09 May 2011
I surprised myself by procuring and watching this fairly unusual-for-me musical based entirely on a review of Topsy-Turvy that off-handedly suggested Gilbert and Sullivan used The Mikado and the new-to-the-west Japanese culture/world as a screen to openly deride the bureaucratic buffoonery of the government at the time, and since one of the more difficult aspects of my script is governmental buffoonery I gave it a try. It was helpful, I think, mostly because the dialogue and plot is so brilliantly off-kilter absurdist that it's like a proto-Catch-22 in its genius recursive nonsense.
The music is bizarre and operatic and catchy as hell (not a big surprise) and the lyrics seem like they were written by the man who wrote the Thesaurus (also not a big surprise), and both seemed, like I said, outside my typical wheelhouse but fun. But the world of the story... the Japan presented here... what a strange cultural artifact! White people in colorful foam costumes and practically clownish makeup portraying a world as consistent and fantastical as Brazil, only this world was ostensibly "Japan." It's a little like watching anime movies "borrow" from elements of western storytelling or legend and repurpose them into some unidentifiable hodge-podge. Taken as representational of contemporary view of eastern culture, it looks pretty racist at first -- but it doesn't take long before you realize it isn't trying to be representational. It really is setting up a strange and bureaucratically obsessed world. It really is a spiritual ancestor to Brazil. With Gilbert and Sullivan songs. And a convoluted operatic plot.
Really bizarre. Very silly. But a lot of fun.