Friday, December 4, 2009

The Gyrations of Kawaii Culture at Japan Society

I went into the opening night of the world premiere of "there is no end to more," a performance commissioned by the Japan Society, with the expectation that I would leave angry at choreographer Jeremy Wade and actor/dancer Jared Gradinger for defiling kawaii and the culture of cute that has been a phenomenon in Japan for almost forty years. In the article I posted on, the concept of kawaii has exploded from doodles on schoolgirls' notebooks to what we all associate with Japanese culture: Computer games, fashion, manga, and anime. Those things have saturated how we view the Japanese. Writer Marcos Rosales mentions in the YouTube video above that Wade's fascination with kawaii culture manifested itself when things became too cute and, as a result, sinister.

So I thought I was going to see a show that trashed Hello Kitty and my favorite Sanrio characters, but there was none of that. Most of it didn't even seem Japanese, except for the narration at the beginning. Whispering in a mischievous tone, the disembodied voice of the narrator describes what seem to be scenarios for super heros and cartoon characters. Wade and his cronies discuss consumerism, but in more general, global terms, rather than how having an amagurichan cell phone strap leads to the destruction of the world as we know it. Or at least culture as we know it.

Despite the absence of Hello Kitty and Badtz Maru, there were cute characters in the show. There was a ghost named Boo Hoo and a bear. They had bit parts and met with sad fates, but it still didn't make me mad at the production for bashing kawaii. I was prepared to defend kawaii culture. I had planned to come straight home after the performance and write a blog entry that extolled the virtues of cute, happy, sing-songy characters despite how horribly the world crumbles around them. No need. Consumerism is consumerism, whether it be through the purchase of cute things or serious things. I think Jeremy Wade and his collaborators could have been more brutal toward kawaii culture, but I'm glad they weren't. I left happy in the knowledge that cute things prevailed.

Regardless of the degree of Japanese-ness, "there is no end to more" is still an enjoyable show. Gradinger – the actor, dancer, and, I'm convinced, yoga master – flung himself across the stage with reckless abandon. I think his character was controlled by the voice of the narrator; at least he didn't control it by himself. He seemed almost surprised by his gyrations, and his playful facial expressions and childlike voice perfectly suited each segment of the performance. It's interesting to note that one of his costumes was a shirt that bore the Star Trek logo, an homage to the American sci-fi classic?

Oh, I noticed a boo-boo under Gradinger's left knee cap when he took his much deserved bows after the performance. It wasn't there when the show began, so I think it may have been caused by his falling down and rolling around on the stage.

I wonder if he covered the boo-boo with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.

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