Japanese Actor Makoto Hirano Calls Lantern Theater’s Julius Caesar Racist

lantern theater julius caesar racist japanese

Lantern Theater Company is in the middle of a run of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar at St. Stephen’s Theater. The setting is medieval Japan.

The City Paper didn’t like it. Inquirer critic Toby Zinman wasn’t much of a fan, calling the show “intriguing and frustrating.” And now Philadelphia theater artist Makoto Hirano, a native of Japan and samurai descendant, has deemed the show “racist.”


Here is the letter that Hirano hand-delivered to Lantern staff earlier this week:

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 2.07.18 PM

Here is the response from Lantern director Charles McMahon:

“One of the major goals of Lantern Theater Company has always been to foster dialogue and discussion among our audience. We have a long history of hiring actors of all backgrounds for Shakespeare roles, but our production of Julius Caesar has offended some people, and we want to better understand their concerns. I have reached out personally to Makoto as well as other members of the local theater and Asian American communities and am interested in hearing all points of view. I welcome the opportunity to further discuss diversity and cultural representation in the theater with anyone who has an interest in an open and direct exchange.”

PHOTO: Mark Garvin

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  • cbraak

    Oh my gosh, I think those ARE kung fu shirts, aren’t they?

    I actually really would be pretty interested to hear the rationale behind that costume choice.

    • gwangung

      I’d be fascinated to learn if there was ANY rationale.

    • http://www.famousasiansonline.com Famous Asians

      If you google some “Miss Saigon” images, a lot of smaller community productions dress their actors (who are usually white) in the Chinese cheongsam instead of the Vietnamese ao dai. Laziness coupled with ignorance.

      • Bob Brinkman

        To be fair, a costumer’s job often isn’t to be authentic. Their job is to create an impression in the audience’s mind that they will accept as being authentic. Often, the audience is woefully misinformed.

        A film special effects version of this would be the head of the Statue of Liberty in “Cloverfield”. While the original effect was accurately sized, the final effect showed the head as much larger, because test audiences complained that the head was “too small”.

        The costuming choice could be budget, laziness, or an estimate of audience perception. It could go in many ways. The fact is that the majority of Americans don’t know the difference, which is admittedly sad.

        • sheryl waterberg

          yeah but what people are saying in this case is that it might be jarring to the audience that the production has a cheong sam and not an ao dai. Unless we are assuming all audience members are ignorant of the difference. And if they ALL can’t tell the difference, why can’t the production still use an ao dai? Laziness and ignorance indeed.

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  • Mark Cofta

    My problems with the production are already documented, and Hirano’s objections make a lot of sense to me — except the first one. Allow me to play devil’s advocate: would actors of Japanese descent (and also, presumably, Americans) automatically make the Lantern’s production authentically Japanese? (Cultural knowledge is not guaranteed by genetics.) If actors of other Asian ethnicities (Korean, Chinese) auditioned, should the Lantern have asked for proof of Japanese ancestry? (Most American actors of Asian descent are accustomed to playing whatever Asian ethnicity is required; lots of non-Vietnamese, but nevertheless Asian, actors have performed in Miss Saigon.) If the production was instead set in Rome, would the Lantern be right to insist that actors be of Italian descent (with proof, of course)? What consideration could or should racially mixed actors receive?

    I think the Lantern saw their production as typical “colorblind” casting — a mix of black and white actors without regard for characters’ ethnicity. This is often done with Shakespeare (although, alas, not so much for other plays) no matter what time or place the production is set in. The Wilma just announced that next season’s Hamlet will be played by a black woman; assuming the play is still set in Denmark, should actors of Danish descent object?

    My dream is not that Japanese actors be sought for the Lantern’s Japanese Julius Caesar, but actors of ANY and EVERY ethnicity be considered for ALL roles. Limiting casting to ethnically accurate actors seems the opposite of that.

    • Kim

      First of all, there are other ethnicities other than black or white. You can’t call it “colorblind” and exclude every other ethnicity in the world.

      Second, Asian actors have limited roles available to them as it is. So to call them out for not being Vietnamese in a show that takes place in Vietnam is not fair. Don’t split hairs. Until actors of color are justly and fairly employed the same as their white counterparts, then your argument is weak.

      Third, this production clearly was set in Japan (not “inspired”). The Lantern Theater lost out on amazing opportunity to stretch themselves artistically as well as educate the public about Japanese culture, not to mention gain a whole new roster of actors from which to cast future productions. Instead, they have insulted an entire culture and artistic community.

      • Mark Cofta

        Kim, I don’t define “colorblind” as black and white; I was just trying to explain the Lantern’s approach, and the typical casting philosophy pertaining to Shakespeare.

        Second, I was splitting hairs to illustrate the absurdity of racial quotas, and the idea that the Lantern production required Japanese actors to be authentic. Perhaps you need to look up the phrase “devil’s advocate,” or ask someone what hyperbole is.

        Funny thing about that “whole new roster of actors” . . . there are few actors of Asian descent working in Philadelphia, perhaps because they’re never cast unless a play specifically requires Asian actors. So where would this new roster come from? Eventually, perhaps, from a truly “colorblind” approach, or maybe a company devoted to plays with Asian characters, which many cities (but not Philadelphia) have.

    • gwangung

      My dream is not that Japanese actors be sought for the Lantern’s Japanese Julius Caesar, but actors of ANY and EVERY ethnicity be considered for ALL roles. Limiting casting to ethnically accurate actors seems the opposite of that.

      I think that’s Makoto’s dream, too.

      But I think folks should remember that Asian actors aren’t getting to the table at all. If they aren’t getting cast in the first place, arguments about “limiting the casting” really doesn’t make sense.

      I mean, your phrasing makes it seem like you’re really not that familiar with the topic at all.

      • Mark Cofta

        Really? I’m pretty familiar with the local theater scene, and I agree, they’re not at the table. Asian actors simply don’t exist here. I can think of only two who live and work professionally in Philadelphia.

        My argument about limiting the casting was meant to illustrate the absurdity of casting according to the actors’ actual ethnicity. Was I too subtle? It’s an absurd idea, I was trying to say. Adding actors of Japanese descent to the Lantern’s pseudo-Japanese production, as Makoto Hirano suggests, would offer only a superficial appearance of authenticity.

        • Kim

          Then why were the two not asked to be a part of the cast? Or even invited to audition? Why were contacts not used to find Asian actors? The director had his concept far in advance, I’m sure. Actors are very often brought in from out of town, why were they not for this production? Philly is not that far from NYC. If the concept cannot be supported, then don’t do it. If they had been “inspired” by the Kenyan culture instead of Japan, would they have dressed white people in the traditional costumes? No, because it does not work. It is offensive. It is appropriation, and that is what the Lantern did here.

        • Jennifer

          Mark, you are sorely misinformed in believing “Asian actors simply don’t exist here.” In fact, you emphasize a larger point being made. Because they are so rarely cast, and you so rarely seem them, you believe they do not exist. Do you see how their invisibility perpetuates their lack of opportunity? In fact, there is a large roster of Asian-American actors in Philadelphia. (Not to mention the enormous pool of Asian-American talent available from New York, Boston, and other cities that they could be cast and brought in from).
          You also continue to miss the point: If you choose to set a play in an historically real place and time, your casting choices should reflect that place (Japan = Japanese/Asian Actors). While colorblind casting is an overall positive thing, it is not such when used to argue solely for the exclusion of minority actors who are already (as you point out) so horrifically underrepresented.

          The points presented are not arguing that casting Asian actors would give this show authenticity (if they use chinese tops, etc. they have still fallen well short of that bar); but that they have appropriated an entire culture as simply ‘set dressing’ without even attempting to cast the faces that would appear in that culture. Black face is not acceptable. Neither is yellow-face.

          • Mark Cofta

            Jennifer, I agree with your last thought. But the FIRST point in the original letter was that Japanese actors should have been cast, so yes, that was part of his argument.
            As for Philadelphia’s Asian actors … really? I see over 150 local productions a year, not only professionals but also many college productions. Are all our theater companies refusing to hire all these capable local Asian actors? (Bringing actors from other cities is an expense some companies can’t afford.)
            So, really, casting choices should reflect the setting? So your Julius Caesar would feature only Italians, and your Fiddler on the Roof only Jews? What tests would you use to ensure that you achieved racial purity?
            I wasn’t arguing that colorblind casting should exclude any minority; rather, my hope is that theaters will consider more diversity in their casting. Your claim that a huge pool of talented Asian actors is hiding in Philadelphia waiting to be cast means that this may finally change. I suspect, however, that most actors of Asian descent go elsewhere, where more opportunities exist.
            Please, send me a list of Philadelphia’s Asian actors; I will happily forward it to all the theaters I know. Maybe we can work together to change things.

        • gwangung

          My argument about limiting the casting was meant to illustrate the absurdity of casting according to the actors’ actual ethnicity

          And my point is that you already have an absurd situation; it’s the reality that Asian American actors do not get considered for roles that are not specifically written as Asians (either in Philadelphia or elsewhere). Any point about not limiting the casting is putting the cart before the horse.

          (And we’re agreed that the majority of Makoto’s letter is quite valid about the artistic laziness of Lantern?)(which might have been helped by involving more Japanese in the production?)

          • Mark Cofta

            We agree about everything you say here, including the validness of Makoto’s other points.

            However, wouldn’t it be racist of the Lantern to assume that ANY person of Japanese descent would increase the authenticity of their production? They obviously needed experts in that cultural period — who of course might be ethnically Japanese, or not. Knowledge about clothing, weaponry, and cultural traditions is not passed genetically, but can be learned — by anyone.

            Racial quotas and ethnic purity tests are dangerous and absurd. Good actors should be cast, regardless of their backgrounds.

        • Sakura

          ‘Asian actors simply don’t exist here’? WOW, you made me laugh. After watching over 150 productions?! You must be avoiding shows with Asian actors, Mark. How about ‘Water by Spoonful’ at Arden right now? How about ’4000 Miles’ at PTC as well as Media Theater? It seems we don’t exist because we rarely get cast, and so lots of people leave here because they can’t get work no matter how much we are talented. I think that’s what Makoto is trying to say- if they wanted to set the show in Japan, hire Japanese actors they don’t hire usually. That’s their chance! If they don’t have enough people in Philadelphia, go New Jersey, Delaware, D.C., New York, Chicago. There will be PLENTY of actors who would love to work on it. Don’t treat us like we don’t exist.

          • Mark Cofta

            The actress in 4000 Miles does not live in Philadelphia; the one in Water is one of the two Asians I have mentioned before who lives and works here regularly. You’re right, if there are more Asian actors in the area, they’re not being cast.
            I’m reluctant to believe that they’re excluded due to some huge racist conspiracy. Importing actors from other cities is an expensive proposition for many theaters, and would not change the local theater culture.
            Sadly, you seem to miss my point entirely; I’m not treating you like you don’t exist, I am actively lobbying for you to be cast — not only when a production calls specifically for Asian actors, but for any and every project!

    • Dave

      Having seen the production, if the Lantern TRULY picked the best actors for the job with colorblind casting, their standards have definitely fallen from past years. With the exception of Forrest McClendon, none of them were particularly irreplaceable.

      Furthermore, one of the problem with colorblind casting is that it depends on a level playing field so that everyone has the same chance at success. They don’t. The fact that there are so few Asian-American actors in the Philly Shakespeare scene strongly indicates that, because I am extremely skeptical that a major city has NO decent Asian-American actors interested in Shakespeare. And while casting Japanese-American actors might not automatically make the production more authentically Japanese, it would show greater respect for the culture the production chose to mimic.

      Re: the Wilma – black people have actually been living in Denmark for hundreds of years, so that would still be less remarkable than, you know, the ghost. (Try this archive for representation just in art history.)

    • Lee256

      Mark, “any” doesn’t mean “all.”

  • DanielSturman

    I’m sure right now in Japan there is a production of My Fair Lady where Japanese actors are making a well-intentioned but goofy interpretation of Victorian England. Should I write a accusatory letter to them and call them racist?

    • Mark Cofta

      Actors act: they play characters who are not themselves. While I think it was wrong that once Othello was ONLY played by whites when theater was segregated, it’s now wrong that Othello can NEVER be played by a white actor in America today. Requiring that an actor be of a character’s exact ethnicity works against the very idea of acting.

      • DanielSturman

        Why did you respond to my comment?

        • Mark Cofta

          I agree with what you’re saying, and wanted to add that thought about acting. It was a “yes, and” comment, not a criticism.

          • DanielSturman

            Cool.

          • Scott

            Thanks for your comment. Thank god a white guy has waded in to let us all know what is and isn’t racist.

            I am, of course, being sarcastic.

            You’re both gurgling half wits.

            The reason you’re wrong is that White people in Japan haven’t been subject to years of discrimination through their depictions in the mainsteam media.

            As well as this, productions like this take roles away from East Asian actors, who rarely, if ever, get the chance to play period plays or Shakespeare. Mark Cofta, you say it’s wrong that a white guy will never get to play Othello, well I think it unfortunate that a black guy will almost never get the chance to play anything BUT Othello.

            This wouldn’t be such a massive deal if minorities were represented more fairly in the media, but they aren’t, so here we are.

          • Guest

            You get an E- for meeting reality on reality’s terms.

          • DanielSturman

            As long as my point still stands then I am as happy as a Patrick Stewart in Othello.

          • Mark Cofta

            Scott, I said exactly what you said about Othello. And I did it without calling anyone childish names. In America today, non-white actors DO play many Shakespearean roles; blacks play Caesar and Brutus in the Lantern’s Julius Caesar, for example. But no white man can play Othello.

            So, you’re saying that casting decisions should be based on which ethnic groups have suffered more discrimination? By your logic, every production should feature only Native Americans.
            Oh, and when all else fails you, blame the media. That always works.

          • Larry B.

            I teach theatre at the college level and I am also a minority.

            First, what makes this particular production offensive, is that the artistic staff decided to set this production against a very specific theme and did not do their do diligence to make sure what they were doing is appropriate in term of costuming, heritage, actors, etc.

            Secondly, in theatre we have something called a theatrical canon. Which means there are certain plays that have name recognition and can (basically) sell itself (unlike a new work). Most Shakespeare falls into this category. More on this later

            Thirdly, minorities are very underrepresented in casting for major roles in theatre(s) not specific to their race or ethnicity (I can show you research and numbers if you like). That means that minority actors rarely/never get leading roles in big name shows, at big name theatres. This is important for a couple of reasons: 1) Using Shakespeare as an example, outside a few characters, none of the major characters of Shakespeare call out race (Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, Ophiela, Caliban, Prospero, etc). These characters are often played by the same race of people, because of the public perception of these role(s). 2) Because of that these roles almost never go to people of color. 3) So, when a role specifically calls for a certain race, it is important to honor that, so people of color do not lose yet another opportunity to be seen and discovered. 4) When casting for a play in the theatrical canon, it is important to have (in my opinion) representation of different types of people.

            Lastly, the theatre likes to tout that equality, inclusion, and fairness is its backbone, but that is not the case. Theatre (really the entertainment industry) is an industry that can legally be sexist, racist, age-ist, class-ist, etc. all in the name of art. So, until this truly lopsided industry balances out, it will always be an issue when you cast a role meant for a specific type of actor, differently.

          • RO37

            I think the reason why this is racist is getting lost here. The biggest problem in my mind is the combination of Chinese (sword, kungfu)/complete inaccuracy (mock-seppuku) and Japanese elements and calling it “close enough.”

            No person in their right man would bring together a play based on revolutionary America, dress everyone in tri-cone hats and muskets, declare the emancipation proclamation, then have a guy run on stage in a “Mind the Gap” t-shirt dressed in a kilt and holding a Claymore sword.

            The attitude of “oh, it’s all Asian so it’s close enough” is what’s racist. No one has that attitude about a western european culture.

          • 1Alouette

            I wish I could like this comment a thousand times.

      • Nodramame

        That actors act is not anywhere close to the issue at hand. The issue is the production pretends to demonstrate the Japanese culture, while clearing demonstrating really that they, the producers and director know nothing about Japanese culture.

      • ursowrong
        • Mark Cofta

          Congratulations on finding the one exception, smart ass! Yes, Patrick Stewart played Othello in a famous reverse-race OTHELLO, in which all the other characters were played by black actors. I don’t think there was any outrage, perhaps because the concept was clear and unoffensive, and perhaps also because the production provided black actors with a whole play full of characters for which they’re almost never considered.

          There was a famous OTHELLO years ago, directed by my late teacher Harold Scott, that featured black actors as both Othello (Avery Brooks) and Iago (Andre Braugher). Typically, however, ONLY Othello is black.

    • Jon

      It’s fair to say that there probably have been productions in Asia where the representation of a western culture is depicted wrong, but I don’t feel like that really pertains to this situation.

      Being an Asian American comes with a lot of baggage especially if they’re an actor. There is history in the US of under representation of Asian minorities in the media and also a general “who cares” attitude towards them. I can think of multiple occurrences in my lifetime when Asian slurs were said aloud in public media forums without repercussions (unlike when people say the derogatory words towards African Americans and the N-word. i.e, Don Imus, Paula Dean). Keep this in mind when you see issues like this with Asian Americans.

      The fact is, Asian American actors don’t get the opportunities that other actors get. When they see a production that appropriates an Asian culture or mixes distinct and separate Asian cultures together, and see no actors that look like there from an Asian culture; it just reminds them of that “who cares” attitude and how invisible they are. This production of Julius Caesar is a reminder of that.

      Again, what you said is valid, but it’s not the point. It might not seem important to you, but if you aren’t Asian American, than you don’t know and haven’t experienced what they’ve gone through their entire lives. It’s one thing to feel American and another to be treated as an American. The best way I can put it is if you’ve ever felt excluded from anything in your life, try imagining how that feels tenfold.

      I wanted to add that I’m not attacking you in anyway (and if it sounds like I am, I apologize), just wanted to add my thoughts.

      • DanielSturman

        You make a very fair point about cultural exclusion and I hope I can sympathize even if I cannot ever fully relate.

        But keeping the focus purely on theatre and culture/colour in theatre, it is not a racist issue. That was all my comment is about. Also the author was a little snotty about specific details about the authenticity of the instrumentation and warcraft. I hope the author never watches The Mikado or he’ll have a heart attack.

        I was in South Korea last last year and when walking around Seoul’s brilliant museum of national history and costume it hit me that King Lear and it’s themes could intertwine with Korean cultural concepts and historic costume really well.

        • Larry B.

          But it can be racist, that is the issue. Do I think this theatre company was intentionally being racist, of course not, but that does not excuse them for being ignorant to a culture they are trying to represent.

          See my post below for further details.

          To use your example if a company in Japan is doing a production of My Fair Lady set in London and making a mockery of British people and heritage, then yes, you should write a letter and express your concerns,

          The problem with this type of argument, is people thinking two wrongs, makes one thing right and that is not the case.

          • DanielSturman

            But it wasn’t making a mockery of Japan, it made some errors on specifics in costume. The author seemed to think that not having the budget for the right *kind* of swords is something noteworthy.

          • gwangung

            Not a mockery? Heh heh heh. Using a chopstick font? Heh heh heh heh…..

        • AlexWard

          The author is a she.

          • Clyde

            No, he’s not.

        • D. Bunji Fromartz, Esq.

          I never made it through the Mikado I was so insulted I had to walk out half through the first act. 文治

    • http://reikou.net Kyuu

      By your logic, then no one but Italians should be playing characters in Julius Caeser because they were all, in fact, Romans so lol@ur racism bye.

      MFL has a specific context, which is Victorian England. Julius Caesar also has a specific which is Ancient Rome. Is a production going to get all the historical cues right? No. And that’s fine. But if you’re removing it from the original context, you can at least damn well do the research to make sure to do it respectfully and with as much accuracy as you can. Instead, this production is filled with racial fetishism (because putting Caesar in ancient Japan would be ~so cool~) and without respect to actual cultural appropriate traditions, clothes, or objects. Instead, it continues to further western ignorance and advancing the One Asia idea of culture.

      Also, Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese (Yamato) while America is not even more than 50% white, disregarding ethnicity. There is absolutely no reason a stage production should not be 1) more representative or 2) include members of a cultural group it’s trying to set itself in.

      Sorry about ur white outrage.

      • DanielSturman

        You get an F.

        If you want to take a play with a context and re-dress it in another context you do not have to get all the appropriate cultural cues on-point. And even if you intend to do so and fail, your failure will be budget or inclination or laziness; but not racism.

        I haven’t seen the play I admit, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate to call it racial-fetishism (or theme-park orientalist) if they went as far as getting Japanese court instruments. That’s quite a respectable level of detail.

        An interesting point on racial fetishism is the Uncle Tom play in The King and I. Is that double-order racist?

        Oh and if white outrage is demanding the same standards on America-on-Japan as Japan-on-America then meh. One thing I cannot stand is that racism, the shame of the world, is thrown about in some theatre patrons misgivings about what kind of sword Brutus wields.

        • gwangung

          And even if you intend to do so and fail, your failure will be budget or inclination or laziness; but not racism.

          And if they are lazy, where do they get their ideas? What is the provenance of those ideas? What shapes them?

          Let’s not think of racism as just a conscious, covert act. Racism frequently comes from thoughtlessness and lack of thought as well, and a habit of thought that substitutes habit for thoughtful cognition.

          F for your response, sir.

  • claudiaalick
  • AJJayJay

    Hey Charles. I heard you’re doing Taming of the Shrew next year, eh? Here’s a novel idea: set it in feudal Japan for no reason whatsoever other than it ‘looks cool.’

    You’re welcome.

    • Curious George

      Why not?! Hollywood has been making millions for years using this idea.

  • Curious George

    Okay so taking into account this critique doesn’t seem to be about the actual production so much as the FACT that not one single Japanese (separate from the general term Asian) was cast, here are a couple of silly questions regarding this conversation which I would like to have some answers to

    1) How many Japanese actors/actresses can you cite that submitted their headshot and resume’s for this particular show?
    -If I may suggest a plausible situation , I’m unsure what an SPT 6 contract pays, but perhaps the contract did not pay enough for any notable Japanese actors from NYC or some other major hub, to find it financially profitable to participate (keep in mind, actors are in a business, would you want a job in another state that did not pay enough for you to pay your bills?)

    2) Does anyone think that the author of this critique would have been satisfied (not pleased but satisfied) had Asians of other nationalities been cast?
    – As bad as this may sound, the article continually reinforces the idea of Japanese actors, not Asians of varying nationalities, so no, I do not think they would have been satisfied

    On another note, I can see where the author is coming from. If one is to stage a play in feudal japan, then for Chrissakes, don’t put Chinese kung-fu shirts and symbols in the play. Though I never have been offended by inconsistencies in plays, it does show ignorance from a costume designer in this case.

    And let’s not get into rituals of the time. I personally have not seen the show, but if the author speaks truthfully that the ritual or seppuku (forgive the spelling) or tea ceremonies (which may sound trivial to some but the gesture of hospitality toward a guest is a big deal during this period) were performed with less that perfect precision, then these ideas should have been dropped altogether.

    Although I said I can see somewhat where the author is coming from, the notion of “don’t do a show, or carry out an artistic vision if you don’t have precisely what this period was” (aka historically accurate is what I am getting from the article) is Ludicrous.

    Yes be respectful of the culture you are portraying. Yes, DO YOUR EFFING RESEARCH. However, this is not a documentary, or a History/ DIscovery Channel tv series conveying perfect information of a beautifully cultured society. The show does not have to be perfectly historically accurate. That being said, this should NOT turn into a variation of the early Minstel/Blackface shows.

    Now, on a side note, and I now I’ll get flack for saying this, but grow a thick skin. Come up with a better mouse wheel. If you see a group of people being neglected within the acting community, don’t sit and bitch about it. DO something. Start a fully Japanese theatre company dedicated to bringing classical and modern Japanese plays to the stage. Write your local AEA representative passionately explaining your aggravation with the situation.

    The way that article was written I perceived to be more of a personal gripe with a company that possibly did not cast this person who believes they were a very good fit for the production and the vision thereof. I may be dead wrong, but that’s how it reads to me.

    And finally, lastly, someone who posted made a comment about how theatres and casting people in general, may discriminate freely due to the nature of the “art.” And my answer to that is….YES. They can. It’s part of the business. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too gay, too straight. You get where I’m going with this. Ultimately, casting comes down to what a DIRECTOR ENVISIONS when he reads the play. You know how when you read a book you picture things in your head, you see or IMAGINE the story unfolding? Director’s do this. And they typically cast fairly closely to what they imagine when reading the play.

    And that’s my two cents…well maybe it turned out to be longer than a two cent response. These are simply my perceptions. I could be wrong. After all, if the majority of the world thought the earth was flat at one point, one man can certainly be wrong about something as small and insignificant as one play, in one theatre, in a city within a state. A state contain…well so on and so on.

    • gwangung

      Okay so taking into account this critique doesn’t seem to be about the actual production so much as the FACT that not one single Japanese (separate from the general term Asian) was cast

      I think you need to read this document a LOT more closely.

      • Curious George

        I’ve read it closely enough I think. And the one thing the author continually points out is that not one Japanese person was in the cast. And from my experience a point which is repeated is generally what the article, play, book, etc is really trying to get at.

        4 out of the 11 points directly address the “100% Non-japanese” cast. And I think it is indirectly mentioned a couple other times, however indirect statements can be a matter of opinion.

    • Meg

      One can take issue with a director’s vision. They may ENVISION something racist and inconsistent, and discriminate freely in order to make that vision come to life, and it’s the audience’s job to take issue with that.

  • Bob Brinkman

    I would be interested to know the racial makeup of the auditions. If the production is being called out for being racist in its casting, the only way to make such an allegation with any sort of authority would be the auditions. I’ve cast shows where I have DESPERATELY been looking for anyone that wasn’t white…and haven’t had a single person of any other ethnicity show up.

    Art, and theater, cross all cultures and nationalities. However, depending on where you are located, the racial makeup of the theatrical community can vary greatly.

    Now, I’d disagree that the using of Japanese instruments doesn’t help change the tone of the production, at least, depending on the music played. Music can play a very important role in changing the feel and using an authentic sound seems reasonable.

    That said? A great deal of these complaints seem fairly valid. The lazy costumer? The incongruous weapon choices? If something is going to be set *IN* Japan, no matter what the makeup of the cast is, respect should be shown in actually portraying that setting.

    These items could be examples of casual, unthinking, racism (I’m sure the Kung-Fu shirts weren’t used as a deliberate insult) but those things are no less damning, and potentially more so.

  • Matt Langdon

    I think the first point is the one I agree with most. Get some Japanese actors. However, if you read the letter closely it seems casting Japanese actors would solve the issue once and for all. So the question is; are non Japanese actors allowed to bow, drink out of sake cups, play Japanese instruments, use a Japanese font or jam a knife in their stomach seppuku style? I would say yes, non Japanese actors have that right. They are actors after all.
    My question is, are they playing Japanese characters? Or is the play just set in a fictional pop cultural Japan? Note that many cultural artifacts of Japan [or anywhere] are partly fictional anyway. The play itself is not accurate to the real Caesar. And therefore Caesar in my view can be played by any ethnicity [or even a woman if you want]. This is the beauty of theatre.

    • Mark Cofta

      I saw the show and reviewed it for Philadelphia City Paper (linked above). There was no attempt by any actor to “act” Japanese, no accents. They all had normal contemporary American hair, except for Brutus, whose head hair resembled Clubber Lang’s (Mr. T) in Rocky II. As the original letter writer notes, many costumes and props were not remotely authentic. All this discussion aside, it was a very bland, half-hearted attempt at portraying a time period.

  • http://www.philadelphiafleamarketnews.com Philadelphia Flea Market News

    I understand Makoto Hirano’s frustration and respect his or her right to be offended but it’s a play–entertainment and art–not a history lesson. The play was the stage director’s interpretation and he or she should have the right to put it on anyway they like. If it comes out bad then so be it. If it is so bad then few people will see it and it will soon be forgotten. Sure it would have been nice to have an all or even partial Japanese cast but to say they HAVE to do so is just as wrong.

    I’m an Italian American who is offended by Spike Lee’s depictions of Italian women as whores and the men as racist animals. The way I deal with that is to NOT go to Spike Lee movies. I do not feel I have the right to tell Mr. Lee what type of movies he should make. Incidentally, if I sent a letter with Makoto’s threatening tone to Spike Lee, being an Italian American, I’m sure I’d get arrested for making Mafia-like threats.

  • K man

    It’s a strange thing. In theatre the audience members are supposed to emerged in the story and the actors on stage become the characters. In that case black, white, Japanese or any other race mentioned here wouldn’t / shouldn’t have any bearing on how one is immersed in the story.

    The only racist I see here is Makoto, who is in fact lashing out in rather passive aggressive way; regardless of the pathetic attempt to mask it. I think Makoto is an “imaginationist” i.e. someone who is ignorant toward someone writing a story using their imagination.

  • Jonathan Busby

    I am in the pretty unique position to be a white British male who has directed a Jacobean play which used traditional Japanese culture in its performance. The arguments below are interesting. While I work in London/UK, there are a few things that I feel I need to point out here.

    We did not have a Japanese or Asian cast member in our production. In fact, like this production, we only had one black actor in the company. This should be prefaced by the information that we have sought an international contingent of actors with every production and workshop series that we’ve done. While some of my cast were from previous productions, we also used the national actors’ directory Spotlight to cast, specifically filtering out white-British actors. We didn’t do this because we didn’t want white British actors but because we already had them. I wanted an international community such as makes up London represented onstage. I had one Japanese actress arrive for audition, and unfortunately she did not have the necessary command of verse-speaking to have helped the production. No other Asian actors auditioned for this particular production, but had auditioned for others. Should I have contacted them to offer them roles? Well the role was there for them to apply for.

    Unlike this production, our observation of late-1700s Japan was acute. I won’t go into the level of research we did here as it took too long, but it was extensive and involved a great deal of specialist consultants. We employed many elements of Japanese culture, including the Suriyashi walk of Noh theatre, Iaido sword-form (including the correct Seppuki ritual), Banraku puppetry and more. We also used elements of Kabuki theatre, where every cast member used extensive white make-up and coloured it according to character status and quality (e.g. blue signifying evil). That included a black actor wearing completely white make-up and a white actor heavily endowing their white base with bronze.

    Moreover, everything we used was authentic to the place and time period; from costume to weaponry. I agree with many of the points below that if you are going to investigate a culture, please do it properly. But this is a superficial reason. Why would you set the play in feudal Japan if it weren’t necessary for the production; and if it is necessary, how can you do anything but total investigation? If, after this total investigation, the ideas don’t hold, then abandon them; but do not compromise them. We also used performance elements from elsewhere. Kathakali dancing, classical British theatre (the play is Jacobean after all), and so on. Is this racist? Well I don’t think so. We were attempting to do justice to the matter of the play and as such needed to create a universe that enabled that to be succinct and vital. That required that we investigated everything at our disposal, and we did not wish to be limited by the confines of, frankly boring, western Naturalism.

    My intention in casting was to be international. Not for internationality’s sake. I do not much care where my actors come from; when onstage, everyone will be inhabitants of Japan; but because in rehearsal a diversity of culture provides a more informed world than exclusively white-British. Authenticity to our Japanese theme was sought from specialists, and we were all to learn all we could about it: not just intellectually, but by doing it every day. Performing sword rituals, cleaning the rehearsal space floor in the Zen Buddhist manner, lighting the rehearsal room and performance space with reference to Junichiro Tanazaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows” and so on.

    But what if our authenticity was less than absolute? If we had slipped up somewhere? Would this have been racist? No. It would have been regrettable, but the universe that we were creating was ours. Regularly, we would find that while beautiful and profound, certain Japanese rituals we wished to employ did not have the dramatic emphasis that the play demanded. We either dropped these totally, or developed our own rituals that bore a resemblance but were not poor imitations.

    Moreover, rehearsals were structured in a way that emphasised the practice of the rituals we employed as priorities.

    We were funded by the Japan Foundation (essentially the Japanese tax-payer). They did more than their fair share of advertising for us, however in a 3.5 week run, we had no more than 5 Japanese audience members. Moreover, we had no more about 20 audience members of any ethnicity other than white-British.

    This is the sad reality of theatre. I believe that everyone is singing from essentially the same hymn sheet here. Theatre, of course, should be for everyone and inclusive. It isn’t. Theatre should respect its source material. It doesn’t. Directors should respect actors. They don’t. Actors should respect their craft. They don’t. Productions should respect the noble lineage of their craft, but alas, this is not so. I’m talking generally, of course.

    Anyone who wants to get deeper into this debate should look at stills from Ariane Mnouchkine’s production “L’Inde” (The Indiad) concerning the separation of India and Pakistan. Everyone became Indian, with make-up, despite largely being white French. Was this racist? Their cast is international, but everyone had to become Indian, whether already Indian or not. They devised the piece with the writer Helene Cixous. It was nine hours long and documented an extremely important but largely un-discussed component of global history. Racist? I don’t think so.

  • http://www.philadelphiafleamarketnews.com Philadelphia Flea Market News

    It seems the theater community has no problem defending those who stage plays (and make movies) when they play with the historical facts to suit their artistic purposes, but god forbid they should use the wrong shirt or sword. What I gather from the comments here is that not only is this practice not protected under the same license, it is considered so reprehensible that it is allowed to somehow be labeled “racist.”

    Why is this not censorship? And why are members of the theater community not defending one of their own’s right to put on this sartorially inaccurate, most likely terrible production?

  • Hitch

    He’s not wrong but he’s not right either.

  • Raquel Moon

    I think this “actual Samurai decedent and Japanese Person” is a total douche. There was no need to be of sarcastic and offensive. He pointed out things that could dramatically make the show better, and for that Lantern can thank him. But as far as the way he worded his “advice” I don’t believe he had to stoop to that level.

    • Avery Mauer

      Short and sweet; love it. I agree completely!

  • Lulu

    Oh for God’s sake, lighten up people. Must we always walk on eggshells waiting for the cultural segregationists to be offended?

  • gvanderleun

    “Dear Japanese person, Don’t culturally misappropriate freedom of speech to speak out about cultural misappropriation.

    And besides, regardless of the brochure, it sounds like they are doing an Asian Fusion version of Shakespeare, go protest P.F. Chang’s

    And in the immortal words of an American cultural icon, Foghorn Leghorn, “Go away, you bother me.””

  • gvanderleun

    Dear Hirano, Please do not advertise your ultimate lack of talent to do anything other than complain like a weak and spineless POS. Your ancestors would be revolted by your preening and posing. Try another career. This one is something you will never be successful at. Try becoming a professional whiner. Jobs are still available.

  • Makoto.