Tag Archives: 赤毛のアン

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An Interview with Producers of “Agake No An” Musical in Tokyo

Recently, the “Anne of Japan” team visited the Tokyo headquarters of S.T. Corporation, which last August produced a touring musical version of “Anne of Green Gables” (Akage No An). The approach is unusual, in that it’s done with very high production values, but it’s staged by the company as a way of “giving back” to its employees. Tickets were raffled off last summer over the internet. Audience members had to apply, and tickets were given away through a lottery sort of process.

The star of the musical, in the role of Anne Shirley, is Japanese pop star Takahashi Ai. She has previous experience with “Akage No An”, also in S.T. Corporation’s touring version of the musical in which played Diana Barry, Anne’s best friend.

We conducted two interviews, one with Takashi Suzuki, the CEO of S.T. Corporation, who obviously holds the story of Anne very close to his heart, and another with the musical’s Director, Sachihiko Toda.

Because the show tours Japan, they use local kids to perform in the musical, to fill all of the supporting roles. So they hold auditions in each city and then rehearse the young actors. In the past, this has resulted in a couple of the kids going on to careers in show business. One of them went on to become a member of AKB48, a sort of Japanese version of the Spice Girls. S.T. Corporation “hires” approximately 13 kids in each town that the musical plays in.

The first time they performed Anne, back in 2003, they had an audience of approximately 14,000, but last year they estimate it was closer to 18,000.

St.Co.Producer

In his interview, Takashi Suzuki remembers life after the Second World War and the fact that everything, all of the houses and buildings and books, had been destroyed in the flames, so there was nothing to read. As it happened Hanako Muraoka’s translation of “Anne of Green Gables” had just been published. He says he remembers borrowing it from an older girl and was completely moved by its story, because it gave hope and strength to people struggling through difficult times. He also points out that at that time, women were expected to behave in a very reserved way, so the character of Anne provided Japanese women with both an outlet and an example of a new way to behave. He furthermore asserts that you only have to get married to a Japanese woman to understand how they rule society (!).

He then goes on to say that the character of Anne Shirley is still very much in the hearts of that older generation of Japanese women, and that those women are eager to pass their love of Anne along to their daughters and granddaughters, and that he’s noticed them bringing these young women to the shows. The audience for the show is about 75% to 80% women, although in the interview he estimates that it’s 99%.

S.T. Company employees work on the show as a way of interacting with the public in a way that’s completely different from their usual routine of working as salespeople. We informally quizzed a few employees and they confirmed that they love working on the musical, and that for them it’s like organizing a party.

The second interview was with Sachihiko Toda, who acts as the show’s producer/director. He is also CEO of Imagine Musical. He conceptualizes the show, adapts the source material, writes dialogue, auditions the actors and directs, with the help of a small team. He presented the idea of doing Anne as an annual touring musical to S.T. Corporation over 10 years ago.

St.Co.MusicalDirector

He says that the major challenge has been to include local kids in each show, something that was requested by S.T. Co’s Chairman. This was particularly challenging at the time of the tsunami in 2011. At that time they had to cancel the audition which was set in Sendai in March, but instead moved it back to June, to give those kids a chance, too, even though most of them still had no spare sets of clothes or shoes.

Another challenge is the fact that very few Japanese actors are trained for performing in musicals. But he’s confident that the people he does recruit are all very good in their roles.

He says that the show has changed quite a lot over 13 years. At first it consisted mainly of long speeches, almost like Les Miserables, but that now there is a minimum of speech and more singing and dancing. The music and dance routines have a modern feel, but the costumes and the set are faithful to the book.

He said, too, that he has noticed a change in the audience’s demographic, which once consisted mainly of middle aged women, but is getting younger and younger as the years go by. He’s convinced that the show is guaranteed to run indefinitely.

S.T. Company was also were kind enough to give us some supplementary material to use in our documentary, including footage of the rehearsal process. And we’ll be figuring out how to work that in to the longer documentary over the next few months while we collect more material and interviews.

A Trip to Canadian World Theme Park, Ashibetsu, Hokkaido

Here is some footage that I will not end up using in my documentary (or not all of it, anyway). I won’t be using it mainly because of its length, but also because I’m not using a tripod. This shot is an almost 14-minute long stroll through Canadian World, a theme park in Ashibetsu, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. If you can’t visit, consider this a virtual visit.

We start at the front gate, which is a replica of the Kensington railway station on Prince Edward Island.

What you might notice, first of all, is the gentle piano music piped in by speakers all through the park. At certain points, if you’re between speakers, the music has an echo on it and almost a disjointed quality as you travel closer to the next speaker and the sound comes into focus. The next thing you might notice is that we are alone in the park. There is a groundskeeper, and I did speak with him, but it’s actually quite a big park and he was probably down by the lake while I was shooting this. You’ll notice, as well, that he keeps the place in immaculate shape, even though there are essentially no visitors. I spent three days here, and saw a total of two lone visitors and one family.

So, now we walk down the central path, towards a clock tower that’s identified as being from Saint John. This is “Canadian World”, so there has to be some representation of something other than Prince Edward Island in it. I’m guessing this is the clock tower in front of the Market Square mall complex. I don’t recognise it. And yet it looks familiar.

In any case, this is an unedited shot. I thought, “I’ll just walk through and let the camera run and see what happens.” If you get bored and want to skip to the end, go ahead. But it’s here, just in case you wanted to see what it’s like to walk through the place.

After the clock tower, we walk for a few minutes down to the Green Gables house, which is a scale reproduction of the Green Gables house in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. I cannot communicate how strange an experience it is to walk up to this house, because it’s a place I’m extremely familiar with. Again, it’s empty. The music is still being piped through, in case someone should visit.

floorplan

Seeing this house, in Japan on the other side of the world, gave me an impression of something like vertigo or feeling like I’m in a dream that resembles my own life, but some dream version of my life. Imagine one day waking up and starting your day, to discover that everything is almost the same but kind of different at the same time. Or that you’ve become a giant insect. You walk down streets that are familiar, but people are speaking a different language. You feel at home, but everything is just a little off. For me, experiencing this park felt a lot like waking up in The Village, the fictional town in the TV show The Prisoner. The thing is, I often feel like I’m in that show. But it is pretty rare to actually walk through a park that’s a fairly good replica of your own experience, with nice, calming music playing through discreetly placed speakers, and not another living person in sight. It wasn’t as extreme as, say, a scene out of Inception, in which the earth folds in on itself leaving you standing in front of this house on the other side of the world. But it’s a little like that.

Both this house and the original that it’s based on are symbols. On Prince Edward Island, it’s a house in which no people live, but has been staged as an example of the type of house that Matthew and Marilla would have lived in if they had not been fictional characters. It’s the type of house that Lucy Maud might have been inspired by, and therefore close enough to use for display purposes.

Anyway, symbol or not, imagine walking into and through a house that you’re very familiar with (your childhood home, let’s say), in a landscape that is sort of similar to something that you already know, but in Japan. Or if you’re already in Japan, try it in reverse. That is what it’s like walking up to and through the Green Gables house in Ashibetsu.

Places can mean a great deal to our identities. Something that feels significant to you can be replicated in another part of the world and experienced almost as if it were the original. Which feels strange to say, because the original is already a replica. Yes, this is confusing.

In any case, have fun taking this walking tour of Canadian World. Only small parts of this footage will make it in to the final work. But it’s here for you to take a stroll through any time you feel like visiting.

Photo Gallery – Japan September 2013

日本のアン赤毛のアンをテーマにしたドキュメンタリーです。

Anne of Japan will be a documentary on the subject of the longstanding Japanese fascination with Prince Edward Island in general and with “Anne of Green Gables” in particular.  It features interviews with a variety of people, such as long-term residents of Prince Edward Island who are from Japan, and Japanese tourists who come to Prince Edward Island to make their Anne pilgrimages.

The documentary sheds light on questions of cultural identity, propriety, and raises questions about the way communities represent themselves to the world through tourism.

Visually, it is a tour through rural parts of Prince Edward Island, the places that Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of the Anne books, identified with and that were identified with in turn by her Japanese fans.