A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Legendary Loyalty: The 47 Ronin in Japanese Prints
Venue: Japan Foundation, 2 Bloor Street East, 3rd Floor
Dates/Times: Through March 4; Mondays and Wednesdays 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 11:30 am-4:30 p.m.; Saturdays (January 21, February 4 and 18 and March 4) 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission/Information: FREE; call 416-996-1600 x 229 or jftor.org
Nothing exemplifies the samurai warrior code, the bushido , than honour and nothing more exemplifies that example than the Chūsingura legend – sometimes known in modern-day Japan as the Akō Incident – but known worldwide as the story of the 47 Ronin, where a large masterless samurai army or ronin avenged the shameful death of their fair Lord Asano by the rival Lord Kira and later committed seppuku (ritualized suicide) under the orders of the Shogunate (military government) in following him into death after successfully completing their vendetta on December 14, 1702 (January 30, 1703 in today’s calendar) in Edō (present-day Tōkyō).
Countless retellings of the story have been done in theatre, opera, literature, television and in cinema, including one really botched-up Hollywood version in 2013 starring Keanu Reeves. At the Japan Foundation’s newly relocated location at the corners of Bloor and Yonge, woodblock prints from the 18th- and 19th-centuries in the Legendary Loyalty: The 47 Ronin in Japanese Prints looks at several noted artists throughout history who have depicted the Chūsingura in vivid interpretations.
Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) has the most abundant in the exhibit and more kabuki-like approach, since the story has traditionally been presented in that fashion from the very first play was presented in 1748 and mounted every December throughout Japan (an old kabuki saying goes: “If the theatre needs money, put on Chūsingura.”); with three rare black-and-white proofs to a honourable portrait of the leader of the 47 Ronin, Ōboshi Yuranosuke Yoshio. “The Role of Ōboshi Yuranosuke” by Chikayoshi (circa 1870s-80s-1890s) does a totally unique flipbook take on the face of the character, which is easily accessible with a nearby tablet to show the five pages to swipe with.
Famous landscape artist Hiroshige (1797-1858) dives a rare foray into theatrical print with “Act 10, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Kanadehon Chūsingura at Sakai Port” is detailed and bold in its solid blacks; whereas the “Spirit of Kampei Leading the Attack over Kira’s Wall” is a ghostly standout tribute to a ronin who died prior to the attack but there in spirit that Kunichika (1835-1900) drenches itself in rich, monochromatic blues and purples.
While many inconsistencies in how historically accurate is the Chūsingura has been lost to the ages other than its date and proof of their graveyard at Sengaku-ji Temple in Tōkyō (including how many exactly participated in their affiance, as the lone survivor Terasaka Kichiemon never surrendered to the authorities nor was ever charged with any crime related to it and later was buried with his comrades with his death in 1747), real life does cross with 1875 news story print in the Tōkyō Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper by Yoshiiku about a actor who was fatally shot by accident while performing the play done in the construct of greys and a monochromatic palette.
And parodies (or mitate) of the play does exist from the 19th-century due to government censorship laws of the day that lasted about seventy-five years after the incident by Kuniyoshi’s “Act 11, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Kanadehon Chūsingura” and by Kunisada with his “Act 3, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Kanadehon Chūsingura, Ashikaga Mansion” where it gets clownish with a comic acrobatic comic relief act.
Complementing the exhibit go to some curios consisting of a replicated fireman’s helmet prop from the kabuki, as once used by the ronin in their attack; a pop-up picture booklet reproducing Kunisada’s 1854 prints of the play for the National Theatre of Japan when the company marked its fiftieth anniversary in 2016 with the mounting of the play in bunraku (puppetry); plus modern photographic print posters from said year and 2011 are nice looking, but don’t hold much gravitas compared to the master printers showcased in Legendary Loyalty to give it some extra thought on technique, approach and structure.
Left-right: Aborigine actor Jack Charles; Brisbine neo-circus troupe C!RCA’s The Return and the multimedia Endings by Tamara Saulwick are part of Canadian Stage’s Spotlight series line-up starting in March.
This spring brings Canadian Stage’s biennial, six-week Spotlight series focusing on a particular nation’s contemporary theatre scene March 29 to May 7 with this year’s guest country Australia coming to the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East) and their Berkeley Street Theatre home base (26 Berkeley Street) ranging from theatre, dance and the circus arts.
Veteran Aborigine actor “Uncle” Jack Charles brings his one-man life story Jack Charles V. The Crown (March 29-April 8) to the stage speaking of his crowning achievements in Aboriginal theatre and a household name in Australia, but also reveals his darker side of being a heroin addict for seven decades and turning to cat burglary to help fund his addiction which led to jail time and his long road to recovery and redemption.
Blood Links (April 19-23) has noted visual/performance artist William Yang talks about the immigrant experience and his scattered family ties around the globe still bound by traditions in a powerful and unique fashion he brings with his visuals and storytelling; as fellow performance artist Tamara Saulwick takes portable turntables, reel-to-reel tape players and live performance in a moving meditation on cycles and the ending of things in her critically-acclaimed Endings (April 26-30) to the songs and vocals of Grand Salvo singer/songwriter Paddy Mann.
Through the dance production MEETING (April 26-30) reveals a fascination with the articulation of the body and mind in motion by choreographer Antony Hamilton’s unique physical grammar and Alisdair Macindoe’s highly-original bespoke musical instrument making where 64 robotic instruments engage in a body, space and sound installation.
And the popular Brisbane troupe Circa returns with The Return (May 3-7) on their rendition of the classical Greek story of Ulysses to folksong and the baroque opera of Monteverdi about adventure and faithfulness between two people in a haunting tale about longing for the journey home through the company’s groundbreaking, world-renowned fusionist acrobatics.
Tickets now on sale. For information, call 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com
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