I came to this after seeing Bando in Seijun Suzuki's YUMEJI (1991.) If the great filmmaker adores kabuki enough to get its biggest onnagata (male performer in female roles) star into a male role, what's Bando like in his natural habitat?
After the mutual admiration/love-fest in the beginning, Yo-yo ma and Bando get down to work. Ma has a personal agenda of reliving the tie he had with his deceased father through the Bach piece, with another prestigious artist. Bando wants to personalize the collaboration only as far as it frees him from the usual narrative constraints of his kabuki plays (this is apparent when Ma tries to link Bando's adoption by the prestigious kabuki community to loss of his own father, and Bando saw it -- like his collaboration with Ma -- as fulfilling his destiny of kabuki actor, not a family tragedy.)
Even though director Fichman sets it up as another divisive "East vs. West", "Male vs. Woman" piece of "art", soon we see the real show is in Bando translating Bach through his emotive movements that use gender as expression, not as a set biological fact. Meanwhile, Ma is suspended in his own intact world of cello-playing, ending his interaction with Bando (including eye contact!) at the development stage.
This is fascinating for anyone interested in the creative process: Ma seizes on a set idea and doesn't let go; he even interprets Bando's "performing for the heavens" not as the idea of human-universe unity, but as the Greco-Roman concept of Dionysian. At that point Bando "snaps" back "Don't think too much", and we see artists retreating back to their individual corners, out of their initial love affair-through-interpreter!
Bando truly is a fearless artist, unafraid to use what he already knows walking into unfamiliar territory of solo performance to someone else's emotional objectives. He comes up with a basic, technical pattern of movements for each piece in the 6-part suite, but goes above them to add the instinctive, emotional qualities of each theme. The most brilliant accomplishments of the 6 are the Bresson/Tarkovsky-like intensity of piece #4, "Prayer", and the amusing & lively #5 "Dream" -- which Dali & the Surrealists could learn from. Bando's "Dream" is neither a good one, nor a nightmare. It's just dreaming itself as rollicking, delicate motions like striking memories without control over the direction & speed of its consciousness. Brilliant stuff that pushes an art form beyond the usual level.
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