Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dokungo - As Far Away as Love

I've written about Dokungo before. They're a "gekiga" (dramatic) performance group that travels around Japan, generally playing in open parks over the weekends. I've caught a bit of their plays in the past, from outside and at a distance, but I had no real idea what the shows were about. A few weeks ago, I visited their website to check their 2016 schedule, and that said they'd be starting their new "As Far Away as Love" tour at the end of April, and they'd be in Kagoshima in May. I misremembered the dates as being at the end of the month, so I was completely unprepared when someone told me the tents were already set up in the park by the river last Friday. They only do one show a night, and it was too late to get to the Friday one. I had to work Saturday night, so my only shot would be Sunday evening, after the Kagoshima Music Fest ended.

(Some of the supporting staff, lurking in the background.)

I was in Central Park most of the afternoon, and the last band was another gospel group that I had no interest in. Earlier in the day, the zipper broke on the belt holster carry bag for the pocket camera, and I needed to get to Bic Camera, up at the main train station to buy a replacement. I did that, rather than stick around to the end of the Fest, and after that I went by the river park (actually called Lion's Park, because of the Lion's Club water fountain at one end) where people were already lining up to get into the tent at 6 PM. I returned home, dropped off my backpack, and went back to the park at 6:45 (seating started at 6:30; curtain time was scheduled for 7 PM). I got in with no problems, but the at-the-door price was 2,800 yen ($26 USD) and the tent was full enough that I was kind of forced to sit in the first row (not really forced, because I jumped at the opportunity). More people kept arriving (there had to be at least 100 people of all ages) and an extra row of benches was set up at the front, positioning me even closer to the stage. In fact, I got sprayed with sweat by the actors a few times.

How to describe this? Well, Dokungo's shows consist of 2 hours of "theater of the absurd" skits, most of which run about 5-10 minutes. There's no real intersecting thread tying them all together, and characters come and go all the time, possibly reappearing later on in the show. The actors incorporate the park itself into the action, occasionally positioning sets outside of the tent, and even going so far as to use the park's toilets, 60 feet away, as an exit point for one of the skits. Eventually, completely unrelated people walking along the river become unintended participants as they stop and stare at the weirdness coming from the tent. Activities included music on found objects, cooking fried rice on a real propane stove, and attacking a remote-controlled umbrella with a bunch of paper butterflies.

(After the show is over; taking out the music instruments to make room for the goods store.)

The dialog was all in Japanese, but I could follow maybe 80% of it, and what I couldn't understand, I could still guess at. Overall the entire show was fun, and some of the bits were really funny. I had a great time, but sitting on a wooden bench for 2 hours did definitely test my will power. (Note: At the beginning of the program, one of the women said that it was all right for the audience to get up in the middle of the show and use the toilets if needed. I didn't notice anyone doing that, and I'm pretty sure the actors were prepared to follow the unwitting into the toilets with them as part of a skit.)

(Some of the audience, as everyone else is filtering out.)

At the end, I got to pose with two of the actors, and at that point I was kind of getting into the spirit of the show. One of the other audience members took our photos with my camera, and then asked me to do the same thing with his smartphone; I hit the "take photo" button on his phone about 20 times before he took it away from me...

(The goods store.)

Yeah, it was worth the money. But, the only way I'll be able to see Dokungo again in less than a year is to travel to some other city to catch them there. They're not coming back to Kagoshima until 2017, as far as I can tell.

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