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I went to see Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai at Sadler’s Wells in London on Saturday and am only just getting round to posting this because I was barely at home all weekend! Anyway, I’ll keep this short…
Anjin was fantastic and you should go see it right now!
I’m a massive history fan, particularly for the Sengoku era in Japan, so when I came across an advert for ‘Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai’ I literally ran upstairs to book my tickets without a second thought. The play was advertised late summer time last year, around the time that I gave a rather scathing review of James Clavell’s Shogun, which is a fictionalised account of the actual historical events around which Anjin is also based.
What’s it about?
Anjin is based on true historical events in early 17th century Japan, towards the end of the period of the warring states (the Sengoku era) in Japan. William Adams, an English merchant, washes up on Japanese soil with his crew and his cargo is seized by the Japanese. Among the cargo are cannons and so, after narrowly avoiding crucifixion by order of the Spanish Jesuits who have made their mark in the country by converting a number of the locals, Adams is recruited by the daimyo Ieyasu Tokugawa to assist in his campaign for the title of Shogun, the ruler of Japan.
The first act ends with the conclusion of the Battle of Sekigahara, a well-know event in Japanese history in which the retainers of the Toyotomi clan are defeated by the Tokugawa army. The curtains fall with Ieyasu taking his place as Shogun and appointing William Adams to the exclusive title of hatamoto, the Miura Anjin (blue-eyed samurai), forbidding him from returning to England to his wife and daughter.
However, Ieyasu assuming the position of Shogun is far from the conclusion. The second act takes place approximately 15 years later and, although many of Ieyasu’s old enemies are dead, the vengeful wife of the previous leader or Taiko, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is planning another uprising in Osaka and leading her unwilling son into another violent uprising. The results are tragic… I won’t spoil it for those of you who do not know how things ended for the Toyotomi but, for those of you who do know, I can guarantee it’s very sad and there were a lot of people crying in the audience. Ultimately, the play ends with Ieyasu’s son assuming power and ordering the execution or expulsion of all Christians in Japan (amazingly, the expulsion is almost advised by William Adams) and the closing of Japan’s borders to foreigners.
William Adams’ story is brought to the stage in a stunning new play directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, and written by Mike Poulton with Shoichiro Kawai. Really, you can’t go wrong with this combination. The costumes are amazing (especially the samurai helmets), the battle scenes are particularly well-coordinated given the relatively small cast size and the set in general feels authentic and impressive.
Now, you might be wondering how a Japanese play can be adapted for an English stage. Good news – there are subtitles (both English and Japanese) projected above the stage. This might sound like a frustration at first but it was similar to how you might read subtitles for a film or a video game. It wasn’t particularly distracting and the whole story retained its authenticity.
Samurai are amazing…
Alright, so I’m never going to write that the samurai were not awesome (from a purely historical perspective, of course). All of the acting was fantastic, although there was one stand-out role in this play that I’d like to quickly draw attention to.
Sanada Yukimura (played by Fuyuki Sawada). Truly the manliest of samurai deaths in the play. Historically, Yukimura fought on the opposing side of the Toyotomi in the siege of Osaka and was beheaded. In the play, when a fresh-to-battle samurai breaks into the camp, Yukimura accepts his death in true samurai style; he sits down and more-or-less says ‘wouldn’t it be an honour to present my head to Ieyasu? Come at me, bro.’ Actually, this was probably my favourite scene in the whole of Anjin because it was just so powerful.
Get your tickets!
Anjin sadly won’t be with us for too long, so if you can get to London before 9th February I strongly recommend it. The seats at the front are obviously going to be pricier but my friend and I got some near the back for £29 and they were very good seats. If anything, they might have been better than the more expensive ones because we didn’t have to crane our necks to switch between the subtitles on screen and the actors.
Without a doubt, this play is a rare treat. Whether you just love the theatre or Japanese history, this is a must see!
The next post will unveil February’s Book of the Month! Until then.