December 8 through December 28, 2018, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi became Zampano for the stage play adaption of the 1954 Italian film, La Strada, at the Nissay Theater in Tokyo.

I was lucky enough to watch the play. Here’s what I thought.

The Play – Short Version

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi took the role of Zampano, a traveling strongman who is a cruel human being. He purchases a young girl at the beginning of the play to help with his performances.

This young girl is Gelsomina. She’s innocent, a bit slow and half living in her own world. Throughout the play, she encounters Il Matto, another performer who is more of a comedian and in many ways, the exact opposite of Zampano. He teaches her about the importance of life and provides her with a chance to escape.

Gelsomina finds her purpose to be by Zampano’s side. Zampano, a cruel, abusive, selfish man, whose cares are limited to money, booze, and women. He trains Gelsomina to perform with him (mostly limited to announcing his appearance on stage) and we watch as Gelsomina sticks by his side, yet he never changes.

Il Matto and Zampano are somewhat enemies, where Il Matto takes pleasure in being intellectually superior and eggs Zampano on during every encounter. He teases Zampano about being a one trick pony, using brawn because he has no brains, and is friendly with Gelsomina sometimes to the point to just annoy Zampano. Il Matto’s behavior eventually leads Zampano to (accidentally) kill him. This breaks Gelsomina’s mind and Zampano can’t deal with her like this and leaves her to die on a cold, winter road.

A few years later, Zampano is wandering around the coast and hears a song Gelsomina would play. He learns that she did die and he finally realizes what he’s done and the impact on his life where he’s all alone.

The play doesn’t take too many liberties with the original source material. If you watch the film, you have a good idea of what happened in the play.

Initial Impression

My first reaction after getting out of the theater was… well, that was horrible.

Here we have a cruel man who buys a young girl. He’s abusive yet she stays with him even after given multiple opportunities to leave. In the end, he doesn’t change even when they tease that just maybe he’s about to. This pretty much results in her death and years later, Zampano ends up alone and finally realizes the impact of his actions and has a breakdown revealing some emotional vulnerability.

Guess what? I don’t care. I never liked Zampano. He never did anything to redeem himself. And years later, when he finally realizes he did wrong, I’m supposed to feel for him? Nope. Sorry.

Reading the the Japan Times interview with Tsuyoshi about the play was likely a mistake, because I was waiting for a moment to feel for Zampano.

[…] but I hope they’ll gradually come around to being fond of such a really human person.

Japan Times interview

No fondness felt on my behalf. If the intent behind the play was to somehow have the audience feeling sympathy for the protagonist by the end, they missed the mark horribly.

That all being said, I understand the play wasn’t supposed to be some feel-good happy affair. It’s about a twisted up “love” that doesn’t quite manifest itself in ways that are healthy or happy or anything anyone would want for themselves.

No thank you.

It Wasn’t All Bad…

Don’t misunderstand. The cast was great. Tsuyoshi nailed Zampano’s cruelness and amazingly bulked up enough to bring the stage presence of a ridiculous circus strongman. Aju Makita fully brought Gelsomina’s innocence that contrasted so much with Zampano’s cruelty. Naoto Kaiho brought such playfulness and mischievousness to Il Matto.

The entire supporting cast was also great and really brought the circus scenes to life. The costumes were great.

The music may have gotten a bit repetitive and transitions between scenes also felt a bit jarring at first, but I came to appreciate how they were done by the end.

But really? My main problem was the story and the pacing.

I knew going in I likely wouldn’t enjoy the play because of the subject (even though I did enjoy the film.) I figured Tsuyoshi would do an amazing job (he did) and I’d hate him as Zampano (I did,) so I went in with low expectations.

There were even some good scenes on their own, but everything together just couldn’t hold my interest.

That’s okay though. Because…

Shirtless Tsuyoshi

Yes, a section dedicated to shirtless!Tsuyoshi. The play definitely wouldn’t have had any redeeming qualities if we never got him out of his clothes. (I’m only half joking about that?)

Tsuyoshi beefed up. Had a mighty fine back and arms yet kept half his body hidden underneath a small, dirty tank top.

Considering how much I didn’t really enjoy the play, I have no problem in saying the real climax was when Tsuyoshi finally took off that tank top.

It had to be my favorite moment of the play. Not because the shirt finally came off (which we knew had to be coming, there was no way he’d workout that much and not treat us to a full view), but because the moment that shirt started coming off, these older ladies sitting in front of me started bringing up their binoculars.

We were close enough to not need binoculars.

It. Was. Hilarious.

Then Tsuyoshi Zampano “dives” onto a blue sheet that represents water and goes for a swim in a very… interpretive dancing way. He’s writhing on the floor, without his shirt, on a blue sheet.

I almost started laughing.

Water as a motif. Got it.

But I still couldn’t really figure out a reason for that scene. He had just gotten out of jail, Gelsomina was there, loyally waiting for him, and he admits out loud that she could’ve just left him. They transition to the beach, he offers to take her back home, she says her home is with him. And he just decides to go for a swim. He almost opens up to Gelsomina about his past, so it could’ve been the start of rebirth or something, but he clammed up right away so it felt kind of wasted.

Or maybe it was to represent another one of the endless opportunities to change and bad choices made, but depicted more artfully.

I’m just going to go with they wanted him to be shirtless.

Curtain Call

The curtain call at the end was probably the next highlight next to shirtless!Tsuyoshi.

It was a chance for us to see Tsuyoshi and not Zampano. Tsuyoshi pretty much came running out for the curtain calls as his normal energetic Tsuyoshi self.

It was so damn adorable and I’m so glad he did that so I didn’t walk out hating him. =)

Theater Experience

I’m hating a lot on the play, but it definitely was an experience I’m glad to have. I was super lucky and successfully balloted for an onstage seat directly through Umeda Arts Theater and a friend was able to get tickets on the first floor, so I got to experience the play in different ways.

Being onstage was exciting. The opening circus scene was so exciting and of course when Tsuyoshi appeared as Zampano for the first time in his tiny little tank top with perky nipples and sexy back and beefed up arms… That was worth the 2000 yen for the Umeda Arts Theater membership!

That being said, while being onstage was a worthwhile experience, you did miss most of the action since you saw the back of the play. It might’ve been more fun if the onstage audience was more into the performances, treating it as being part of the play, clapping enthusiastically when there were circus performances going on… But the audience just wasn’t that into it. Even when the performers were playing to the onstage audience…

Yes, Tsuyoshi even came up and put on his Zampano show a few times directly towards us on stage and that was kind of breathtaking. But the first dozen rows in the first floor likely provided a better view of the entire play. If given only one choice in the future – I’d rather see the play from the normal audience.

Final Thoughts

  • What were they really thinking with that swimming scene!?
  • The actor who played Il Matto was super cute.
  • The flutist was also super cute.
  • Tsuyoshi has one sexy, sexy back.

Maybe I’ll do a more detailed summary of the play later. I feel a bit unfair to not do one and harshly review it like this, but I really didn’t enjoy it and can’t bring myself to spend much more time on it at the moment.

But I’m really glad I could see Tsuyoshi again. Multiple times even. Even if I’d rank his play earlier this year (Ballyturk) 1000x better.

Still, this play proved once again that Tsuyoshi Kusanagi is a damn fine actor.

Published by msjumpingjax

Not-so-seriously studying Japanese. Not-so-slightly obsessed with SMAP. This blog is an outlet for my SMAP love and a way to practice my Japanese. I'm not fluent but hopefully I am successful with at least getting the gist of what goes on.

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  1. Wow! Thanks for the report! Hearing how the play goes also makes me not sympathetic towards Zampano.. And lucky you for seeing half naked Tsuyoshi! I can’t hate on those old ladies with the binocs! I mean… when you can see it in HD.. you do it. LOL.

  2. I am not japanese, never been to japan. But I am a huge fan of Tsuyopon, reading your review of his stage play, definitely make me jealous. I hope someday I can watch his stage play live in theater.

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