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Special Exhibition: “I’ll Cut You Down If You Come Closer!
Shinkokugeki and Sword-Fighting Drama”

Takafusa Hatori
Research Associate, Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

The 20th century was a century of sword-fighting dramas in Japan. Sword-fighting dramas surpassed genre and media, overcame gender and ideology, and even went beyond national boundaries to involve people into frenzied excitement. The special exhibition “I’ll Cut You Down If You Come Closer! Shinkokugeki and Sword-Fighting Drama” (supervised by Museum Vice-Director Ryuichi Kodama) will be held on the 2nd floor of the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum from October 1st (Wed.) this autumn to February 4th (Wed.) next spring. While focusing mainly on dramas and films of the Shinkokugeki Group, the exhibition uses multiple perspectives to examine the significance of sword-fighting drama in 20th-century Japanese performing arts history.

A prominent feature of this upcoming exhibition is the Shinkokugeki Group (1917 to 1987) and its deep connection with Waseda University. The group was founded by actor Shojiro Sawada (1892 to 1929) and his associates. Sawada had been educated by Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859 to 1935), a leading figure in the founding of Waseda’s theatre museum. In addition to starting the Shinkokugeki Group, Sawada took bold action in a variety of genre including translated drama, historical drama, religious drama and kabuki. In the blink of an eye, he rose to theatrical greatness during these turbulent times. In particular, sword-fighting dramas such as Kunisada Chuji and Tsukigata Hanpeita (both produced by Rifu Yukitomo) featured the appeal of realistic swordfights and famous lines which were well-known throughout Japan. These dramas grew into a genre which was representative of the Shinkokugeki Group. However, Sawada became ill during a performance in 1929 and passed away at the young age of 36. Afterwards, the Shinkokugeki Group reached a new golden age thanks to the work of the young actors Ryutaro Tatsumi (1905 to 1989) and Shogo Shimada (1905 to 2004) who were entrusted the fate of their Group. The group produced many famous works before it was forced to disband in 1987, the year of its 70th anniversary. The famous film and television actor Ken Ogata (1937 to 2008), who unfortunately passed away just a few years ago, is well known for having started his career as a performer in the Shinkokugeki Group after WWII.

With only about 3 months left until the October 1st start of the exhibition, the Theatre Museum is currently in the final stage of preparation. We have embraced the challenge of adding various new elements to the exhibition. For example, by utilizing precious footage provided by world-famous film historian Hiroyoshi Komatsu (Professor at Waseda University), we created a digital version of the silent film Kunisada Chuji (directed by Shozo Makino, 1924). This film features performances by initial members of the Shinkokugeki Group under the guidance of Sawada. We are also proud to present a theatre lecture to be held in the Main Hall of Okuma Auditorium on November 19th (Wed.) this autumn. As stated above, the Shinkokugeki Group came to an end in 1987. However, powerful performances are given today by the theatre group Wakajishi, which was formed by actor Akira Kasahara (joined the Shinkokugeki Group in 1969) and his colleagues in order to continue theatre in the spirit of Sawada. Kasahara was invited to speak at the 77th Shoyo Festival held on May 26th (Mon.) and gave a lecture focusing on memories of his mentors Tatsumi and Shimada. He also recited the following famous line from Kunisada Chuji: “This is the last night on Mount Akagi...” This line was passed down from Sawada to Tatsumi and from Tatsumi to Kasahara. During a theatre lecture to be held in November, Kasahara and his colleagues will give an authentic performance of the Shinkokugeki Group’s dramas Kunisada Chuji (from Mount Akagi to Komatsubara) and Tate Tamura, which pursues the artistry of sword-fighting. I hope you will join us in late autumn for a precious moment in Japanese theatre history.

Special Exhibition: “I’ll Cut You Down If You Come Closer! Shinkokugeki and Sword-Fighting Drama”
October 1st (Wed.), 2014 to February 4th (Wed.), 2015
Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Special Exhibition Rooms I & II
Theatre lecture with live performances of Kiwametsuki Kunisada Chuji and Tate Tamura
Date & Time:
November 19th (Wed.), 2014; 3:00pm to 6:00pm (doors open at 2:00pm)
Waseda University Okuma Auditorium (Main Hall; capacity of 1,000 people)
Akira Kasahara and colleagues
Free (advanced application required)

Center: Shojiro Sawada (playing Kunisada Chuji in the film Kunisada Chuji (from the Theatre Museum collection)

Akira Kasahara (playing Kunisada Chuji in the film Kiwametsuki Kunisada Chuji)

Takafusa Hatori
Research Associate, Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Takafusa Hatori was born in 1982. He specializes in film study. He completed the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. He holds a PhD from Kyoto University in human and environmental studies. His co-written works include Society in Film—Film in Society (Minerva Shobo Publishing, 2011). His theses include Film—The Joint Struggle to Leave the Studio System Among Film Stars During the Period of Transition to Television (Engeki Kenkyu, 2014).