The Rising Sun Comes Up Early

No Cherry Blossoms Yet, but Japanese Art Peaks Feb. 7

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Still from "The Piano Forest," an anime film up for a major Japanese award.
Still from "The Piano Forest," an anime film up for a major Japanese award. (Courtesy of - The Kennedy Center)
Polka dots are an obsession for Yayoi Kusama.
Polka dots are an obsession for Yayoi Kusama. (Courtesy of - The Kennedy Center)
Yukio Ninagawa's "Shintoku-Maru" muses on loss.
Yukio Ninagawa's "Shintoku-Maru" muses on loss. (Courtesy of - The Kennedy Center)
Flowers star along with Akira Kasai in "Pollen Revolution."
Flowers star along with Akira Kasai in "Pollen Revolution." (Courtesy of - The Kennedy Center)
Expect to see robots a-plenty during the Kennedy Center's "Japan! Culture and Hyperculture" Festival.
Expect to see robots a-plenty during the Kennedy Center's "Japan! Culture and Hyperculture" Festival. (Courtesy of - The Kennedy Center)
Sunday, January 27, 2008; Page M07

The Kennedy Center, which has in past years saluted Japan during flowering fruit-tree season, is readying a smorgasbord of the country's culture. Notable within next month's "Japan! Culture and Hyperculture" are the many stylistic alloys, fusing Eastern and Western; the traditional and the avant-garde; the artistic and the technological.

Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center's vice president for international programming, speaks of Japan as a locus of aesthetic "collision." Kenji Matsumoto, who consulted on the festival from his post at the New York branch of the Japan Foundation, agrees. "Japanese culture is very hybrid," he says, adding that, indeed, these days "there is no such thing as essentially Japanese culture -- or essentially American culture -- because we are living in an interconnected world."

The festival, Feb. 5 to 17, will showcase 467 artists and a number of robots, and sample -- among other fare -- anime, 8-bit pop music, taiko drumming, top-spinning, manga, Mikimoto pearls, a kyogen "Comedy of Errors" and, yes, Midori.

Lending the proceedings an intermittently sci-fi feel will be the robots, who should feel at home in this showbiz venue. Tracing the lineage of such automatons back to the clockwork manikins of the Edo period, Tokyo-based scholar Timothy N. Hornyak, who served as the festival's robotics adviser, says, "Robots have been, essentially, performing artists in Japan for centuries."

-- Celia Wren

[YAYOI KUSAMA] Polka dots have philosophical heft in the hallucinatory oeuvre of Yayoi Kusama, a painter, sculptor and novelist with rock star status in Japan. Two mixed-media installations, "Dots Obsession -- Day" and "Dots Obsession -- Night," will showcase the circular motif she has mined repeatedly since about 1940. Feb. 7-17. North and South Atrium foyers. Free.

[LAPTOP ORCHESTRA] Molto cantabile and uploadable: A traditional Japanese wind instrument, the sho, gets a cyber-makeover in a performance by Tokyo's Laptop Orchestra. As an instrumentalist performs, player- technicians with computer keyboards riff on digital versions of the sound. Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Theater Lab. $18.

[TADAO ANDO: "FOUR CUBES TO CONTEMPLATE OUR ENVIRONMENT"] Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, known for his sleek concrete concoctions, will construct "Four Cubes to Contemplate Our Environment," an original glass installation, on site. Another Ando proposal -- for a meditation space floating in the Potomac -- reportedly proved too logistically tricky. Feb. 7-17. Atrium. Free.

[YUKIO NINAGAWA'S "SHINTOKU-MARU"] Movie star Tatsuya Fujiwara adds extra glamour to a visually haunting production by Yukio Ninagawa, a director famed for his takes on Shakespeare. Experimental writer Shuji Terayama's reworking of a noh play (a dance-drama genre), "Shintoku-Maru" broods on loss, lust and vengeance. Feb. 7-9 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 9 at 1:30 p.m. Opera House. Performed in Japanese. Tickets start at $15.

[AKIRA KASAI'S "POLLEN REVOLUTION"] No antihistamines are needed for this "Pollen Revolution." Akira Kasai's genre-defying solo morphs from butoh -- the stylized modern-dance form for which he's known -- to hip-hop, with cross-dressing and petal-scattering thrown in. Feb. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. Terrace Theater. $32.

[JUNKO KOSHINO] Theater wonks know fashion designer Junko Koshino for her Tony-nominated contributions to Broadway's 2004 "Pacific Overtures." Those costumes, along with ones from Japanese productions, will be on display in various lobbies; and on one evening, the Millennium Stage will transform into a catwalk. Exhibit: Feb. 7-17. Fashion show: Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. Free.

["THE PIANO FOREST"] In addition to a slate of original anime works, the festival will host the North American debut of "The Piano Forest," which is up for a major Japanese award next month. Based on a manga that has sold a cool 3.5 million copies, "The Piano Forest" boasts scenes with music recorded by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Feb. 17 at 1:15 p.m. Family Theater. $15 per film.

[YASUKI FUKUSHIMA] Who needs hush-toned bookstore readings? Accompanied by jazz piano, poet Yasuki Fukushima's signature zekkyo tanka (shouted tanka) give a high-decibel twist to an ancient haikulike literary form. Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. Millennium Stage. Free.

[ROBOTOPIA RISING] In Japan, Hornyak says, "robots are seen more as partners and friends than as hostile forces," as they often are in the United States. The festival will, for instance, feature two machines that chat with humans and one that plays the trumpet. Feb. 7-17, multiple shows daily. Hall of States and Nations Gallery. Lectures at various times on the Millennium Stage. Free.

[SHIN TANAKA] Shin Tanaka , a 21st-century origami designer, constructs intricate toys from paper -- a skill he'll demonstrate at the festival. His flair for devising full-scale paper sneakers has led to commissions from the likes of Nike. Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. Millennium Stage. Free.

If You Go: Japan! Culture and Hyperculture, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Feb. 5-17. Tickets: 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324. A variety of offerings, principally at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, are free. For more information, visit

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