Review-Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets-New Vision Arts Festival


By: Lynn Gong


There is probably no better time for Hong Kong audiences to watch this Japanese production about suppression and rebellion, about order and violence and about generational struggles. The 30 seniors-turned-artists from Yukio Ninagawa’s Saitama Gold Theatre and the 24 young cast members from his Saitama Next Theatre were seamlessly complemented by the impressive set design (by Tsukasa Nakagoshi), sound design (by Shuichi Tomobe) and lighting (by Takahiro Fujita). They wove together a magical, memorable night at the theatre.


Carefully prepared for the show’s programme booklet is Dr. Lin Yu-pin’s essay “Director Extraordinaire: The Radical Yukio Ninagawa.” Dr. Lin situates Ninagawa’s theatrical career in an age of proliferating student movements. Despite his world-renowned reputation in adapting Shakespeare and Greek tragedies, Ninagawa’s theatrical journey started in 1960s post-war Japan underground theatre, working with radical playwright Kunio Shimizu. Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets arose from their collaboration in the 1970s when “skirmishes with anti-riot police were a daily occurrence” (as translated by Gigi Chang). 


The critic’s guide is of course very helpful. But familiarity with Japanese history is definitely not a prerequisite for understanding this show. The revolution (with or without a goal) in Ravens can find emotional resonance in revolutions all over the world. The rebellious spirit against established order, actual fears and desires and tragic deaths – all these elements are rendered by powerful acting and appropriate production designs. If you’ve shed a tear or two for the 1832 June Rebellion depicted in Les Misérables musical or, in the nearest case, felt something for what has happened recently in Hong Kong, you would most probably find yourself crying while watching Ravens.


That said, Ravens is not a classic revolution story. Kunio Shimizu’s play provides both humor and radical experiments. There were so many funny gags. We had a good laugh when the 22 elderly raggedy women swarmed onto the stage and started chopping vegetables and frying fish in the court scene. In Ravens, the sense of rhythm was almost always precise and powerful as the show oscillated between absurdity and contemplation, and as the lines oscillated between playful nonsense and awe-inspiring confessions. The warning of  “strong language and sexual scenes"  turned out to be an inclusive term comprising both humorous gags and radical, disturbing scenes. I especially loved the provocative, symbolic interaction between two grannies and their grandsons. What would a younger generation confess to their older generation? What is the past commanding from the present? Is the past a haunting, a nurturing or a rebirth? Ravens negotiated these questions in some uncomfortable scenes and I’m not going to be a spoiler.   


Acting-wise, both the elderly amateurs-turned-artists and the two main young actors were extremely natural on stage. Their portrayal of individual characters had the requisite blend of subtlety and accuracy. Ninagawa defends senior citizens, saying "Age is proof that you have lived a long, rich life.” I can totally understand this assertion from watching the Saitama Gold Theatre members adapt their ageing bodies for remarkable renderings of history, memory and emotion. I also liked that the show used no microphones and all lines were rendered with such energy and intensity. 


For me, the show induced powerful emotional responses, (I had a similar experience reading some essays by the Uruguayan essayist Jose Enrique Rodo). Instead of being depressive, Ravens surprised me by its overall cathartic experience. Expect the right amount of "humor", “madness”, “violence” and "tragedy" in this meaningful exploration of order and chaos. You might be surprised by how far it can carry you too.

Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets is playing through Sunday. For more information, click here.


Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 5.0


  • taffanel Maxime
    18 August 2015

    I saw this wonderful show in Paris this year.
    I would like to know the name of the song at the end, when old people's and young people's are together.
    Do you know it ?

    Thank you !

    Maxime Taffanel
  • Brad Jacobs
    23 August 2015

    Shuichi Tomobe did the sound design. He has an online portfolio- maybe you could email him?

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