Japan Hails Dawning of Age of Hair
by Takahi Oka
The New York Times - December 10, 1969

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Tokyo, Dec. 9 - They were all up there on the tilted circular stage doing their thing in the finale of hair here last night.

Sedate gentlemen in coats and ties and high school girls in navy blue blouses and long skirts mingled with the bead wearing and long haired, the miniskirted or pantalooned.  The members of the audience - some crying, some embracing the performers, some curious or bashful - were drawn from their seats not merely by the outstretched inviting arms of the cast but by some urge many found difficult to explain, even to themselves.

The Japanese version of HAir, the American tribal love-rock musical, has been playing to crowded houses twice daily at the thousand seat Tokyo Theater here since it opened Friday.

The Shochiku Company, one of the giants of Japan's entertainment world, which puts on everything from chorus-line musicals to the stately kabuki, teamed up with the producer Bertrand Castelli to gamble that Hair would prove to be as successful across the Pacific Ocean as it has across the Atlantic. The gamble seems to be paying off.

At the present rate of bookings, Mr. Castelli said, the $200,000 production will recover it's investment in three months, after which the company will tour Japan and eventually settle down in a converted cinema for a long run - of several years, it is hoped.

"Overflowing enthusiasm of Youth" read the headline today over the review in the Asahi Shimbun, one of japan's three daily newspapers.  The Yomiuri, another of the three, was equally enthusiastic.  The Mainichi has not yet published its critique.

"Most of the Japanese performers are amateures," the Asahi review said.  "Perhaps because of the unfamiliarity with the stage, the music was a bit off on the opening day, and there were other unfinished points, but the excellence of the original music and the overwhelming energy of youth put the performance across at one blow."

Gerome Ragni and James Rado wrote the book and lyrics for the Broadway production, and galt MacDermot the music.

Mr. Castelli said it would take 10 days to two weeks for the company, all of whose members he auditioned himself, to reach it's peak.

"We have not found our rhythm yet" he said, adding that he was encouraged by the openness and receptivity of his youthful Japanese performers, by their eagerness to reach out for new, unfamiliar - yet somehow not alien - means of expressing their frustrations, their hopes, their despair.

Katsumi Kahashi and Claude Serzawa alternate in the role of Claude, while Berger is played alternately by Minoru Terada and Ryusaku Fukamizu.  Mikiko Shiba and Yoko Matsumoto alternate as Sheila.

The five Negro actors that Mr. Castelli brought from Chicago blended well with the Japanese members of the cast, selected by Mr. Castelli in July from among nearly 4,000 applicants.

As in New York, the famous mass nude scene at the end of the first act takes place in almost complete darkness.  The Japanese police code forbids total nudity on stage, but so far the police have adopted the attitude that so long as the nudity is not clearly visible, there was no basis for closing the show.

Mr. Castelli said the nude scene was valuable primarily for it's liberating effect on the cast's own inhibitions, and that so long as the audience knew it was taking place, lighting was not essential.

Some critics felt the show would be more relevant for Japanese youth if the book had departed more boldly from the original.  Draft-card burning, for instance, does not have the significance in Japan, a bystander in the Vietnam war, that it has in the United States.

The youths themselves, however, have been the show's most enthusiastic supporters.  On opening day, a group of high school students stood outside the theater, distributing leaflets denouncing the show for charging  high prices (word missing) to $8, and "serving (word missing) capitalists."

Mr. Kahashi invited the students to watch the performance free, and at the end they were all up on the stage, crying and embracing the actors.  "It was splendid, we're coming again." to high school girls scrawled on a piece of notepaper they left with an attendant.

Prince Mikasa, brother of the Emperor, termed the show "very philosophical," adding: "I understood one third very well.  I feel I will be able to understand another third if I sleep on it overnight.  But the last third probably, will forever remain a closed book to me."

Copyright The New york Times. All rights reserved.

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