By Hideki Sukenari / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFemale thief Kurotokage (Black lizard) is so obsessed with beauty, she says things like: “I can trust only jewels ... they never try to come on to me, not in the least ...”
Actress Miki Nakatani will play this rapacious felon in an upcoming theater production in Tokyo and Osaka, starring in a play adapted in 1961 by Yukio Mishima from a mystery novel by Edogawa Rampo. In the play, the eponymous Kurotokage goes up against great detective Kogoro Akechi.
According to Nakatani, she has something in common with her character. “I like beautiful things myself,” said the 41-year-old actress. “I’m sympathetic to Kurotokage’s aesthetics.”
And she also can relate to Akechi, a romanticist with lines like: “There are some silky ... elegant kinds in crime.” The thief and the detective find themselves attracted to each other, despite their conflict.
“People who seek beauty can feel conspiratorial with each other,” Nakatani said. “I think the two characters were fortunate to be able to discuss the beauty of crime.”
In the story, Kurotokage sets her eye on a gorgeous diamond owned by jeweler Iwase and sends him a threatening letter, warning she will kidnap his daughter. Iwase asks Akechi for help. Yoshio Inoue will play the detective, and David Leveaux is directing.
It must have been difficult to deliver the dialogue without error, as Mishima’s lines are adorned with gem-like oratory.
“There are lines like, ‘All the handguns in the world come flying like a murder of crows,’” Nakatani said. “I have to feel like things that could never be true in reality are happening in front of my eyes and speak about them.”
The actress said it took time for her to master the process, to which end she read the script again and again and again.
Nakatani likened these efforts to “polishing a raw stone.”
“I want to reach the point where I feel exultant to say those lines,” she said.
Nakatani made her acting debut in 1993. She won the Japan Academy Film Prize for best lead actress in 2006 for her role in “Kiraware Matsuko no Issho” (Memories of Matsuko), and in 2013, she won the Best Actress Award at the Yomiuri Theater Awards for her role in “Lost in Yonkers.”
She has not appeared in many stage productions but makes a strong impression every time she does with her dignified presence and in-depth portrayals that capture the core of her characters.
The last time Nakatani performed onstage was in a 2016 revival of “Ryoju” (The Hunting Gun), in which she expertly depicted the emotions of three different women surrounding one man — his wife, mistress and the mistress’ daughter.
During that production, Nakatani felt she “didn’t have the mental and physical strength to provide the energy” she had to deliver. “I thought I’d stop acting in theater,” she recalled.
Nonetheless, Nakatani has come back onstage.
“What I like best about theater is doing rehearsals,” the actress said. “It feels luxurious to spend hours on how to interpret one script.”
Asked about her New Year’s resolution, Nakatani pondered for a moment, saying she has many. Then she picked “Kurotokage” as her imminent challenge.
“I hope the audience will watch the play without thinking too much and appreciate the beautiful culture of Japan,” she said.
“Kurotokage” will be staged at Nissey Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, from Jan. 9-28 and from Feb. 1-5 at Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka. Please visit www.umegei.com/kurotokage/ for more information.Speech