nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 19, 2009
If you want to understand Japanese culture on a deeper level a good entry point would be to study Bushido—the code of ethics for the samurai. Within these guidelines you will find the courage, honor, and self-discipline that the Japanese respect above all and by which much of the world has come to know the Japanese. I, like many others, came to know Bushido not by studying it but by watching classic Japanese samurai movies when I was growing up. I loved them! And I love Scattered Lives for most of the same reasons.
The story is simple and one told many times—a drunken ex-samurai must find the samurai's soul within him if wants to defend himself and his people. On the journey there, we are given all the great elements of the samurai stories. There's betrayal and tragedy, comedy and charm and of course there's a little of the supernatural. Oh, and plenty of sword fights. Lots of sword fights. There is very little dialogue and not much is needed. The story is driven by its action.
Written, directed, and choreographed by Yoshihisa Kuwayama, this production is finely crafted and very precise, from the music to the costumes to the choreography. The fight scenes are thrilling displays of swordplay and acrobatics. And I love it when action suddenly slows to a crawl as the samurai stalk each other and catch their breath. The music, some played live and some recorded, rises and falls perfectly with the action. Seiichiro Koizumi plays many instruments including the shamisen while Monk De La Vega plays a Shakuhachi flute that's hooked up to an amp with a lot of reverb and Kae Hashimoto Reed is on all kinds of percussion. There is also a cool recorded soundtrack that has guitar and jazzy saxophone and that mixed with the live traditional Japanese instruments reminded me of the old '70s samurai flicks.
The performers are all extraordinarily talented. Kuwayama plays the drunken samurai. He brings the lion's share of the charm and humor as well as the precision and skill to the show. Equally skilled is Yoshi Amao who plays the fallen samurai leader and also a ghost. Umihei plays the scowling bad guy with skill equal to his sword fighting. Takemi Kitamura is strong and sexy as the most trusted warrior character and finally Lisa Itabashi is magnetic and yet repulsive as the Judas character.
Scattered Lives delivers a great burst of action and music and will leave you wishing the show wasn't over. You'll marvel at the skill of the performers and you'll even get wrapped up the story a little. Don't miss this one. It's good fringing.