KEREN: Pouring its passion from Osaka into the worldKEREN: Pouring its passion from Osaka into the world

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Yusei Kageyama's "KEREN" commentary

At the end of 2018, the theater quarter of New York, Broadway, saw a remarkable, unprecedented fluctuation in its weekly box-office revenue. The magic show “The Illusionists”, where multiple artists exhibit a diverse stream of tricks, emerged into fourth place in the sales ranking, among all 29 productions that were showing at the time. This means that the show overtook 17 productions from the week before, and that came with a sudden multifold surge in box-office revenue.
This breakthrough was made possible by the fact that the play was a nonverbal show, which did not require speech. In New York, Christmas season is the most animated time of the year. The show’s success was the result of interest from non-English speaking tourists from overseas. This news, which made headlines in the American theater circle, brought me to think about the significance attached to KEREN, an entertainment masterpiece that is being shown in Osaka, where the number of tourists from outside Japan continues to grow rapidly.

Of late, there has been great demand for live entertainment without language barriers in tourist destinations. As such, nonverbal productions have been thriving in the US, China, Dubai and other countries. These are all brief shows that omit intervals, and share a common attitude, pushing the actors’ performances to the fore along with special effects including music and scenography. These nonverbal shows now target tourists in a fashion that seems almost mechanically standardized. The pioneer that laid the foundation of and established this genre is Canada’s circus troupe, Cirque du Soleil, a group that is familiar to Japan too. The catalyst for these shows was Cirque du Soleil’s grand venture into Las Vegas in the US in 1993. Here, they produced shows that considered both the demands of casinos, which wanted people to spend more time gambling in order to produce higher profit margins, and the needs of the hotels, who ran the theaters for shows. As such, the focus of these productions was nothing more than to create shows that were made for tourism. Later the troupe introduced eight short productions in Las Vegas, and a stream of many other shows that followed the success of this business model emerged outside of the casino city.

The nonverbal show boom has even taken off in seaside resorts, where entertainment is in comparatively less At demand. In Maui, a long-running show based on the Hawaiian creation legend has even successfully lasted for over 18 years. There is now a grand-scale show waiting for its premiere in Oahu, the island that attracts the greatest number of tourists out of all the Hawaiian islands. Cirque du Soleil’s Dinner Show has also entered its fifth year running in Riviera Maya, Mexico. In 2017, the number of overseas tourists visiting Osaka exceeded 10 million, and this number is expected to grow further. Perhaps the rise of nonverbal shows in Osaka was a natural extension of this trend. The show is presented in the Osaka Castle Park, which is a tourist mecca for visitors from overseas. In this tourist destination, the Tenshukaku castle tended to steal the spotlight, but was lacking in an element of entertainment. The KEREN project was the materialization of a perfect collaboration between the park and entertainment. As if to symbolize this fusion, the show’s scenography emphasizes glamour. The enormous 18 x 8 meters (approx. 59' x 26') LED panel, which is positioned to cover the stage background, is a dazzling 3024 x 1344 pixels. Added to this is the stage setting, which is a portable unit installed with LED lights, giving a three-dimensional touch to the visuals projected through the enormous monitor. Through the projector, still images and motion pictures are also projected onto the proscenium arch that encircles the stage like a picture frame. The collaboration between projector and bright LED panels is at the height of the modern scenography industry, as it pursues depth through the contrast of 2 different types of visuals. The performances, enacted by the show’s 34 performers, are presented as if they were one with these projections.

The jaunty story wanders back and forth between the past and the present, with typically Japanese characters putting on a lilting show. The audience is given freedom of interpretation, and they can enjoy the show simply by following it visually. The performance by 30 dancers is not to be missed either. This involves sword-fighting and sword dance, seasoned with a Japanese touch. Another key feature is the abundance of tap dance scenes, and other dance performances containing many movements that are reminiscent of the distinct styles created by choreographers who have worked in Broadway shows, adding to the rich diversity of the show.

Another charming feature of KEREN is the attention it gives to Japanese culture and history throughout the show. The well-versed representation of the Kansai region is also worth noting, thanks to the location of the show, Osaka. In the featured song, the show’s heroine sings affectionately about the four seasons one after the other, concluding with a proclamation of everlasting love for the country. The show begins with the beautiful world of Ukiyoe, then hectically spins stories of gritty fishing culture, the hilarity of ghost tales, the world of the globally acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa, and the allure of Ninja. However, this is not a one-sided celebration of values shoved down the audience’s throat. Instead of glorifying the cultural aspects that may be viewed as strange by other countries, it throws a curve ball by covering them comically. The show even features trivia about the iconic Japanese food, Sushi, entertaining not only foreign visitors, who are the targeted audience, but also Japanese viewers through many elements of the show.
Throughout the show, Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa plays an important role. The painting is said to be the best-known Japanese painting overseas. I cannot help but feel that there is a deep meaning behind the symbolic appearance of this woodprint—which is known as The Great Wave in English—throughout the show, although it is unclear whether this is intentional. Perhaps, it is hinting towards the way that the entertainment industry hopes to thrive through this new trend or “wave”, as the English name suggests. It may also be suggesting the show’s motivation to take the nonverbal entertainment market by storm, just like the way the fishing boats Oshiokuribune thrust forward against the great waves in the painting. The Kansaiborn KEREN continues to promote the new potential of nonverbal shows to the world.

Yusei Kageyama Theater journalist. A voting member of “The Drama Desk Award” in the US. Sees all Broadway shows and numerous Off-Broadway productions throughout the season to share live entertainment information with Japan. Lives in New York.

Creator Comments

【Screenplay・Director】Tetsuro Takahira

Editor・Director・Screenwriter・Translator(Text & Songs)
Takahira composed the foundation of many hit TV shows like “Waratte Iitomo” (It’s Okay to Laugh), “Konya wa Saikou” (Tonight is Great!), “Waratteru baai Desuyo” (You Need to be Laughing!) and countless others. He also is a film critic, essayist, actor, scriptwriter, and many other roles.



The concept is Cool Japan.
The title “KEREN” often times means “heresy” or “faking it” and I felt that this all represents Cool Japan.
I also think that anything can represent Japan, and anything can also represent Cool Japan. The Japan that Moment Factory envisions is, in their mind, Japan, but it is also not Japan based on another person’s view. I think that this is also “Cool Japan”. I want Moment Factory to show us their vision of Japan.

【Choreography】Baayork Lee

Lee debuted on Broadway in the 1951 production of “The King and I” as a child actress. She is also one of the original cast members of the legendary musical “Chorus Line” and now works as choreographer and director. She was the recipient of the Isabelle Stephen Tony Award.



First things first, I think that the title “Keren” is a title that allows us to have endless creative freedom. Choreography is something that is only able to be created with music and a body. I usually choreograph shows that have a story, but this time, it is quite unique as I am choreographing something that does not have a story. I found this to be a wonderful experience as I was able to have complete freedom on how I wanted to choreograph things.
I really want everyone to enjoy this show. Please do not miss it!


Highlighted in the Takeshi Kitano directed film “Zatoichi”, HIDEBOH not only performed in the farmers tap and stomp scene, but also created and directed the dance. He is known as one of the people that made tap dancing popular in Japan. His original performances are heavily rhythm based.



This show has unique world view of one of the living legends of the entertainment world, Tetsuro Takahira.
There is a world called “wayou sechu” (Combining both Japanese and Western cultures) that usually shows like these are referred to. However this show is not quite that, but rather, something quite original and modern because it combines both traditional kabuki with many different sets, equipment, set design from all over the world.
In 2003, I performed tap dancing in geta (traditional Japanese sandals) in the film “Zatoichi”. I would really like everyone to see the show.
The combination of sword fighting video and music will combine and allow Osaka to turn into Broadway and broadcast new entertainment to the world.

【Sword Fighting】Tetsuro Shimaguchi

Through Shimaguchi’s experiences on the famed “Kabukiza” stage, he established his own group, “Kengishu Kamui” in 1998. He performed and choreographed the sword fighting scenes in the Quentin Tarantino film “Kill Bill”. He is a samurai artist that combines stylistic beauty, acting, and sword fighting.



Because I mainly perform internationally, it feels weird to come back to Osaka again. Each scene is as different from each other as some I work with Moment Factory’s multimedia content, some tap dancing, some are historical dramas, and some involve samurai and ninjas. As Mr. Takahira stated, we are able to work with all types of “COOL JAPAN”, and I have had a wonderful time on this project. I would really like everyone to see the show.

【Multimedia】Moment Factory

Moment Factory is a multimedia studio specializing in creating immersive environments using images, lighting, design sound and special effects. They have many teams that specialize in things such as graphic and motion design, multimedia direction, illustration, lighting, music, environment, producing, programming, engineering, etc. They are based in Montreal with offices in LA, Tokyo, London, New York, and Paris. They have worked with companies like LA Aviation, Microsoft, NFL, Sony, Toyota and artists like Amuro Namie, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Muse and others. They have also had over 400 shows and events at places such as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, Royal Caribbean International, and other places.


This would be our second project with Yoshimoto after our first, Sakuya Lumina, which is currently at Osaka Castle Park. Mr. Takahira told us that he wanted to “Make something special together”. We first had to understand what “Keren” meant and then from there, we did research into Japan, Osaka, and the traditions and cultures. We are still working on the video even now, and hope we will be able to create something that is magical.