「チャップリンの『街の灯』の歌舞伎版」Charlie Chaplin on the Kabuki stage - Part 1


Happy New Year! Can you believe its already 2020?
Just some decades ago people thought we would have flying cars and microchips implanted in our necks.. (Although that might be coming sooner than we’d like.)

こんにちは。明けましておめでとうございます。もう2020年って信じられますか?数十年前には 、空飛ぶ車や首にマイクロチップが埋め込まれていると想像した時代です(かなり近いことが起

I had quite a long Christmas/New Years break (longer than I intended to, as well…) and I was traveling around to Shanghai, then inside of Germany as well. While I completely took off work – traveling and meeting a lot of people every day also felt quite busy to be honest! First world problems, you know.. haha
Back home in Japan and ready to dive back into work I got hit instantly with such a heavy flu that I couldn’t leave the futon for about a week. Cutting away more valuable time I intended to use for work instead of suffering. But oh well, we all need an occasional reminder how much we take health for granted, don’t we? Say healthy kids.. *waves with her cane*



Hopefully you had a pleasant and interesting past year and a good fresh start into the twenties of this century. In the past year I submerged myself more and more in the Japanese culture and arts. Turns out wearing kimono makes you curious about a lot of things.
Traditions are weaved tightly with the Japanese kimono, just like the fabric itself being weaved in many different ways.
Kabuki theatre has long been on my to-do list to see, however I did not find the right push to actually fork out the time and go. Just before the year end however, finally the right opportunity came up: Via twitter I discovered a tweet from the Japan Chaplin Society introducing a collaborative stage play.


©︎ National Theatre of Japan

Charlie Chaplin meets Kabuki チャーリー・チャップリンと歌舞伎

What an amazing crossover! This news had me so exited I put the news on blast across all my social media and booked my tickets immediately.
Since waiting was not an option, I wrapped myself in one of my fanciest kimono to view the opening play at the National Theatre of Japan in Tokyo.


First up was the traditional kabuki play “Ōmi Genji Senjin Yakata” with an emotional story.
After a brief lunch break (the theatre has several restaurants or you can bring your own bento to eat) the second act – “Kōmori no Yasu-san” our Chaplin like tramp, started.

Traditional kabuki character “Yasu-san” with the bat tattoo in the face was morphed with Charlie Chaplins character. The play was based on the famous movie “City lights” – however reimagined into the Edo period life. The characters as well the whole stage design was so fantastic it had me in awe. The night before I had rewatched the original movie to compare it with the play, which I think made it even more fun to me.
Right from the start, our tramp in kimono had the whole crowd laughing and screaming! Such a fantastic experience I’d probably not forget.

お昼休憩の後は、第二幕「蝙蝠の安さん」= チャップリン歌舞伎の始まりです。


Did you ever hear about the several ways to enjoy kabuki? Some say that the play after some days or weeks is the best to watch since the actors are kind of in a good groove by then. However some enjoy the not yet 100% polished first plays or the last ones.

During a drunk scene, our Chaplin actually lost his little beard – making the whole hall burst out laughing as it flew off his face. This certainly wasn’t part of the act, however the two actors incorporated it so naturally in the scene that it blew my mind.
Perhaps I will always be one of the crowd who watches kabuki on the first day in hope for some tiny bloopers.

I don’t want to spoiler anything, so I am just going to say that this play was through and through amazingly done in all its details – from the outfits to the movements as well as the stage art.
A brilliant piece of art which I hope could be enjoyed by many.




Interview with Mr. Hiroyuki Ono 
チャップリン歌舞伎の立役者 日本チャップリン協会代表

Enough of my thoughts – surely you must also be as curious about the story of this collaboration as me? Mr. Hiroyuki Ono, who is the mastermind behind this crossover of arts, kindly agreed to an interview. So let me share some more back ground info in interview form with you:

リン協会の代表 大野裕之さんにお話を伺う機会があったので、全編、公開しちゃいます!場所

SALZ:自己紹介からお願いします / Please introduce yourself

大野さん: 大野裕之と申します。1974年大阪生まれです。
Mr. Ono: My name is Hiroyuki Ono born in 1974.

You were in charge of the script supervision for “Komori no Yasu san”. You also produced and wrote “Master of Funeral” based on Yasunari Kawabata, right?

大野さん: そうなんです。僕は日本で初めてノーベル文学賞を受賞した川端康成に憧れて、その母校である大阪府立茨木高校に通いましたので、そのご縁が川端康成原案の『葬式の名人』につながっています。


映画の研究についてはチャップリン以外にもゴダールとかパゾリーニとか色々な映画作家が好きなので、卒業論文ではチャップリンをやって修士論文や博士論文では他の作家をやろうと思ったんですが、チャップリンは巨大な存在なので学校の論文では終わりませんでした 。

 チャップリンという人は同じシーンを20回ぐらい取り直す完璧主義者です。それゆえに、膨大な NG テイクが出たのですが、それらがロンドンの倉庫に眠っていて、その貴重なチャップリンのNGフィルムをすべて見た、世界で3人目になることができました。それで修士論文を書いたのです。

Mr. Ono: Yes, I admired Yasunari Kawabata, the first Nobel prize winner for literature in Japan. This is why I went to Ibaraki high school in Osaka. This led to “Master of Funeral” based on Yasunari Kawabata’s work.
After high school I went to the Kyoto University to study film studies. At the same time, I organized the theater group “Tottemo Benri”. I have been studying film and practicing theater.

I was researching about Chaplin for a long time. Besides Chaplin, I loved many other film makers like Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini. I planned to write about Chaplin for the bachelor thesis and then other film makers for my master and Phd. But it turned out that I could not finish writing about Chaplin enough for the bachelor thesis as Chaplin is such a huge figure.

I decided to write about Chaplin for my master thesis. Yet, my teacher told me that I better not do about Chaplin because so many studies were done on him already and he recommended me to write about films from Kyoto. About 50% of Japanese films being shot in Uzumasa, Kyoto. My teacher said if I would still insist on writing about Chaplin, I must research about something so unique (about Chaplin).

So I went to London to find “unique” material about him. Chaplin was a perfectionist who took the same scene 20 times. There were many out-take (NG) scenes stored in the warehouse in London. I was the 3rd person in the world who could see and analyze all the materials. I wrote a thesis from that.
Later on a member of Chaplin family read my English thesis. This was the start of a relationship with Chaplin family. With a help of the Chaplin family, I was one of those who established the Chaplin Society of Japan which researches about films and is the agent of Chaplin copy rights for Japan. Besides Chaplin, I am also the script writer and film producer.

SALZ: なぜチャップリンに興味を持ったんですか? / What sparked your interest for Chaplin?


Mr. Ono: I watched his “the Great Dictator” on NHK (E-Tel) in my 4th year of my primary school. I did not know much about Chaplin then and only knew he was a “funny person”. I watched it and had so much astonishment. It was extremely funny but very moving at the end. Even for a kid, his strong social satire moved me where he fought directly against Hitler. I, as a kid, felt this was a great work with various ideologies.

SALZ:小学校四年の時からおとなびてましたね! / You were just in the 4th year of school then?



Mr. Ono: Kids can actually understand a lot. Chaplin is also so easy to understand for kids as well as adults.
When you loved Chaplin, it meant that you could study so much about various cultural topics because he was the main artist of 20th century.

Chaplin at the last part of his biography “My Autography” quoted Arthur Schopenhauer’s words saying “He (Schopenhauer) said that ‘happiness is a negative state – but I disagree” and expressed his gratitude for his wife, Oona. Then I became interested in knowing who the Arthur Schopenhauer was and philosophy in general. This way, my sub major at my university was philosophy.

SALZ: 今回の『蝙蝠の安さん』についてお聞きします。チャップリンの『街の灯』は昔歌舞伎になっていたんですね。
Let me ask you about “Komori no Yasusan (Chaplin Kabuki)”. This is not the first City Lights Kabuki, right?


それで、昔の演劇雑誌などを調べ始めたのですが、なかなか見つかりませんでした。手がかりは二つある、一つはタイトル。「街の灯」とか、「盲目花売り娘~~~」という感じではないかと。二つ目は、『街の灯』の日本公開は1934年なので、1934年以降の雑誌を読んで調べたんですが、まったく見つからない。それもそのはずで、実は日本公開より前の1931年8月つまり ワールドプレミアから7ヶ月後に「蝙蝠の安さん」というタイトルで上演していたのです。

Mr. Ono: Correct, I came to know this about 15 years ago. In a news paper interview article, Mr. Koshiro Matsumoto (then Somegoro Ichikawa) said that Kabuki performed the City Lights by Chaplin before the WWII. I was surprised.

I went through old theatre magazines. I could not find the clue. I searched from two aspects: 1) the title City Lights or something with a blind girl selling flowers and 2) the year 1934, when the City Lights opened in 1934 in Japan. I read theatre magazine published after 1934. No clue. Its reason was because the City Lights kabuki was performed in August, 1931, just 7 months after its world premier under the title of “Komori no Yasusan”.



©︎ National Theatre of Japan


City lights had a world premier on 30th of Jan, 1931 and went well all over the world. Japan had no money right after the depression. Because the license fee was high, it did not come to Japan then. Chaplin was already so popular in Japan that the movie was on news papers and magazines.

There was a theater writer Kinka Kimura looking for a new theme for his new work. He himself was a big Chaplin fan. 2 years before this, Kinka already had taken a scene in Yaji Kita (old Japanese comic story) the stage of tight rope from Chaplin movie “the Circus” from 1928.
Kinka used the City Lights story summery from a movie magazine, heard of the stories from Uzaemon Ichimura 15th and Ennosuke Ichikawa 2nd (later Enou 1st) who watched the movie overseas and wrote the script.

“Komori no Yasusan” is Komori Yasu from “Genji dana” scene of “Yohanasake Ukina no Yokogushi” story. This is worth noting to use the traditional homeless/tramp character to play Chaplin.
Using foreign plays to make Japanese plays was not strange in Japan that time. Japanese arts that time took some foreign works such as Hamlet and made a Joruri performance “Hamulet Yamato no Nishikie” by Kanagaki Robun where the main character Hamura Maru. And, Cyrano de Bergerac became Shirano Benjuro. But Kimura did not just copy characters from the sounds but used one famous character from Kabuki, Komori Yasu to make Chaplin. Chaplin was not just translated for Japan but taken as the deepest part of the Japanese art. I feel Japanese art is so flexible and also the greatness of Chaplin who was loved in different cultures around the world.

Since we got so many questions and interesting answers, this interview will be split into two posts for readability.

Check back in a few days to read in Part 2 of our interview to find out how the idea of a new Chaplin Kabuki was born, why the preparations took 15 years and hear about the thoughts behind the kimono outfit etc.



xoxo Anji

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