there is too much background noise. On top of this, by allowing an audience to encircle the stage, everyone has a much clearer view of the set and the actors as they perform. One of the biggest complaints that I have had for performances in Canada is that you can never see the facial expressions of the performers unless you’re willing to pay upwards of $200 for a seat.

Luckily, the entrance fee was just 3,000 Yen per person, and we could sit wherever we wanted.

The Good

All in all, I believe the performance was very well done. Using a minimal amount of stage props, we were drawn in to the world where a group of linguistically verbose characters came together and interacted with one another. The friendship between Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio looked realistic. The plight of Juliet in her confines spoke volumes. The simplicity of Friar Laurence’s chambers was easily envisioned. This lack of visual distraction allowed the viewer to pay much more attention to the characters, which only drew people in more. Besides … who needs expensive stage props when imagination is a far more powerful tool?

Another positive note involves the slight modification of Shakespeare’s original text. Rather than taking place in Europe, this version of the story takes place in Japan at a time when the country was just being re-opened to the outside world. A new parliament was in place, and society itself was changing as trade with the western world introduced different cultures and goods … all of which was quickly assimilated into the culture of the time. Of course, there were still those who tried to stay traditional, if only to seek comfort in familiarity, but the country was changing by leaps and bounds. With everything that was going on during those busy decades, it’s not hard to imagine two young people from different nations would ignore all the cultural differences they may have in the name of “love at first sight.”

The Not-As-Good

That said, after three hours of listening to the main characters go from angst, to lust, to love, to anguish, to sorrow, Reiko was ready to grab a katana and put an end to some of the characters … especially Lady Juliet. Although I couldn’t catch all of the Japanese, Reiko tells me that Juliet’s intonation was unnatural and seemed to be forced at times. On top of this, the way she acted did not reflect the attitudes and actions of teenaged women in during the Meiji Era, but instead seemed like something she’d expect to see at North American high school. I’ll admit that some of Juliet’s soliloquies did seem to stretch on without end but, when you look at how melodramatic both Romeo and Juliet tend to be, I think she put on a relatively decent performance.

It wasn’t only the young Capulet’s language that upset my wife, but the rest of the family’s speech as well. Whenever Lord Capulet had something to say, his sentences had odd pauses in the middle, almost as though he were trying to speak the language in the same loose fashion as you’d expect to hear with Shakespearian English. There were places where one couldn’t tell when once sentence ended and another began, and there were times when it seemed as though he had more to say, but suddenly stopped talking. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it can certainly play havoc with the mind of an amateur Japanese listener.

However, regardless of the odd Japanese spoken by the Capulet family, the actors really put on a stellar performance that could be understood, regardless of language. The story of Romeo & Juliet has become a timeless classic that is told over and over in cultures around the world, so whether the lines are spoken in an unfamiliar language or through interpretive dance, understanding is completely dependant on how well the performers can share the story. And these performers nailed it.

That’s A Wrap

Maidenagoya had scheduled only four shows at the Chikusa Playhouse so, if you missed it, you will not be able to see it in the area again. That said, there is an opportunity to enjoy the performance if you plan on being in Tokyo during the weekend of December 6th and 7th. Taking their show on the road for the first time, Maidenagoya will be showing their rendition of Romeo & Juliet at Atelier Fontaine in Roppongi. You can get there from Azabu-Juban Station on the Toei-Oedo line, or from Roppongi Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line. Shows start at 1 and 6 in the afternoon and, just like in Nagoya, tickets are 3,000 in advance or 3,500 at the door. One interesting thing to note is that pre-school aged children are not permitted to attend, so if you’re concerned about watching a performance where the actors’ lines are drowned out by the sound of bored or crying children, this will not be a problem.

If you do have the opportunity to see a performance, be sure to leave a comment afterwards. I’d love to know what you thought of the show.