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Fortress of Smiles by Kuro Tanino
Two adjacent homes. Two divergent lives. A tribute to devotion and the dignity of life.
Following his thought-provoking nonverbal production, Mother, at the augural “No Limits” festival in 2019, internationally renowned Japanese theatre director Kuro Tanino returns with another original and powerfully dramatic take on real life, mostly performed by amateur actors.
Set in a coastal village in the Kansai region of Japan, Fortress of Smiles centres on a middle-aged fisherman, whose routine revolves around catching fish, playing cards, preparing meals, and enjoying the company of friends after a hard day’s work. When an old lady with dementia moves in next door, supported only by her son and occasional visits from her granddaughter , it appears the two households have little in common. Except for the hearty homemade meals they both prepare and which, amazingly and aromatically, are actually cooked on stage. However, as time goes by and seasons change, the dynamics between the seven characters (and a cat) also shift as they gradually move past daily existence to deeper connectedness.
Tanino’s striking blend of theatre and reality sees 80-year-old Japanese actor Natsue Hyakumoto, who only started a professional career in her sixties, reflectively bring to life the senior living with dementia. Meanwhile, evocative simultaneous action in side-by-side sets and resonant lighting, ranging from the morning sun streaming in through a skylight to the kaleidoscope of colours radiating from all kinds of kitchen appliances, further integrate the cast, creativity, and authenticity. A wonderfully poetic and poignant encounter.
Born into a family of doctors, Kuro Tanino initially followed his father and trained as a psychiatrist before his passion for the stage led him to cofound the Niwa Gekidan Penino theatre group in 2000 at the age of 24. He has been writing and directing innovative plays for the group ever since, with captivating performances being staged in Japan, Europe, and Australia.
Playwright and Director
While a student at the Medical School of Showa University, Kuro Tanino formed the theater ensemble Niwa Gekidan Penino (Garden Theatre Penino) in 2000. He is a playwright, theater director, and former psychiatrist. His company’s works are created based on his imagination and obsessions and presented with sophisticated stage designs. They have been invited to perform in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland and Austria. In 2016, Tanino’s work No Lights Inn won the 60th Kishida Kunio Drama Award for Avidya。
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