There’s a brand new entertainment experience in Tokyo that’s got people talking. Featuring time-travelling warlords, a street-dancing salary woman, Line and more only-in-Japan moments than you can shake a katana at. Welcome to the opening performance of Alata — and a brand new world of “alternative theater.”
On stage at the recently opened, and aptly named, Alternative Theatre venue in Yurakucho, Alata is 70-minutes of wordless samurai action and drama set against a backdrop of state-of-the-art visuals, electronic synth, wacky costumes and a moral takeaway at the end. Pioneered by production company Studio Alta (you know — that building where everyone always meets their friends in Shinjuku), Alata promises to offer a never-before-seen Japanese spectacle. Curious? Here are five reasons why you should check it out.
1. The show is entirely non-verbal so that anybody can watch it
That’s right, there’s no spoken dialogue throughout the whole performance. Instead, audience members — no matter what language they speak — follow the drama through projection mapping, music, dance, stage fighting and acrobatics so they can interpret the show’s kaleidoscopic narrative in their own personal way. It’s all part of the Alternative Theatre venue’s efforts to produce a new kind of performance that enables overseas visitors to experience Japanese culture without any language barrier.
2. It’s got better sword-fighting than any samurai movie
Props to the lead actor Yuki Saotome who doesn’t break a sweat as the Sengoku samurai fighting off enemy clans, besuited yakuza, half of the Tokyo police force and even the military. Each battle is as thrilling as the next in the kind of beautiful sword-fighting choreography that makes bloody violence look appealing. Alata’s heroine, Kokoro, doesn’t fare too badly either, proving herself a 21st-century match for all of Saotome’s stoic bravado. Slay girl.
3. It’s a chance to discover different sides of Japanese culture
Samurai? Check. Kabuki? Check. Video game music. Check. Breakdancing. Yep, that’s in there, too. In Alata, time travel is more than just a plot point, it’s a way to showcase various expressions of Japanese culture. From the traditional to the modern, the show draws upon a rich history of staged entertainment to make a spectacle that transcends time as well as space (watch out for the flying peacock-fox-witch towards the climax). Even Japan’s favorite messaging app Line makes a cameo at one point.
4. The story comes with a moral message
Wait, don’t roll your eyes just yet. Despite appearances, Alata is actually intended to be anti-war. By contrasting the violence with a star-crossed love story, director Shunichi Okamura hopes to encourage audience members to reflect on the impact of war and the use of military force — a conversation that’s especially relevant in Shinzo Abe’s remilitarizing Japan. There’s a moment as the spectacle ends that’s quite moving (if you’re not a smidge teary-eyed from the plot climax already), which just goes to show that Alata really does have a bit of everything.
5. Alata is brilliantly, unashamedly nuts
Basically, all of your wacky Japan fantasies come true: Alata isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to being fantastically weird. The production value is sky-high, with immersive visuals on the walls and ceilings, eardrum-bursting audio, glittery costumes and a cast that gives their all, while the story brings together elements that don’t conventionally go together in a way that somehow works. You’ll either get it or you won’t. The only way to find out is to see it for yourself.