Home > History, Reviews, Theatre > Theatre Review: Anjin: The Shogun And The English Samurai

Theatre Review: Anjin: The Shogun And The English Samurai

A lavish three-hour stage production of the relationship between William Adams and Shogun to be Tokugawa Ieyasu!

Anjin - The Shogun and the English SamuraiOn the 12th April 1600, some six months before the battle of Sekigahara took place on 20th October that same year, the first Englishman to step foot in Japan, William Adams (Stephen Boxer), arrived off the coast of the Japanese province of Bungo in the Dutch ship the Liefde. It was a combination of these events which, that year, brought together and changed the fortunes of two men; William Adams, a maritime pilot from Gillingham, and the Shōgun to be Tokugawa Ieyasu (Masachika Ichimura), a descendant of the Minamoto and the wealthiest Daimyō (Lord) in Japan at the time.

Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai, which ran 31st January – 9th February 2013 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, attempts the almost impossible task of encapsulating in one evening the parts played by Ieyasu and Adams in the tumultuous events between Adams arrival in 1600 and Ieyasu’s death in 1616. While it is ‘meat and potatoes’ for the Japanese audience some elements of the story, though hinted at, will be somewhat lost on the non-Japanese audience unfamiliar with this period in Japanese history. In the same vein the symbolism of the large image of Hideyoshi’s sun burst helmet, which can be seen at the rear of the stage for almost the entire duration of the first half of the performance, would not be apparent to non-Japanese audiences.  However the programme synopsis does manage to explain the pre-amble to the events portrayed in the play and if the labyrinthine convolutions of Japanese history just prior to Adam’s arrival are put to one side the play does manage to convey his experience of his extraordinary adventures. The battle scenes are punchy and well-staged. A couple of the larger than life generals on Ieyasu’s side, Ii Naomosa  (Taro Yamaguchi) and Honda Tadakatsu (Hiroyuki Kamikawaji), are easily recognised by their armour and (as Spanish reports recorded) the use of the nineteen cannon from the Liefde during the battle shows Ieyasu’s engagement with and use of modern weaponry. The ‘conceit’ of this scene is that the cannoneers were commanded by Adams. The pivotal roles of Hideaki Koboyakawa (Yu Koyanagi), Toyotomi’s nephew and foster son, and Mori Terumoto (Ryo Amamiya) in Ieyasu’s victory are portrayed though more could probably have been made of the reasons for their betrayal, hinted at early on in the play, of Ieyasu’s mortal enemy Ishida Mitsunari (Fuyuki Sawada).

Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN (credit Takayuki Abe)

Yoshiko Tokoshima’s portrayal of the Lady Yododono is a master class in Machiavellianism. Masachika Ichimura brings the required balance of gravitas and wry humour to the role of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Stephen Boxer’s portrayal of Adams convincingly conveys the character’s conflicted state of mind and in so doing communicates the necessary pathos with which to engage the audience in his dilemma. Yuki Furukawa is especially charming as Domenico, the English speaking Japanese Catholic convert, his loyalties torn between the Catholic Church and his samurai upbringing and Sam Marks as the Catholic priest Antonio convincingly conveys in his own persecution and loss of authority the fall from power of the Catholic Church in Japan with the advent of anti-Christian edicts.

Seiko Sakurada as Oyuki & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

Seiko Sakurada as Oyuki & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN (credit Takayuki Abe)

Whilst the play might be considered somewhat lengthy it does manage to cover the important events of the time; Ieyasu’s rise to absolute power, Adams arrival and the development of his relationship with Ieyasu as well as his marriage to Oyuki (Seiko Sakurada) and promotion to Hatamoto (samurai and senior retainer to the Shōgunate), the fall of Ōsaka Castle and the end of the Toyotomi clan, the conflict between Spanish Catholicism and the emerging Protestantism of Northern Europe as it was played out in Japan at the time, and the harsh anti-Christian measures enacted by the new Shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada (Kazuya Takahashi) which, as Hidetada’s shudō (gay) son Iemitsu (Jun Uemoto) says with evident malevolent delight in the play, will become even more draconian.

The Shogun and the English Samurai Battle Scene

The Shogun and the English Samurai Battle Scene

The play kicks off this year’s celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the start of formal trade relations between Japan and England, established when John Saris (Joshua Richards) arrived on the ship Clove in 1613, a factual historical event also covered in the play with Adams acting on behalf of Saris as go between with Ieyasu and his son Hidetada.

Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai Masachika ICHIMURA and Katsuya KOBAYASHI

Masachika ICHIMURA and Katsuya KOBAYASHI (credit

Well written by Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawai, though the play itself might not be deemed a theatrical ‘triumph’ for Director Gregory Doran, the Artistic Director at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and the two production companies, Japan’s HoriPro and the UK’s Thelma Holt Ltd., it is a delightfully entertaining piece of historical theatre which manages to open a magical window onto the adventures of its two main protagonists, Tokugawa Ieyasu and William Adams, in the Japan of another time. The real triumph of the play is its portrayal of the charming and very moving friendship between them. Bravo!

Anjin - The Shogun and the English Samurai Yoshiko TOKOSHIMA and Ryohei SUZUKI

Yoshiko TOKOSHIMA and Ryohei SUZUKI (credit

Useful websites:

Masachika ICHIMURA

Masachika ICHIMURA as Tokugawa Ieyasu (credit

Author profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

Related Posts:

Interview: Actor Stephen Boxer – Anjin: The Shogun and the Samurai

Interview: Producer Thelma Holt – Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai

Anjin: The Shogun & The English Samurai At Sadler’s Wells London

The Samurai: Honour And Pride That Continues To Inspire Generations

Samurai Warriors At Buckinghamshire County Museum

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  1. February 10, 2013 at 12:45 am

    What a lavish production, reminds me of an old miniseries made for t.v. which aired here when I was little….it reaired so I finally got to see it a few years later. This play is very much like ‘Shogun’ I think, I remember the American sailor was always called ‘Anjinsan’ played by Richard Chamberlain….this play too looks amazing!

    Like

    • February 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      Yes indeed, you are refering to the 1980 miniseries James Clavel’s Shogun (aired in UK in 1982) – only this series was based on the story of William Adams (Anjin) and therefore the character names were different. In fact, it was that show that really started my interest in Japanese culture. I love it – I have the DVD box set – still one of my favourite things ever shown on TV. The stage production was quite a challenge – but I think they pulled it off. William Adams is such an important figure in the history between Japan and England.

      Like

  1. March 12, 2013 at 11:20 am
  2. March 21, 2013 at 10:28 am
  3. April 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm
  4. August 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm
  5. June 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm
  6. June 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm
  7. October 13, 2017 at 4:26 pm

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