Gonza The Spearman

There’s some first-rate discussion of two approaches to acting on this ILE thread (before it zeroed in on Brecht), but there is another approach to the art that isn’t the default modern western style, the psychological (I mean this to include 20th Century movie acting, for instance, not just the Method and so on), or the Brechtian/epic style where the actor is to embody an idea or condition. Maybe this goes back to before Harold Bloom’s claims for what Shakespeare did not only for our ideas of drama but even our notions of what it is to be human, but it is perfectly possible to play a person without trying to create or evoke their psychology, or without making them emblematic of some abstraction.

I thought about this last night after watching Gonza The Spearman, a 1986 Japanese movie based on an 18th Century puppet drama. It’s an interesting collision, modern direction (by Shinoda Mashiro) visibly post-Ozu and Kurosawa, with an aesthetic often strongly redolent of 19th Century Edo prints, and using rather mannered plot and indeed acting. The acting is an odd collision itself, in that the titular character and star is a very early major J-pop star, Go Hiromi, but maybe the heightened gestures and expressions of a pop singer convert to a pre-psychological approach quite easily.

Anyway, I think this style that seems inexpressibly dated, almost impossible in the west, is still not uncommon in Japan. It shouldn’t be confused with bad acting, it is a distinct way of approaching what acting is.