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The West has admired their quaint aesthetics (exquisite gardens, curious architecture and funny tea-ceremonies) and feared their awesome traditions (samurai, bushido, ninja, kamikaze).But Japan presented the West with a special problem.Then came Ninagawa's 'cherry-blossom' Macbeth and the veil fell away.Text and scenic language were Japanese but the emotions were directly accessible.Sadly, during my short trip, there was no rehearsal for me to sit in on.Ninagawa is famously uncompromising and meticulous in his direction and, by all accounts, there has been no softening on that front.
With Macbeth and then with Medea and The Tempest, British spectators saw a familiar masterpiece refracted through an unrelated aesthetic.
The production was obviously, piercingly beautiful, and it became a legend overnight.
It was followed by other shows at yearly intervals until 1991; they revealed other sides of Ninagawa, not all as entrancing as his Shakespearian debut.
Don't imagine, though, that he's through with it yet. "A play that means different things to me, depending on my age." He points out that the first line is, "Who's there? This tragedy, he suggests, challenges us all, on a profound level, with the same question of identity. In August, it will also be the 30th anniversary of his breakthrough on to the international stage at the 1985 Edinburgh Festival.
The achingly beautiful Samurai Macbeth, his first production to travel overseas, became an overnight legend, disturbing the divide between drama and rite, secular and sacred, oriental and occidental.