Don’t you just love when ancient traditions find their way into the middle of cutting edge technology? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re not alone. That rarely ever happens, unless you’re in the neon glow of Las Vegas. In a repeat of East meets West entertainment, the ancient Japanese art of kabuki has found its way back to Vegas at the Fountains of Bellagio, just in time to party it up for Japan’s Golden Week.
Teaming with Shochiku, Panasonic and teamLab designed a 15-minute production where each scene is digitally projected onto a fountain-made water screen. The show itself depicts some of the biggest samurai battles in history that took place on the high seas of Japan.
“We always wanted to express the Japanese culture in a digital form because it’s something new, we happen to be working with Shochiku so that’s why it’s kabuki. But our focus is to express the Japanese art in an entertainment and digital form,” says the design team through a translator.
The historic (albeit holographic) samurai warriors splash through the Bellagio’s fountain jets, battling on ancient shipping vessels and horseback. A fight sequence, the design team in Japan says, took three months to research, choreograph and create from start to finish.
After the battle, spectators are encouraged to play an interactive fishing game, which can only be described as a giant freaking video game on the world-famous fountains. After downloading the free app on your smartphone, a colored fishing reel pops up on both your phone and on the fountains in front of you. Then it’s game on as you and folks around you try to pull your fish out of the fountain jets that are soaring 450 feet into the air.
As if the Bellagio fountains weren’t impressive enough, now they’ve added a digital dimension that we hope to see more and more. Why nobody thought of this sooner, we have no idea. It’s a “fun for all ages” kind of show and free to the public.
“We’re working with Shochiku and we’re hoping that something like this would be nice every year,” say the designers.
We think so too, Bellagio. Hear our cries for more. The remaining water shows can be seen April 29 to May 7, nightly at 8 p.m., 9 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. and are free to the public.
But this isn’t the end. Six theatrical performances of “KABUKI LION Shi-Shi-O: The Adventures of the Mythical Lion” will be held at the David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand from May 3 through May 7.
Ichikawa Somegoro, the planet’s biggest kabuki heartthrob, who last year was jumping in the Bellagio Fountains for the kabuki live performance, this year got to stay dry and watch the fountain show with his family. Afterwards he stopped by to talk about his upcoming performance in “KABUKI LION Shi-Shi-O: The Adventures of the Mythical Lion.”
“The theater (this year) is on land, but we will use a lot of water,” Somegoro joked, promising surprises for audiences.
Kabuki Lion is an original coming-of-age tale that tells the story of Shi-Shi-O, a devout Buddhist who sends his children on a mission to defeat a mythical creature and retrieve a sacred sword that has been stolen from Monju, the deity of spiritual wisdom. To do so, the brothers must descend from a stone bridge and into the netherworld, where they face trials and tribulations.
In Japanese and Chinese culture the Shishi are mythical lion who have magical powers. They fight evil spirits and usually are depicted protecting shrines and temples.
“The ShiShi is very representative of the hero in kabuki play,” Somegoro explained. “It shows the growth, adventure and fighting – there is a lot of challenges – so the sons will conquer all of these challenges. This is something that kabuki is very good at showing.”
Somegoro added that kabuki is a visually colorful art form but also very emotional. It is a unique part of Japanese culture that he feels American audiences will enjoy.
Both the kabuki play at MGM Grand and the digital kabuki presentation on the Bellagio Fountains are part of the celebration Golden Week, which commemorates several national holidays in Japan. Golden Week is the peak time for the Japanese to travel. It’s as though we held Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve on the same week and everybody decided to fly somewhere.
This is the second week MGM Resorts International is marking Golden Week with kabuki acts.
“MGM is committed to celebrating diversity and the beauty of other cultures,” said Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International. “We’re excited to bring ‘KABUKI LION’ to Las Vegas so that audiences from around the world can experience the tradition that Japan has kept alive for centuries.”
Editorial contributions by Jennifer Whitehair.
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