I went to see kabuki for the first time in a long time. The realistic stage, the actors’ breathing, the gorgeous costumes, the wonderful taiko drums and flutes, and the freely expressive performance all make it the pinnacle of entertainment that Japan can be proud of.
And Kabuki, by virtue of its location in Ginza, Japan’s highest value-added location, serves as a keystone for global tourism. In other words, it has the same position and responsibility as Broadway for New York City. Incidentally, in 2018-19, the Broadway box office contributed $14.7 billion (1.6 trillion yen) to New York City, including performances and peripheral consumption such as tourism.
And yet, the Kabuki theater I saw on Sunday was deserted, with empty seats occupied only by elderly people. I have a feeling that this is not only a problem of Shochiku, a private company, and I would like to enumerate as many points as I can think of for improvement in the future.
First, it is necessary to release the assumption of those involved that something with a history of tradition should not change. Both Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton are historic companies, but they are not afraid of change (innovation). On the contrary, they continue to take on new challenges. In the 21st century, digitalization is inevitable. It is important for industries and people to DX through digitalization.
First, study and emulate the Broadway business model.
Even that Broadway was reluctant to try anything new before Corona; when I visited New York in 2016 and proposed live storming in VR to a major production company, they laughed at me. But with Corona, “Broadway on Demand” was launched. Right now it’s mainly recording, but soon they will start live streaming as well.
Shochiku, which presides over Kabuki, even airs a “Kabuki Channel” on Sky Perfect TV, so they should use that feed to stream the event. If you want, you can even take advantage of the genres to develop a different kind of fun from the stage by filming close-ups of the actors. I think there is a need for this, as audiences often watch from their seats with small telescopes.
Also, although it has been stopped in Corona, it would be good for returning tourists if English subtitles were added, as in the case of Broadway plays performed in Japan, and if Japanese subtitles were added, it would broaden the audience to include young people.
The song and dance of “Ishibashi” performed in the latter half of the first part of the show is so brilliant that if a 15-second clip of the song and dance were to be distributed on TikTok, it would be shared around the world instantly. The event became a topic of conversation. This has since become a standard practice at TeamLab and the Mori Art Museum.
Nowadays, people don’t understand the times if they can’t even look at their phones during a Kabuki performance. Of course, there must be some consideration for the performers, so what about if the play is not allowed, but kabuki dance is? The audience would instantly become promoters.
There is an urgent need for online ticketing, but we would also like to have hybrid tickets for those who inadvertently could not make it on the day of the event. They can be enjoyed both in real life and online. You can download and save the tickets and enjoy them anytime and as many times as you like for an additional fee.
For the youngest seats, dynamic pricing should be introduced, and seats that are left over 20 minutes before the performance starts should be half price. How about creating a Kabuki-za LINE fan community and distributing discounted digital coupons using a beacon function to those who pass through the neighborhood?
I would also like to try a free service for elderly people who bring their grandchildren. The ideas are endless. I can do this kind of thing right away.
I hope those involved will step up to the plate to keep the fire of great Kabuki alive.