Theatre Design & Technology - Spring 2021 - 14

Figure 15. Set for Twelfth Night. | Photo courtesy of
Mitsuru Ishii.

Asked how he manages to collaborate
with such wide varieties of performance
groups, Ishii explains that he focuses
on how he communicates his ideas to a
director, and he also tries to figure out
how the director may think about his
design and staging the show. He has developed and honed this approach since
he worked on Scarlett. Ishii has never
lost his directorial way of thinking.
Collaboration, Ishii says, is possible because we can use our past experiences
as the foundation for a project.
However, the creation and execution

Figure 16. Scale model for Yojimbo. | Photo courtesy of Mitsuru Ishii.

Figure 17. Scene from Yojimbo. | Photo courtesy of Mitsuru Ishii.

14 | THEATRE DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY | SPRING 2021

of an original and imaginative design
requires new ways of thinking, and
that tends to disrupt the Japanese principle of harmony. For this reason, Ishii
acknowledges that it's often easier to
work with Western directors who are
more willing to trust his vision. His collaboration with Michael Pennington on
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Haiyuza
Company, Tokyo, 1993), for example,
illustrates Ishii's uninhibited originality
(Figure 15). The emphasis on the vertical movement was a departure from the
Japanese aesthetic that often puts emphasis on horizontal lines. The dynamic
yet sensual use of lines was a salute to
his influences, Ralph Koltai and Joseph
Svoboda.
Ishii's fusion of Western and Eastern
aesthetics becomes most virtuosic
when he designs sets with traditional
Japanese architectural elements. A good
example is his design for the staged version of Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece,
Yojimbo. It was conceived by Hisao
Kurosawa (Akira Kurosawa's son) and
was produced in 2002 under the direction of Mikio Mizutani, with costume
design by Kazuko Kurosawa (Akira
Kurosawa's daughter). When adopting
one of the most iconic films in history,
it would have been safer for Ishii to take
a realistic approach to preserve the integrity of the original film. Ishii's design
for the production consisted of realistic
traditional Japanese row houses, but he
boldly painted the floor in perspective
with dark brown and white stripes to
give the set more depth. The theatrical
approach did not end there. A half circular ground row with a ginkgo-leaf drop
framed the dramatic sky, bringing the
visual focus down to the actors.
Classical Japanese architecture was
also the base of the design for Kwaidan,
conceived and directed by a Torontoborn experimental theatre director
Ping Chong, with text based on a collection of short ghost stories by Lafcadio
Hearn. The New York Times reviewer,
D.J.R. Bruckner, described Ishii's design as " such a mechanical marvel that
it seems virtually intelligent " (Bruckner,
1998).  The seemingly simple set was
full of tricks that were revealed through
sliding panels and projections. The demon in Miminashi Hoichi was represented simply with an enormous pair of
eyes seen through two circular openings



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