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Photo: All Nippon Airways
In addition to the male Kabuki performers, there’s an onnagata (man in female role) in the in-flight safety video of a Japanese airline.

After seeing one too many airline safety videos about how to buckle a seat belt, passengers tend to tune out. That is, unless the video is really entertaining. Consider this safety video using Kabuki dancers. I know that would make me pay attention.

Andrew Bender wrote about it at Forbes. “Let’s call it like it is: those airline safety presentations have always felt a little like a kabuki dance, no? Now Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways, has taken that literally, with actual kabuki performers in its newest in-flight safety video. I, for one, can’t stop watching it. …

“Supervised by a kabuki performer, the four-minute-plus production opens with an ANA flight attendant wearing a red-and-white striped kabuki mask, before the striped curtain behind her (in the traditional kabuki colors of black, deep-green and the orange-red the Japanese call persimmon) slides to reveal an airplane cabin set.

“Kabuki actors stow their elegantly lacquered bamboo boxes in the overhead bins and under the seats (not in the aisles, thank you), fasten seat belts over their elaborate kimono and dutifully turn off electronic devices displaying scenes from classic ukiyo-e woodblock prints on their screens. The same style is used to show how high heels, in this case chunky wooden geta sandals, can tear the evacuation slide.

“In another section, an actor wearing an oversized wig and robe and fearsome makeup tries on the oxygen mask, and a child in the classic pure white face makeup demonstrates the ‘brace for impact’ position. And it’s quite a sight to see an onnagata (male performer in a female role, a longstanding kabuki tradition) perform the life vest demonstration.

“Kabuki theater traces its roots to 1603, the early Edo Period, and is on the UNESCO list of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Among its unique features are stunning costumes, stylized dialogue and poses (immortalized in ukiyoe woodblock prints, kind of like iconic modern-day movie posters; see 1:38 in the video), a revolving stage and musicians who sit onstage and animate the action with music and narration. Many of the leading performers have family lineage in kabuki going back more than a dozen generations.

“At various times the safety video shows another feature of kabuki, on-stage assistants covered head to toe like ninjas. Called kurogo, they’re typically dressed in black implying that they’re not visible onstage, but in this video they’re instead in ANA’s signature blue and white. …

“ANA’s safety video debuted late last year and went worldwide on flights this January. As a bonus, a behind-the-scenes video of the production plays during deplaning.”

More at Forbes.

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Deltalina was one of the first to introduce a note of humor in an airline-safety video. The question is, Do passengers retain life-saving information better — or worse?

The last place most of us would look for humor is in an airline-safety video, but as Benjamin Schneider writes at CityLab, comedy in safety information has become a thing.

“Ever since the introduction of in-flight entertainment screens in the 1980s,” writes Schneider, “airline safety videos have been a quintessential feature of commercial aviation. …

“But since the late Aughts, these straight-faced public service announcements have almost completely disappeared, to be replaced by spunky pop-culture riffs, irreverent humor, and eye-catching production.

“In an industry governed by such strict regulations, there is very little airlines can do to differentiate themselves from their competition. So, in 2007, when the airline startup Virgin America sought to carve out its niche as the airline that ‘can make flying fun again, … the in-flight safety video was one of the few features that could be tinkered with. …

“In the video, an unlikely cast of characters, including a toreador and a tech-obsessed nun, demonstrate the safety instructions, while the video’s lead animator, Gordon Clark, winkingly describes their mundane acts. … ‘It made people relaxed when they sat on the plane,’ Clark said. …

“Ironically, airline safety virality was first achieved by a relatively strait-laced video from Delta in 2008. The masses became obsessed with the video’s lead presenter, whose theatrical ‘no smoking’ finger wag earned her something of a cult following, and the moniker ‘Deltalina.’ … In the ensuing years, airlines have pulled out nearly every gimmick imaginable to make their safety video a YouTube sensation. …

“No airline has pursued this strategy with the dedication of Air New Zealand, which has released 14 high-concept videos since 2009, racking up a total of 108 million views online. … [Their first] video’s popularity paved the way for ever more ambitious projects, like ‘The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made,’ a Lord of the Rings tribute complete with dwarves, elves, and battle scenes. …

“The contemporary crop of airline safety videos appear to have a contradiction at their heart. On the one hand, they are designed to compel passengers to pay attention to important safety information that they might otherwise ignore. On the other hand, the videos contain so much extraneous data that it can be difficult to catch the actual instructions. …

“[Some observers are] skeptical of their effectiveness. Brett Molesworth, an aviation researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told the Wall Street Journal that people tend to remember the funny parts of these videos, rather than the safety instructions. … Les Dorr, an FAA spokesperson, said that the FAA is in the process of revising their guidelines for these presentations.”

More at CityLab, here.

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