This year has thrown a lot of curveballs, especially in the entertainment industry. One of the more interesting things to have sprung from this was how this year’s Takizawa Kabuki performances. Snow Man was slated to perform in the main roles this year. However, between their overall first year of promotions being completely altered, and live audience restrictions Snow Man, and Takizawa Hideaki pivoted to making the 2020 project a film.
Those of you remember my thoughts on Shonentachi, Johnny’s doesn’t have best record of adapting their materials into film format. Still, with Snow Man as the leading men, and new Jr Unit IMPACTors backing them; it would be worth watching at least for me!
Arguably, Takizawa Kabuki ZERO 2020 does have a plot. What it is, isn’t exactly the most clear unless you’re already familiar with the theatrical performances. The film adaptation has a young protagonist, played by Oda Shosei of Shonen ninja, whose bored with the books he currently owns. A book labeled as the title of the film, appears and he is drawn into the fantastical new age of performance and entertainment.
As a fan of Snow Man, I say the following not as a negative but to be as direct as possible. This isn’t a film you go to see for the plot. This isn’t even really a film adaptation of the full theatrical performance of Takizawa Kabuki either. It’s a curated selection of kabuki and other traditional Japanese theater performances, pseudo music videos, and towards the latter half an adaptation of a shorter kabuki play but with the added benefits of a movie set. All of which have been sliced and spliced together in a slick package, and padded out with a ‘plot’ to connect it all together.
I really adored the sequences of performance that were held in the traditional kabuki theater. There’s something so charming, and so true to the original about it. While the camera work is significantly higher, with close ups, bird’s eye view, all the magic of the kabuki theater was still there. Many scenes despite having cameras on them, were still executed as intended; footbridges leading to and from stage, the rotating center platforms, trap doors as well as kabuki sets for layered performances. We got the added benefits of being able to see more close ups of their expressions, with only a few oddities. The obviously crowd wasn’t present, they did fill it with pen lights for when the camera would pan out that was a neat effect.
Takizawa Kabuki also bends the rules in certain regards to give a better performance. As many may or may not know, Kabuki is traditionally only performed by men. However, Takizawa Kabuki did have 3-4 female performers for more theatrical scenes, as well a musical number, including two ballerinas and a ‘ringleader’ character. They were stunning and really added to the experience without being a distraction from the main actors.
It was smart that in the second half, where they are recreating a kabuki play, that they utilized both a movie set and the theater itself. For some of the more dialogue heavy scenes, having the characters be able to explore a world for a bit, and interact with more casual villagers really broaden this project into being a true film. It managed to really come full circle by transiting it’s final scenes back to the kabuki stage where it all began with a few upgraded effects I won’t spoil.
What really stands out about this film, is understanding the technicality and tradition that goes into these performances. Kabuki is split into masculine and feminine roles, all portrayed by men. In Snow Man members Abe Ryohei, Sakuma Daisuke, and Fukuzawa Tatsuya play feminine roles for parts of the production. There’s no sense of unease, or discomfort in their portrayals as it all reads as being very natural even on camera. In certain fight scenes, the various aspects of the kabuki musicians and narrators are shown on screen doing their various calls of the actors names, and traditional instruments being played. The costuming of course, is on point, and all the members known how to do their own makeup for each character they play.
Even further more were the traditional dance sequences. There were only two shown but as a former dancer myself; wow. The technicalities that go into traditional Japanese dance, verses modern styles are so detailed and just as striking. Especially when you compare it with their modern dance performances in numbers like “Crazy F-R-E-S-H Beat” and “Black Gold“. Additionally, the physicality that then was seen in their taiko performance. At first glance it does just look and feel like an excuse for all of them to be shirtless and yelling, but taiko is a traditional art. Having to know the rhythms, calls within the song, and the taiko choreography, is a lot to handle, especially since a lot of that sequence was a continuous shot. I can’t fathom how many takes they might have done to get the footage that made the cut, same with the dance performances.
Talking a bit about the members themselves, everyone had a moment to shine. That doesn’t mean that there was a weird barrage of solo shots or numbers. To my recollection the only member who sang solo was Watanabe Shota, but he was accompanied by Miyadate Ryota in an aerial dance performance. Each member did get a moment in each performance where they were highlighted by themselves, especially in the kabuki scenes were they would strike their pose before the action would continue. It was really well balanced, with no member outshining another, but complimenting one other to keep the production value high.
I did love this film and how it captured my imagination. It’s the type of escape I have been waiting for and I wasn’t let down. I do want to address how this looks to an outsider, which is a Johnny’s arthouse film that leans very much into the arthouse aspects. No one other then Snow Man fans are going to see this film. Especially with the hefty price tag that it came with. 3000 yen had me shook at the ticket monitor. Arguably, this isn’t much of a ‘film’ either since the story is nonexistent and really only serves as packaging for the highlight reel of Snow Man’s various performances.
Being 100% honest, this isn’t a film for everyone. Plain and simple this is a film by Snow Man for fans of Snow Man. Johnny’s finally owning that, and it really makes for a better product for their fans. I adore this film as a fan, and recommend that other fans for sure give it a watch. But for the non-fans, an easy pass. With that, I’ll see you next post!