Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai at Sadler’s Wells
Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai, which opened in Tokyo in 2009, was chosen this year to launch J400 – marking the 400th anniversary of the official establishment of Japan-British relations. The play, in fact, relates the story of William Adams (said to be the first Englishman to reach the shores of Japan in 1600) and the socio-political consequences of his encounter with the first Japanese Shogun.
The production aptly matches the atmosphere that reigned over The Land of the Rising Sun at that time. Aboard a drifting Dutch ship, Adams arrives accidentally in a divided and ravaged Japan. He is welcomed by the Regent, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who quickly recognises the Englishman as a valuable asset with his knowledge and advanced artillery. Ieyasu refuses him permission to return home, detaining him instead as his anjin (pilot).
The three-hour play tries hard to explain what happened in Japan during Ieyasu’s reign and to account for Adams’s role in history. Additionally, we learn about the repercussions on Adams’ personal life. The result is a messy, uneven array of short-lived scenes which leave spectators puzzled and wanting clarification – but definitely not a longer show!
To add to that, the performance is in English and Japanese with subtitles in both languages, making it difficult to follow what goes on stage while reading the screens to understand what is being said. Again though, this could be seen as a genuine representation of how things really were (and, to many extents, still are today), as miscommunication had such a big impact on relations between the vastly different nations and their respective cultures. There are indeed several gags due to misunderstandings, which can be credited for the enjoyable side of Anjin.
The costumes are faithfully designed in keeping with the clothes and armour of the time, and actors overall give good performances, though Yuki Furukawa, as Japanese Jesuit convert Domenico, is more believable when acting in his mother tongue.
Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai relies on a good story and a good cast, but should perhaps rethink its staging to an international audience. Nonetheless, the spectators still seemed to have enjoyed it.