R2-D2 may not always fare well on stage in Tokyo, but Kylo Ren does. While the U.S. was celebrating Thanksgiving this last Thursday, Japan’s capital was celebrating Star Wars with a kabuki stage play. The special one-night performance adapted parts of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in the style of Japanese kabuki theater. If you weren’t there, not to worry: Disney livestreamed the event and it’s now online where anyone can watch it.
Who needs Adam Driver when you’ve got Japan’s most famous kabuki actor? Ichikawa Ebizo XI, more commonly known by the mononym Ebizo, is an avowed Star Wars fan—so much so that he saw fit to lend his talents to the role of Kylo Ren in a kabuki stage adaptation of Episodes VII and VIII. Dubbed Star Wars Kabuki-Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, the play was blessed by Buddhist monks and took place in Tokyo on the evening of November 28. It was divided into three acts, each of which saw Kairrennosuke (the kabuki version of Kylo Ren’s name) strike down one of his mentors or father figures in anger.
In Act I, “A Sword to My Father,” it was Hanzo, or Han Solo, who met the business end of Kairrennosuke’s shining sword (which still sports its signature red crossguard). In Act II, “A Sword to My Master,” it was Sunokaku, or Supreme Leader Snoke, and in Act III, “A Sword to My Teacher,” it was Ruku, or Luke Skywalker. This being kabuki, the production naturally employed archaic Japanese, but anyone familiar with the story of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi should be able to get the basic gist of what’s happening on stage. You can watch it yourself in the video below (the actual play starts around the 20-minute mark).
While the origins of kabuki can be traced back to female dancers in the 1600s, it’s more famous now as an art form in which men don white makeup to play both male and female characters. The all-male nature of the art form may be why Kylo Ren has been foregrounded over the real protagonist of the new movie trilogy, Rey. If you’re wondering what happened to Rey here, well, she’s around, as is Admiral Holdo, only they’re known as Reina and Amiri in this adaptation. Holdo’s kamikaze hyperspace jump obviously felt true to the sacrificial spirit of a character in a Japanese tale.
The Japanese roots of Star Wars are well-documented and the influence of Japanese cinema on the franchise is something that has continued in the Disney era. Two years ago, director Rian Johnson was on hand while a Japanese-style Star Wars folding screen was unveiled at a historic temple in Kyoto. The Last Jedi borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, and just this week (the day after Ebizo’s kabuki performance in Tokyo), Disney+ subscribers saw The Mandalorian go full Seven Samurai after the show had already manifested the influence of Kazuo Koike’s manga, Lone Wolf and Cub. This month may mark the end of the Skywalker saga when The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters, but the Force is still going strong in the interplay between Star Wars and Japanese culture.
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