Blending stage and cinema, Geki×CINE’s Shiren & Ragi brought the popular stage performance of the same name to Golden Village’s (GV) silver screens in Singapore – GV’s first foray into such alternative content. The play stars Tatsuya Fujiwara – best-known for his leading role in the Death Note series – as well as other recognizable stars from the Japanese entertainment industry.
The fictional play is set in the Nanboku-chō period, when Japan was divided between the North and the South.
Shiren (Hiromi Nagasaku), a legendary Northern Assassin, was sent to the South as a spy to assassinate Godai (Katsumi Takahashi), a dictatorial high priest who ruled over the South. Twenty years later, the North continues to live in peace and Shiren serves Kyougoku (Arata Furuta), a high-ranking vassal of the North. Ragi (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a young sword fighter and also the son of Kyougoku, looks up to Shiren with admiration.
When news arrives revealing that Godai is, in fact, alive, Shiren is sent to the South once again to complete her assassination. Sensing Shiren’s distress, Ragi volunteers to accompany her on the mission. On seeing Ragi’s determination to be there to support her throughout the journey, Shiren’s cold heart starts melting and the two eventually fall in love. Finally, when it is time to kill Godai, a truth unbeknownst to all comes to light, ensuing chaos.
Perks of watching on film
The movie producers shot the play over the course of two live performances, where 20 cameras were used to capture all the various angles of the stage play. Unlike watching “Shiren & Ragi” as a play, viewers will get to experience multiple views and close-ups throughout the film, allowing them to see the actors’ facial expressions and minute body language that would be otherwise drowned out onstage. Furthermore, the film’s editors also chose to showcase interesting reactions by characters, something which theatre audiences could easily overlook, while certain special effects were added to create a more holistic movie experience.
Review (includes spoilers)
The action, comedy and romance in the film were well-balanced. There were plenty of mature jokes and innuendos throughout the film which tied in perfectly with the plot. The movie may not be suited for the innocent at heart due to its subtly mature content — coupled with the theme of forbidden love — as incest is visited quite often in the second half of the film.
The actors’ were splendid in portraying their respective roles, bearing in mind that this was originally a live stage play, especially during the comedic intimate scenes played by Godai’s wife and daughter. For instance, while Godai’s daughter lusts after Ragi, she sneaks up after him and even pins him down, proceeding to force him to kiss her.
The action scenes were a visual treat, the best of which was from the arc when Shiren and ragi attempt to kill Godai as all the main cast gather on stage for a three-sided duel. The perfectly timed stunts and tricks were further enhanced in the film as viewers could watch the action from different angles.
Most of the main cast and supporting roles are played by actors’ who have a decent background in acting in films and dramas, hence fans of the cast will enjoy viewing these artistes in a different light. Notably Hiromi Nagasaku, who played Shiren, was at the top of her game. Given her role, she had to portray Shiren as a deceitful assassin, cold-hearted lover, and a woman who is psychologically tormented upon realizing that Ragi was actually her son. Unlike in films, there are no retakes during a stage play so Hiromi did well in acting the role of Shiren throughout the play.
Tatsuya Fijiwara complemented Hiromi’s role perfectly, especially in the aftermath of the devastating revelation. Fans of Tatsuya’s role as Yagami Light in ‘Death Note’ will particularly enjoy the second half of the play as Ragi takes on a similar dark, twisted persona in contrast to Shiren’s anguish and seclusion.
While I did enjoy most of the film, the opening of Shiren & Ragi started on a comical note, which shows the villagers in the North enjoying their peaceful lives, singing praises of the rulers and the army. The comedy aspect in the opening felt a bit forced, making it slightly disassociated from the rest of the film. Perhaps it would have been better to gradually ease the comedy into the film. The subtitles were well-done, even in the comedic scenes. They were even able to capture even the complicated word-play that made up some of the show’s funnier jokes.
Despite the title being Shiren & Ragi, I feel that the film primarily centres on Shiren and her internal strife. The first half shows her struggle between living on her life as the assassin she was brought up to be and giving it all away to start anew as a regular lady – something which she thought was impossible until she met Ragi. The second half then shows her spiralling in turmoil as her morality clashes with her passion, and she fears confronting the irreversible sin she committed – that she made love with her son.
Visuals courtesy of Roco Communications.