Firstly let me thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and see our ‘New Merchant of Venice’. We are so very happy to be able to see you all here. ‘New Merchant of Venice’ is the last batsman in our ‘Spa Resort Trilogy’. Everything is tied together by our Verona Spa which, just as with ‘New Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘New King Lear’, is modeled on the Naruko Spa in our home prefecture of Miyagi.
Our ‘script conceptualisation group’ creates the core of the script for our plays. From the time of ‘Macbeth’ I worked in tandem with Osami Maruyama, a writer living in Tokyo, and with ‘Hamlet’ Masayoshi Kanomata and Hirohide Sugawara joined us to make a group of four. The origins of our common vision are in the director Akira Kurosawa. We always hold our concept meetings at a spa resort and it is a fantastically fun and immensely interesting time. Having read the original version, the members of the group talk freely without reserve, seriously suggesting a stream of ludicrous ideas…..and eventually the seeds of something interesting will start to germinate.
This time a new member was added, the actor Kenji Sasaki. He is a great writer with already over 10 titles published and he was very interested in trying his hand at script writing. His eagerness made him the driving force behind ‘New Merchant of Venice’. This was the first time I had attempted to jointly write something, and because physically writing with someone else is incredibly hard, we decided to use ideas that the five of us came up with as a base from which Sasaki wrote a kind of novel, which in turn I used to write the script.
The genesis for my work came to life one summer two years ago in a castle in a forest in Cornwall where my three daughters and I were staying. One afternoon, by myself on the sofa in front of a large hearth in the vast living room, I was reading aloud ‘Merchant of Venice’ (something I always do before scripting). Suddenly I noticed a gentleman smiling at me through the large glass window, and on opening the window he said ‘Welcome, I’m the owner, Nicolas!’ Over tea in the English garden, I found out that the property was built by the president of a bank in 1836, after that it passed into the hands of an Austrian viscount who enjoyed hunting, next is a little problematic but it is also the place where Hitler’s confidant Hess was incarcerated and interrogated by the British forces (though historically this remains hidden) and Churchill is also said to have visited.
When I heard all this, I seemed to understand the unique atmosphere surrounding the property. I returned to that room where Hess apparently kept his silence and on continuing my reading, I at some point fell asleep. I had a dream. Sat on my left there was a Hess-like person (I don’t know what he looked like but he was wearing a Nazi hat and uniform) and on my right was the Austrian viscount (again I have no idea about what he looked like but he was wearing a hunting cap), I had a gown on over my pyjamas and I was standing, reading Shakespeare out loud.
Is now converted. But now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
When I awoke I was drooling and my book had fallen to the floor. Not entirely sure whether or not it was a dream, I was interested to know where I was reading in the book. To be honest, it’s not a well-known line. I always memorise my favourite lines but the line in my dream I couldn’t remember. And the fact that I spoke a line I’ve never memorised in my dream was very interesting to me. I worked it out. It’s a line Portia says straight after Bassanio chooses the lead casket and their marriage is decided. After repeating those select lines over and over again, it came to me. Shakespeare was going out of his way to break the perfectly beautiful iambic pentameter (a line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short syllable followed by one long syllable). What if Portia simply said ’But now I was the lord of this fair mansion’? She would appear as a well-educated lady brimming with confidence. But she is a girl in love speaking agitatedly. I couldn’t translate this fine nuance into Japanese. It’s not the vocabulary but the rhythm. There in that castle I was bowled over by Portia’s charm. As if being told ‘You’ve only just noticed?’, for the first time I understood the depth of Portia’s character and that really excited me.
A little while after, I was speaking with Jatinder Verma, an Indian director and friend who I was meeting for the first time in 10 years. His passion is incredibly infectious and when we meet I am without a doubt infected by his ideas which overflow with his enthusiasm. ‘Kazumi, I think it’s a story about how fathers think about their daughters. How Portia’s father thinks of her (though he never appears), how Shylock thinks of Jessica!’
Even after returning to Japan, his words remained with me, and on the recommendation of my 11-year-old daughter Hana (who is aspiring to become a writer) I watched ‘Saving Mr. Banks’. It describes the relationship between the writer of ‘Mary Poppins’ Pamela Lyndon Travers and her father. This work was in fact a homage to her father who, for the sake of the family, continued to be a banker despite not being suited to it, became an alcoholic and died. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ moved me. At that instant, I gave our ‘New Merchant of Venice’ a secret title - ‘Saving Shylock’, and I felt a strong belief in the concepts of our Tohoku Shakespeare.