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Women break into Japan’s ‘masculine’ Noh theatre

Women break into Japan’s ‘masculine’ Noh theatre

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Women break into Japan's 'masculine' Noh theatre

Kimono-clad Mayuko Kashiwazaki delivers her lines in guttural tones and transforms into an evil snake in the lead role of a Japanese Noh play where, unusually, most of the cast are women.

Noh, with its elaborate layered costumes and hand-crafted masks, is one of the most ancient surviving forms of theatre, with origins dating back to the eighth century.

Unlike kabuki, another type of classical Japanese theatre, or sumo wrestling — both steadfastly male — Noh has been open to performers of both genders for over a century.

But women are still a rarity in the traditional Noh world, where fathers often pass the vocation to their sons. Women represent just 15 percent of the 1,039 actors and musicians registered with the professional Nohgaku Performers’ Association.

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And their opportunities to appear on stage are “relatively limited”, 43-year-old Kashiwazaki told AFP. “One reason is that Noh audiences are generally older, and often see Noh as a masculine art form,” she said.

But now it’s time “for women to reflect on their future in Noh, and to play a role in building that future”. Kashiwazaki acted the principal part in “Dojoji”, a famous drama about the revenge of a betrayed woman, at Tokyo’s National Noh Theatre last weekend.

Twirling a fan, and wearing a heavy kimono embroidered with a crane motif, the masked actor belted out her lines in an archaic, warbling style as the story slowly unfolded.

After hiding under a prop representing the bell of a Buddhist temple, she emerged transformed as a demonic serpent character with wild, fiery tufts of red hair.

‘Beauty and power’

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Kashiwazaki, encouraged by her Noh mentor, tried to find as many women as possible to participate in the production.

“‘Dojoji’ is an extremely important piece for Noh actors,” Kashiwazaki said, and “you have to be very lucky to get a chance to perform it, even once in your life”.

“Because I was lucky enough to have this opportunity, I thought it would be great to stage it with other female Noh actors.”

Yoko Oyama, who played a handheld drum in the show, said it was unusual to see “so many women in the chorus and among the musicians on stage”.

“It’s not only the fact that they are women, but also that most of them are young for Noh performers, which makes the show even more special,” she said.

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However, for some parts, including the supporting actor or “waki” in Noh — often a monk or priest character — there were no women to fill the role, so it was played by a man.

“There are no women performing waki… it has always been that way,” Kashiwazaki’s mentor, 72-year-old Yasuaki Komparu, told AFP.

While Komparu is the scion of one of five prominent Noh families that have bred generations of actors, Kashiwazaki first discovered Noh as a student.

She was charmed by its lyrical dramas and the heavily stylised acting in a minimal setting. A painting of a pine tree behind the stage is usually the only decoration.

“I was fascinated by how cool this Japanese art form looked, and thought I could only truly understand it by taking part myself,” she said.

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‘Vicious cycle’

Kashiwazaki’s first mentor tried to dissuade her from becoming a Noh actor, having experienced herself the difficulties women face in the ancient art.

Now recognised by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage”, Noh developed towards its current form in Japan’s Muromachi era from 1336-1573, a period when the performers included women among their ranks.

In the Edo era from 1603 to 1868, patronage from shoguns helped Noh’s popularity grow. But women were banned from the stage under government morality rules that repressed individual liberties.

Only at the end of the 19th century were women once again allowed to act in Noh, but they had to wait until 1948 to be recognised as professionals.

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“There are extraordinary Noh actors, men and women, but the public tends to seek out a particular type of Noh, with a fixed idea of what it should be,” Kashiwazaki said.

That lack of opportunities creates a “vicious cycle” because actors can’t build up the experience to progress their careers, she said.

After Saturday’s show, audience member Kazuaki Ieda, 40, said he was “very interested and excited” by the performance. “I think this may be the future of Noh in Japan,” Ieda said. 

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Amir Khan’s £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

Amir Khan’s £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

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Amir Khan's £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

After a series of delays, Amir Khan’s extravagant £11.5 million wedding venue has finally witnessed its first marriage ceremony.

The grand “Dubai-style” Bolton tower made its debut on May 18, 2024, with a spectacular celebration as the venue’s inaugural bride and groom marked their special day in lavish style.

Amir Khan missed the grand opening of the venue as he was in Saudi Arabia for the Undisputed Heavyweight Title fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk.

Dubbed “The Balmayna,” the venue is situated across from a car wash and a fly-tipping spot, drawing previous criticism for its resemblance to an office building and being labeled as “tacky.”

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In January 2024, broken fridges, sofas and dirty mattresses were seen dumped around the venue, sparking criticism from locals.

One said: “The venue is walled off, but all around it is full of fly-tipping.

“It is absolutely awful and needs cleaning up. It is disgusting. There are black bin bags with rubbish spilling out of them as well as old matrasses and everything else, including broken furniture.

But images from the wedding showed how staff had quickly managed to fix these issues as the building’s lavish marble floors and chandeliers were on display for all guests to see.

A Balmayna spokesperson said: “The first love story at the Balmayna.

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“So elegant, so magical, simply a dream.
“We wish our bride and groom the most happiest of blessings. Such a stunning backdrop for your memories.”

Work on the venue has taken far longer than expected, with Amir Khan investing an initial £5 million since plans were first revealed in 2013.

He invested more money into the project and blamed the delays on “unprofessional management”.

But now, the venue is open for couples wanting to get married and it promises a “royal experience” and “a touch of magnificence and excellence in every celebration”.

The Balmayna features a waterfall and palm trees inside, along with a floral design.

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In another posh room with red velvet sofas and an armchair, books about designers Chanel and Louis Vuitton plus butterflies in a domed display case can be seen.

There are also candles and pamphlets about The Balmayna – which translates as Enamelled in Arabic.

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Gary Oldman talks sobriety and ‘Harry Potter’ at Cannes

Gary Oldman talks sobriety and ‘Harry Potter’ at Cannes

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Gary Oldman talks sobriety and 'Harry Potter' at Cannes

 British actor Gary Oldman, who plays a washed-up alcoholic writer in new Cannes film “Parthenope”, said Wednesday he is celebrating 27 years sober.

  about his role in the “Harry Potter” films, which upset some fans of the boy wizard.

Oldman made the remarks at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival after the premiere of Paolo Sorrentino’s “Parthenope”. The Italian coming-of-age drama, inspired by mythology, traces a beautiful young woman as she drifts through Naples and Capri.

Oldman appears briefly as famed novelist John Cheever, who in real life struggled with severe alcoholism — a part that Oldman said was not much of a stretch. “I just celebrated 27 years of sobriety,” he said, to applause.

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“My wife actually found a quote where (Cheever) says, ‘My shaking hand reaches for the phone to ring Alcoholics Anonymous, and instead it remains at the whiskey, the gin, the vermouth,’” Oldman continued.

“I’ve been there. I know what that means. So coming to this role, there were things that I just instinctively understood. “When Paolo said to me, ‘I want you to play this sad, melancholic, drunken poet,’ I went, ‘Yeah, I kind of know what that is!’”

In the film, Cheever strikes up a bond with Parthenope, who adores the author’s books but has grown disenchanted with her life.

Actors always ‘hyper-critical’

Oldman was also asked about negative comments he recently made about his own performance as Sirius Black in film adaptations of J. K. Rowling’s beloved Potter books.

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Addressing why he had called the role “mediocre”, Oldman clarified that he did not mean to “disparage anyone out there who are fans of Harry Potter and the films”.

Instead, he regretted that he had not already learnt the character’s tragic fate in later books when he first took on the role in 2004 movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

“Had I known from the very beginning — if I had read the five books and I had seen the arc of the character — I may have approached it differently,” he said. “I may have looked at it differently and I may have painted in a different colour.”

Besides, Oldman said, actors are “always hyper-critical” of their own work. “If I watched a performance of myself and thought ‘My god, I’m fantastic in this,’ that would be a sad day. Because my best work is next year.”

Reviews of “Parthenope” ranged from “exquisite” to “utterly vacuous”, though most critics praised Oldman’s fleeting appearance. 

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Palestinian films ‘more important than ever’, directors say in Cannes

Palestinian films ‘more important than ever’, directors say in Cannes

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Palestinian films 'more important than ever', directors say in Cannes

Veteran Palestinian film director Rashid Masharawi was abroad when the Gaza war broke out last year, so he decided to hand over the camera to other filmmakers still inside the besieged territory.

“They are the story” of Masharawi’s project, which he presented at the Cannes Film Festival in France, more than seven months after the conflict erupted. “They were fighting to protect their lives, their families, to search for food, for wood to make a fire,” said Masharawi

The result is a collection of short films called “Ground Zero” recounting the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and ensuing humanitarian disaster from the perspective of civilians on the ground.

In one, a mother displaced by the conflict plops her daughter in a large white bucket and, with a clean Turkish coffee pot, gently pours water over her to bathe her. In another, a man recounts his 24-hour ordeal under rubble after the building he was in collapsed.

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Masharawi directed the 20 teams in Gaza from abroad — a process he described as “very, very, very difficult”.

“Sometimes we needed to wait one week to 10 days just to be in contact with somebody, or just to have internet to upload material,” said Masharawi, who was born in Gaza.

At other times, teams were busy searching for a tent, finding insulin for a director’s mother, or “an ambulance to go and save some kids”.

The films are part of several Palestinian tales screening at the festival, including Mehdi Fleifel’s Athens-set refugee drama “To A Land Unknown”.

‘Gatekeepers’

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Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Thousands of miles away from the conflict, Israel’s pavilion in Cannes is promoting its filmmaking.

Palestinian cinema does not have its own tent at the event, but Algeria has made space for its filmmakers at the other end of the international market in Cannes. “Our narrative and storytelling is more important than ever,” Norway-based Palestinian director Mohamed Jabaly said.

He finished filming his latest project, “Life is Beautiful”, just before the war started. A close friend who shot the last scene of the film has not survived the war. “He was killed while waiting for food aid,” said Jabaly.

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Munir Atallah, of US-based Watermelon Pictures, is hoping to bring the quirky family portrait to North American audiences, saying Palestinians have “for too long been shut out by the gatekeepers of the industry”.

One Palestinian who has already found viewers in the United States is Cherien Dabis, who made 2009 film “Amreeka” and co-directed hit Hulu series “Ramy”. But the shooting of her latest film — a historic epic — was disrupted by the Gaza war.

One of the crew on the ground in the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah, Ala Abu Ghoush, has responded by making a documentary about the stalled project, which they are calling “Unmaking Of”.

“The film is really asking the question: What is the importance of doing films and art in this kind of situation, in this war?” said Abu Ghoush. 

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