I must admit that kabuki isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable about. You could call it ignorance, but I’ve never even attempted to go and see a show – it’s never really appealed to me. At least, until now.
While kabuki may trace its roots all the way back to Japan’s middle ages, it has been no stranger over the years to engaging with more modern forms of entertainment – up to and including anime. Next year is already seeing a kabuki version of NARUTO making its way to Kyoto theatres, and another very exciting production is set to join it – a kabuki version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
The 1984 film of the same name was Miyazaki’s first original theatrical venture, following his massive success on Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, and it’s often considered as the starting point for what would become Studio Ghibli. Furthermore, it’s anti-imperialist themes still resonate even today, and I’m sure that many people would join me in calling it a masterpiece of the medium.
Yet what is often sidelined due to the massive success of the film is the manga version of the story – which actually preceded and succeeded the film, beginning in 1982 and ending in 1994. Miyazaki originally had his sights set on the story being made into a film, but after being rejected by several producers, one company said that they might consider funding the project if he wrote a manga first, as manga adaptations were a much safer business decision.
So while Miyazaki didn’t start the manga out of choice, over it’s run it would grow much larger than his original vision, and indeed trumping the film in terms of scale and content. I’ve always been disappointed that Miyazaki never returned to the series for a sequel, covering some of the amazing things that happen in the latter half that were never adapted into the film.
Therefore, imagine my excitement when I heard that this kabuki version of the story would be adapting the full story of the manga and not just the film. Tackling this full, as of yet unseen adaptation will be none other than Ghibli alumni Keiko Niwa, who worked on the screenplays for When Marnie Was There and The Secret World of Arrietty. Given Niwa’s experience working at Ghibli itself, it’s safe to say that this kabuki version will respect the spirit of the original. Furthermore, both of the aforementioned projects were actually adaptations themselves, meaning that Niwa should be able to deftly adapt the manga into kabuki form – even if he’s never worked professionally in theatre before.
And while I don’t know much about kabuki, there has been a fair amount of buzz surrounding the two actors cast for the central roles of Nausicaä and Kushana. Onoe Kikunosuke V will be playing the former, and Nakamura Shichinosuke II will be playing the latter. From what I gather, both are pretty popular actors and have starred in many excellent productions in the past, so I hope that they can do these excellent characters justice.
While other details are scarce, we do have a date for the production already – December 2019 in Shinbashi Enbujo, Ginza. That’s actually not too long after the July start of the NARUTO production in Kyoto, meaning that the kabuki circuit this year will truly be an otaku’s paradise.