Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s new work takes its inspiration and title from Japan’s foremost comic book or ‘manga’ artist, Osamu Tezuka, (1928-1989). Revered in Japan, Tezuka is often described as the East’s answer to Walt Disney, yet the work of this doctor turned animator is significantly more complex and sophisticated. His stories challenge cultural taboos and fearlessly address some of the worst catastrophes in Japanese history while his characters range from psychopaths to robots. In this homage, Cherkaoui’s fascination with Tezuka’s work has driven him to re-animate his hero’s stories literally bringing them alive through his choreography combined with some impressive stagecraft.

© Tezuka Productions
© Tezuka Productions

It’s an ambitious production. The first half is enchanting with moments of charming, gentle humour. In the opening scene a reader literally falls over himself as he holds a comic-book between his toes. In the next sequence the dancers imitate the movements of the calligrapher’s brush, gracefully merging the two art forms. This synthesis is developed as Tezuka’s original illustrations are projected on stage alongside work by video artist Taiki Ueda. We are introduced to Tezuko’s alter ego Black Jack, a doctor with superhuman powers and we meet perhaps his most recognisable character, Astro Boy, the well-meaning robot child, dressed in brightly coloured shorts and boots, who moving stiffly, like a toddler, shuffles in and out of the action like a bright thread adding an endearing quality of naiveté to the piece, not to mention a dose of colour. In one compelling scene two dancers fight and the impact of their conflict is featured cartoon-style on the screen behind them. In another, a martial artist fearlessly demonstrates his skill and we almost expect ‘Kerpow’ or ‘Wham’ to appear on screen.

Nitin Sawhney’s emotive score, performed by musicians who are on stage throughout, powerfully adds to the tone of the piece. This production is at its best when each element: stagecraft, dance and music are most integrated. Unfortunately this is less apparent in the second half. Despite some moving pas de deux, part two is overly long. It lacks focus and both choreography and content become repetitive. Distilling the essence of this piece and shortening it would strengthen its impact.

Nevertheless, in celebrating the life of this influential Japanese figure Cherkaoui takes us on a fascinating journey. Tezuka was a prolific artist, perhaps it is unsurprising that Cherkaoui an equally prolific choreographer should regard him as a hero. Both men find inspiration in all things and both are brave enough to pursue their chosen course.

***11