ByÂ Lyle SylvanderÂ (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) forÂ JQ magazine. Lyle is entering a masterâ€™s program at theÂ School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia UniversityÂ (MIA 2013) and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper forÂ FC Japan, a NYC-based soccer team.
In 1950, a young Buddhist monk committed a notorious act of arson and destroyed the ancient Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Yukio Mishima, Japanâ€™s preeminent novelist at the time, fictionalized the events inÂ Kinkakuji, published in 1956 and translated into English asÂ TheÂ Temple of the Golden PavilionÂ in 1959. While the actual arsonist was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Mishima presented an elaborately detailed psychological study of a disturbed man, incorporating elements of Buddhist and ancient Greek philosophical reflections on the impermanence of beauty and the conflicts between idealism and reality. The novel helped cement Mishimaâ€™s worldwide literary reputation and inspired numerous adaptations, including an opera, a modern dance ballet and two film versions.
Now, the directorÂ Amon Miyamoto, previously represented in New York by his production of Stephen Sondheimâ€™sÂ Pacific Overtures,Â has adapted the story into a full-fledged theatrical production. Having premiered last year at Miyamotoâ€™s Kanagawa Arts Theatre (KAAT) in Yokohama, the production was presented intact by the annualÂ Lincoln Center FestivalÂ in New York from July 21-24 with its original cast, led by J-pop star Go Morita of the boy band V6.
In presenting his version of the story, Miyamoto (who co-wrote the script with Chihiro Ito) relies on an arsenal of visual conventions, from multimedia projections to Western theatrical blocking to Japanese austerity. Most of the play is presented on a wooden stage suggestive of an old classroom, a fitting visual component of the temple groundsâ€™ claustrophobic enclave. Mizoguchi, the monkâ€™s name in Mishimaâ€™s version, is played by Morita as an awkward stutterer who creates a vibrant interior world at odds with his disappointing reality.
Miyamoto is most successful in realizing the psychological dynamism so evident in the novel by representing his interior machinations theatricallyâ€”the small stage functions dually as Mizoguchiâ€™s mind, a mental arena where his neuroses and complexes assume a tangible form and battle each other. Sexual repression, aesthetic rapture, a dangerous idealism of history and Japanese nationalism, and the tragic struggle between the Dionysian and Apollonian aesthetic propel Mizoguchiâ€™s mind toward its tragic end. Along the way, he is manipulated by his clubfooted friend Kashiwagi, who uses his malady as way to get sympathy from women.
The playâ€™s visuals were effective in two ways. They told the literal aspects of the story well, an example being the screen projections when Mizoguchi was traveling by train and the scene in Gion. But they also demonstrated what was going on in his mindâ€”the visual representation of the electronic static going on his mindâ€”the anxiety, tension and confusion that drove him to desperate measures. This all built up to the climax, where the audience inside the Rose Theater is engulfed in the golden red light, itself both literal (the burning of the golden temple) and the image ofÂ transient perfectÂ beauty that he is so desperate to find.
This impressive staging ofÂ The Temple of the Golden PavilionÂ is a much more demanding work than causal theatergoers may be used to, but fans of Mishima and his novel will find much to savor.