Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage originally ran for 29 performances between 26th April and 26th May 2013 at venues in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo. The Osaka shows sold out months ahead of opening night and there was a 'live viewing' event held in 25 cinemas across Japan on the last day to let as many fans as possible watch the grand finale together.
A DVD followed as usual, originally scheduled for September then brought forward to its eventual 31st August 2013 release date. The ¥6,000 standard edition can still be purchased from the Dais Shop, Yesasia and Amazon Japan. Amazon also seems to have a small number of copies of the ¥6,500 special edition left at the time of this post, presumably from cancelled preorders as they had sold out the last time I checked. The special edition DVDs tend to go out of print quickly and then rapidly increase in price; it's best to purchase them as quickly as possible.
The version I'm reviewing today is the special edition. It comes in the usual glossy card box with a thin colour booklet of photographs from the play (and a few candid backstage shots). The 188-minute DVD recording of the performance is inside and there's a bonus disc included with 83 minutes of extra footage.
I'm guessing the standard edition looks the same as the DVD case on the left side of the photograph.
Rather than being a straight adaptation of the jumble of stories in the Sengoku Basara 3 Utage game, this stage play focuses on Hisahide's route - with all of the darkness and suffering it entails. It also introduces Oichi and Nagamasa for the first time. The Azai couple aren't the only new faces in the list of characters; here's the full cast list with the newcomers highlighted in bold:
Matsuda Kenji (Matsunaga Hisahide)
Kubota Yuuki (Date Masamune)
Hosogai Kei (Sanada Yukimura)
Hirose Yuusuke (Tokugawa Ieyasu)
Nakamura Seijirou (Ishida Mitsunari)
Yoshida Tomokazu (Katakura Kojuurou)Murata Youjirou (Sarutobi Sasuke)
Kawamura Yukie (Tsuruhime)
Yashiro Minase (Saika Magoichi)
Nakamura Kazuto (Takeda Shingen)AKIRA (Uesugi Kenshin)
Imai Yasuhiko (Mogami Yoshiaki)
Takahashi Hikaru (Fuuma Kotarou)
Tsukamoto Takuya (Imagawa Yoshimoto)
Sakurada Kousei (Azai Nagamasa)
Taniguchi Masashi (Tenkai and Akechi Mitsuhide)
Kubodera Akira (Oda Nobunaga)
Tamaki Nami (Oichi)
Please note that my descriptions may include a number of spoilers for the content of the play.
Having covered the main storylines from Sengoku Basara, Sengoku Basara 2 and Sengoku Basara 3 already, the recent stage plays have started to weave some of the untold side stories from earlier games into the script. I was initially worried that they wouldn't have that much material from the titular Sengoku Basara 3 Utage left to use with the characters that were slated to appear, but aside from Hisahide's clashes they've chosen to combine scenes from Sengoku Basara 2 Eiyuu Gaiden (Heroes) with content from 3 and Utage to tell the full tale of what happened to Mitsuhide, Oichi and Nobunaga after Honnouji, once and for all. The plot is reasonably coherent as a result...it's just incredibly dark. This is the bleakest that Butai Sengoku Basara has ever been.
The opening scene drops straight into a battle between Nagamasa and Nobunaga with poor Oichi watching helplessly from the sidelines. Even though she tries to intervene, she's unable to prevent Nagamasa from being slain right in front of her. Masamune and Yukimura arrive at the same moment to challenge the Demon King and Mitsuhide joins in the four-way battle - before turning traitor and cutting Nobunaga down himself.
It's on this intensely dramatic note that the usual lengthy title sequence begins, introducing all of the characters amidst a medley of vocal songs from the series. The consequences of that first battle then play out over the next few hours, complicated by the presence of Matsunaga Hisahide, the most cruel villain of all.
Actor Matsuda Kenji carries the role of Hisahide perfectly, calmly walking through fire and explosions with a look of unsmiling intimidation permanently etched on his face. His costume is amazing. Naturally, the legendary ninja Fuuma Kotarou is at Hisahide's side to carry out much of his dirty work. I wasn't sure how a silent character would work in the live plays when so much of the drama comes from shouted dialogue; thankfully, Kotarou gives off exactly the same impression that he does in the games. He even performs some typically ninja-like stunts!
Although Hisahide and Kotarou are unpleasant enough on their own, Kubodera's Nobunaga returns to the stage play series too after a long absence. He fits right in as the resurrected Demon King with his eyes flashing wildly at his opponents. His armour has been greatly improved since the early days of Butai Sengoku Basara (I thought his tattered cape looked particularly cool).
Completing the ranks of the main antagonists is Mitsuhide. Taniguchi finally has the chance to play the role to its full potential, switching between his Mitsuhide outfit and the Tenkai mask depending on the scene. It's great to see his face again without the mask; he gets plenty of opportunity to be expressive in some incredibly dramatic scenes. At one point during Nobunaga's revival he brutally hacks away at himself - it's unsettling to watch.
I was already familiar with Tamaki's singing career before her debut in this play and she's a breathtakingly beautiful Oichi. Her 'dark hands' are represented by disembodied arms coming out from various parts of the stage which looks a little strange if you think about it too deeply; thankfully whether she's sobbing, singing or swinging her naginata Oichi herself looks so wonderful that I didn't have much time to question the special effects.
Despite dying in the first five minutes, Nagamasa appears a number of times throughout the show through flashbacks to previous battles and, occasionally, to more peaceful moments. Sakurada captures the serious nature of Oichi's ill-fated husband. This play made me desperately want the Azai couple to appear again in the next game so that they'd be able to reappear in future Butai Sengoku Basara stories...
With so much potential for tragedy during climactic scenes, the comedy characters have a lot of work to do to keep the mood light in between.
Yoshimoto's main role is to antagonise poor Nagamasa in flashbacks and thoroughly irritate everyone else he makes contact with. The glittering fan he wields works surprisingly well and his quavering voice is pretty good. This play allows him to meet Yoshiaki for the first time since they've never appeared in the same game before.
Speaking of Yoshiaki, he's (unwillingly) travelling around Japan, showing up unexpectedly whenever it's time for some light comic relief. Imai is a seriously agile guy and this Yoshiaki leaps and tumbles around as required, never far from his trademark cup of genmai tea. More so than anyone else his voice is very different from the game version; he's as boastful as ever but his weaselly manner of speaking is toned down significantly.
Tsuruhime is even perkier than usual now that she has Kotarou to chase after. I was expecting her to team up with Magoichi again but here she's first seen tagging along with Ieyasu to help him take care of Oichi. In contrast Magoichi's appearance seemed very brief even though it was of major significance to the plot.
The excellent team of Nakamura and AKIRA reprise their roles as warring generals Shingen and Kenshin respectively. Kasuga's absence is unusual (she's returning in the next play) and Shingen spends less time instructing Yukimura and Sasuke than before, so Kenshin and Shingen are able to devote time to being rivals to one another instead of dealing with other characters. Shingen is still suffering from the illness which plagued him in the Sengoku Basara 3 plot. However, it doesn't seem to stop him rushing into battle, throwing punches at friends and foes alike and dispensing his usual sage advice whenever necessary. As a result Yukimura is full of life and his usual foolish, battle-crazy self. He's behind some of the best comedy moments in the entire play; I'm glad that actor Hosogai showed off the full potential of his adorable Yukimura in this final outing.
Speaking of Sasuke, he has a smaller role this time with the exception of a memorably heroic battle in the second half. Kotarou's stoic nature makes Murata's portrayal of the Takeda ninja seem even more happy-go-lucky than ever.
Mitsunari barely appears in the first half, spending his time wandering alone seething with uncontrollable hatred. While he fares slightly better towards the show's climax, of the two of them it's Ieyasu who gets the lion's share of stage time. There's something indescribably likeable about the stage version of Ieyasu. His fighting style looks fantastic in person, and his good-natured personality lets him interact comfortably with characters as diverse as Yoshiaki, Tsuruhime, Oichi and Masamune. The staff were very lucky to find actors who fit the roles of Mitsunari and Ieyasu as well as Nakamura and Hirose.
Finally, there's Masamune and Kojuurou. As my two favourites aren't directly involved in the plot of Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage until the battles in the second half, the main job of the Date army is to contribute comic relief with their rowdy battle warm-ups and occasional moments of self-parody. It's very sad to think that this is the last time I'll see Kubota and Yoshida working together as Oushuu's twin dragons in a live stage play. The two have become the live action versions of their characters to me after all this time.
The extras disc doesn't disappoint, containing a long 'making of' documentary showing the backstage arrangements and footage of the actors preparing, giving comments to the DVD audience and generally fooling around. I enjoyed seeing Kotarou speaking in costume during his interview and a candid shot of the actresses dressing up in the wrong costumes backstage for fun.
This documentary includes the extra curtain call from the finale where Kubota and Hosogai said their last tearful farewells before graduating from the cast. Individual interviews with Kubota and Hosogai add some closure to this, letting them speak about their memories from previous Butai Sengoku Basara plays in a more relaxed environment backstage.
There's also a short interview with Sakuma Hiroto, the actor who plays the old soldier in the Date forces (an original recurring character for the stage play series). It's nice to get a chance to see him up close since he's going to cameo in Sengoku Basara 4 as a background character.
There are two more extras on the disc. One is footage from the talk show that was held after one of the performances with Nishida, Kubota and Hosogai. It's very funny as the other actors occasionally walk on from the sidelines wearing a shocked expression whenever one of the leads makes an irreverent comment about them. The final feature is the now-traditional 'Air' Basara display with the supporting actors demonstrating the battle scene choreography without the presence of any of the main warriors.
Fans who only want to see the main play won't find much of interest on the extras disc. For those who have become attached to the cast, however, it makes for a lovely send-off for the two lead actors.
I watched the whole DVD in one evening in spite of its length. The picture quality was excellent for a live recording and there's only one word to describe my reaction the first time watching this stage play: shock. While most of the dialogue and scenarios were taken straight from the games, it was surprising that they allowed Hisahide's story to play out right the way to the end of the show.
It's now easier to understand why the upcoming Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage II play is going to highlight Mitsunari, Kojuurou and Sasuke over the other members of the cast. Mitsunari's role here was tiny compared to Ieyasu's and the two loyal retainers missed out on the key roles they played in the Sengoku Basara 3 Utage game. It's only fair that the three of them get a turn in the spotlight next time around.
Press reports from the live performances can be seen on the 4Gamer.net, Dengeki and Famitsu websites. The pictures I used in this review were taken from the Dais Shop.