Review of Naked City (Flower 2004)
Now, as Iâ€™m a fan of both Yumiko (Ayabuki) and Asuka, itâ€™s natural that I enjoyed this. But what really impressed me was how well it was written. The play held together like a piece of film noir, with the plot moving along at a pace that left the initial mystery behind before weâ€™d even reached intermission. Better yet, the extensive string of characters â€“ introduced at the steady-clip thatâ€™s standard for original Takarazuka pieces â€“ all came into play in the resolution, so that none seemed to be there just to provide someone â€œstage timeâ€. Music and choreography were spiffy, very â€œjazz ageâ€ â€“ I really wondered why they set this in the 50â€™s, rather than a little earlier in prime â€œNoirâ€ era.
Now, I do always have to give the positives and the negatives, and there were two minor nit-picky things that bothered me. First, Billyâ€™s semi-girlfriend Cathy was about as flat as a character could be. Typical â€œSweet Young Girl in Love with the Heroâ€ â€“ just flitted on stage occasionally and sighed over Billy. Yech. Second, some racial stereotyping when our hero wanders into â€œSpanish Harlemâ€ and talks to some beggars on the street. Double yech. But these were minor concerns and the play was overall so well-done that Iâ€™m willing to overlook them.
My usual brief actor opinions:
Ayabuki Mao: You know, sheâ€™s starting to remind me of Aika Mire: Great versatility as an actor, but lurking underneath thereâ€™s an air of good-humor that never goes away. Billy was a seen-it-all-before sort of character, not an â€œearnest young photographer trying to make it in the big cityâ€ sort, and she pulled it off with aplomb, yet even in his grumpiest moments, you couldnâ€™t help feeling that he wasâ€¦ nice.
My favorite â€œfangirlâ€ moments were in the finale. She was flirting with the camera like crazy, especially during her couple-dance with Asuka. At one point, sheâ€™s pulled Asuka right against her, but looks straight into the camera and winks. Saucy! Then there was at the bows, with her trying to keep her smile under control: â€œMustâ€¦ maintainâ€¦ manlyâ€¦ grittyâ€¦ expressionâ€¦â€ Luckily, she lost the battle. :)
Toono Asuka: My babies are all grown up <sniffle> Why, it seems like it was just yesterday I was listening to Asuka screech her way through â€œKohaku Ame/Cocktailâ€ (Actually, that WAS yesterdayâ€¦) Definitely been working on her singing â€“ Iâ€™d say sheâ€™s now one of the better musumeyaku singers. It was cool seeing her do a glamorous/tragic heroine sort of role. She has a â€œyoung girlâ€ sort of face, but gets the right attitude to do an elegant part. Sheâ€™s gonna make a great top-star soon (with any luck). Hmmmâ€¦ Iâ€™d like to see how she and Touko (Aran Kei) would work togetherâ€¦.
Yabuki Shou: Rocks. You give her a slightly-sleazy, intimidating male character, and sheâ€™ll deliver. The ladies doing the â€œcharacterâ€ roles are the ones with serious talent!
To be honest, although everyone else did a good job, no one else was so outstanding that I feel like I need to single them out. Partly, this is because thereâ€™s so many characters that most of them donâ€™t get a lot of stage time. Misuzu Aki, as Bernard, had a sort of â€œsidekickâ€ character, and probably had the fourth biggest part, but I honestly didnâ€™t feel like she brought anything special to her interpretation. Just your standard â€œGoofy Guy to Follow the Hero Around.â€ (IMHO, of course.)
To sum up: Nicely done!