Yuming's Songs Weave Through Time In Theater

Yuming's songs weave through time in theaterYumi Matsutoya, a trailblazer on the Japanese pop music scene for the past 45 years, is returning to the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo. However, the singer-songwriter widely known as Yuming won't be acting at the esteemed venue for Japanese modern theater — instead she will sing her songs for a performance that is a fusion of theater and concert.

This is the third theatrical show built around Yuming's songs to be held at the more than century-old theater. She sings 14 of her own songs, chosen to fit each scene and thus maximizing the synergistic effect between the songs and the play.

Opening Monday, the new production, "Asahi no Naka de Hohoende" (In the Morning Light), is the first to take its title from an original song by Yuming. The play describes a love story set 500 years in the future and is directed by Yuming’s husband, Masataka Matsutoya, a famed producer-arranger who also wrote the script.



A poster for "Asahi no Naka de Hohoende"


The forthcoming show can be described as a "mysterious fantasy of pure and mature love." The protagonist, Narusawa (played by Yasufumi Terawaki) is a jobless middle-aged man who is being questioned by police for some reason.

Twenty years ago, his fiancee died from an intractable disease, and now he has feelings for Sara (Sae Miyazawa), a woman so young she could be his daughter. The story raises some unanswered questions: Why is Narusawa attracted to Sara? And why are the police after him?

The play’s setting 500 years from now may feel a bit fanciful. But Yuming imagines that things won’t be that different.

"I guess the form of human beings won’t change, so the things they use in life won’t be all that different, either, like wearing a pair of shoes when walking outside," she said.

She believes that technological progress will not change the basic activities of humans that much.

"Humans may have a longer life expectancy thanks to the practical application of induced pluripotent stem cells and stuff like that, but I think people will have their life spans appropriately controlled in communities because the longer you live, the more money you need," she said. "Even those with enough money won’t be able to live long on their own because people cannot live alone."

Her husband adds that the theme of the production is "things that will not change," such as pure love. This is probably why it has a somewhat nostalgic air even though it is set far in the future.

When it comes to the differences between a play and a concert, Yuming said, "When I stand on stage, I feel the vibrations of the actors performing, which resonate with me."

Compared to previous productions, the latest show intertwines its scenes with Yuming’s singing at a deeper level. In the climax, in particular, the actors perform with intensity in front of Yuming as she sings passionately — a scene that will no doubt move the audience.

"We’ve thought over that scene so many times, such as its lighting effects," Masataka said. "You can call it a fusion in the true sense of the word."

The production seems to have affected Yuming’s awareness as a singer. When the songs sound as if they are merging into the play, "it makes me concentrate on singing even more," she said.

In September, the veteran musician finished a nationwide tour of her 38th album "Uchu Toshokan" (Space library), which involved 80 concerts in 42 cities — the longest and largest-scale tour ever in her career.

"The tour has made me become like an athlete," Yuming said. "It has helped me make detailed plans for each and every song on how to perform, like 'Enter this phrase like this’ or 'Emphasize that part of these lyrics.’"

Since her debut in 1972, Yuming has been performing as a singer-songwriter of pop music, a genre that allows performers to pursue their own styles because it is not methodical like classical music.

"I want to go further, by looking into what I’ve been doing within my own style so far," she said. "By singing my songs more carefully, I hope I can gain fresh insights into them."

Focusing on her songs in the production makes it much easier for Yuming to feel the emotions she wants to convey, thereby highlighting the characters’ emotional changes and the atmosphere of each scene. In this sense, the current production has evolved into a theatrical experience that appears to be similar to the two previous shows but turns out to be different.

The song "Asahi no Naka de Hohoende" was on her 1976 album "Juyonbanme no Tsuki" (The 14th moon), the last album she released under her maiden name, Yumi Arai. It is a masterpiece that still sounds fresh after more than 40 years and embraces a subject common to the world she has long been weaving into her songs: the wonders of fate, life and death, and eternal time.

"This play depicts well the beauty and sadness of ephemerality in eternity," Yuming said. "I hope that when you return to your everyday life after watching the show, you can feel once again that your own everyday life is also a precious time."


The show will run from Nov. 27 to Dec. 20 at the Imperial Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. There will be no performance on Dec. 1, 4, 8, 13, 18. Visit www.tohostage.com/yuming2017/ for more information.


Array of newspaper clips

To commemorate the show and the 45th anniversary of Yuming’s career, an exhibition is currently under way showcasing more than 70 past articles on the singer-songwriter in The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Hochi Shimbun newspapers.

The event is being held on the third-floor gallery of The Yomiuri Shimbun head office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and runs until Dec. 20. It is closed on Sundays. Admission is free. Visit info.yomiuri.co.jp/

event/exhibition/3441.html for details.