Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2007
This chapter examines two pieces of popular Shakespeare in Japan, 2006. The first is the adaptation of Julius Caesar by the Takarazuka Revue (directed by Shinji Kimura), and the second is Shinkansen RS’s adaptation of Macbeth, titled Metal Macbeth (script by Kankurô Kudô, directed by Hidenori Inoue). In the former, Julius Caesar is appropriated as a means to express populist nationalism in today’s Japan, and in the latter Macbeth is turned into sci-fi to express the fin-de-siècle pessimism which Japan in the twenty-first century has not yet succeeded in overcoming.
The two are ‘pop’ in different registers. Takarazuka, with a longer history, is a theatre for devoted female fans who are constructed as ‘ordinary people’, while Shinkansen RS has affinities with recent ‘geeky’ ‘nerdy’ postmodern cultures such as manga(Japanese graphic novels) and computer games. Both display, in different degrees and manners, ambivalence towards the cultural authority of ‘proper’ Shakespeare, of avant-garde Shakespeare performances and academic Shakespeare. They audaciously appropriate the original works and are unabashedly proud of their ‘pop’ quality.
At the same time, both Takarazuka and Shinkansen have high status. Takarazuka is a highly respected theatrical institution with a long history (more than ninety years), even though, because of its ‘pop’ quality, it is sometimes derided as a theatre suitable only for unsophisticated women. Shinkansen RS’s Metal Macbeth includes an acting ‘aristocracy’ of stars who have played in Ninagawa Shakespeare productions, or who come from top Kabuki families. Because of their ambivalent status, the two are most suitable formy purpose in this article to examine the blurring boundaries between pop culture and high culture in Shakespeare productions in Japan.