Live action musical adaptation of Chinese mobile game ‘Onmyoji’ kicks off China tour

By Tao Mingyang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/18 18:33:41

Promotional material for Onmyoji Photo: Courtesy of NetEase Games

People wait to see Onmyoji outside the PG Theater in Shanghai on Friday. Photo: Courtesy of NetEase Games

Despite debuting more than two years ago, Chinese developed mobile game Onmyoji, a Japanese-style RPG, remains one of the hottest games in China. The game has also spread to other countries including Japan and the US.   

Now the game has come to theater stages in China in the form of a musical. The Japanese language musical Onmyoji made its China debut at Shanghai's PG Theater over the weekend, the first stop on its multi-city tour of China. 

Hot IP

Developed by Chinese tech company NetEase, the game draws on the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji to tell the story of a young man caught between the human and spirit worlds during Japan's ancient Heian Period. The musical version, which made its season one debut in Japan in 2018, draws on the games elements to a more focused story. 

After the success of Onmyoji season one, season two brings an original creative team to China for an eight-city tour. 

In the musical, game characters such as Shuten Doji, Toyo Hime and Ibaraki Doji are played by experienced Japanese actors and actresses. Director Norihiro Nori, composer Sahashi Toshihuko and choreographer Shinnosuke Yamamoto worked with the cast to bring the game's characters to life on the stage. The well-designed costumes and stage setting, intense story and beautiful dancing and music were spoken highly about by audiences.

Digital rewards

One of the draws and advantages of creating a musical based on a game is that this opens the door for unique promotions. Ticket holders for the musical were given codes that they could use to redeem limited-offer skins in the Onmyoji game. 

The higher ticket price the higher the rarity of the in-game skin. 

Before each show, audience members also lined up to buy the game-related merchandise on offer at the theater. 

Lu Yong, the marketing director of the show's marketing partner Pure International Cultural Development (Beijing), noted that the products sold at the theater were co-produced by design companies in Japan. 

The clay figures, stuffed toys, key rings and game character badges proved very popular among fans. 

"Single performance sales reached 80,000 yuan ($11,550)," Lu revealed. 

This strong performance reflects the strength of the Chinese game IP. 

While some may be critical of the commercialization of the production, well-known music critic Guo Zhikai told the Global Times that market success is the main determining factor for the development of an industry. However, Guo noted that commercialization must be supported with excellent entertainment products.

"It's a good thing that more and more young people are choosing to go to the theater," Guo said. 

"But it is a test for musical creators. Producing good performances is the best solution."

Classical performing art

While musical performances predate movies, animated films and comics, they have far fewer fans in China since the latter are much more familiar to young audiences.

However, live performances have a huge advantage that other mediums lack, the ability to connect with audiences. 

With the help of smoke, props and lighting, the Onmyoji musical transported the audience into the world of ancient Japan. 

While some loyal fans tend to complain about live-action movie adaptations since film's strive for realism mean they tend to not be as true to the design of the characters in the original works, the stage play nature of a musical allowed the costume designs of the characters to be directly adapted without looking goofy. 

Hundreds of rehearsals also allowed the cast to refine their portrayals of the characters. 

This tempering helped create a final product that fans could enjoy. 

"A musical is not an individual form of art, it combines music, dance, stage design and other forms of art," noted Guo. 

"Musicals in China are changing from something exotic to a local creation and the mainstream audience is also changing. It is clear that this type of art is getting closer to people's lives."
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