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The Voyage of Contemporary Japanese Theatre

The Voyage of Contemporary Japanese Theatre

Senda Akihiko
Translated by J. Thomas Rimer
Copyright Date: 1997
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  • Book Info
    The Voyage of Contemporary Japanese Theatre
    Book Description:

    Senda Akihiko is one of Japan's finest and best-known modern drama critics. This collection of his essays, articles, and reviews from 1971 to 1987 presents international audiences with the first opportunity to experience the excitement and accomplishments of the theatrical revolution that has continued to sweep over the Japanese stage since the 1960s. Consistently judicious and honest, the essays reveal the excitement (or disappointment) of each phase in the unfolding "voyage" of contemporary Japanese theatre.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6516-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    The fact that postwar and contemporary Japanese theatre shows real creativity and accomplishment, and on an international scale, is by this point in time fairly well appreciated in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Yet, in and of itself, that bare piece of cultural information carries little freight. Barriers of custom, and of language in particular, continue to make it difficult for Western audiences to appreciate the excitement and significance of these last two decades of dramatic experimentation. There remains, therefore, the danger that synthesizing and summing up these developments without any requisite knowledge of the details involved risks diminishing...

    (pp. 1-14)

    If one takes as a central metaphor that long voyage made by the Japanese theatre from the 1960s through the 1980s, in which new territories were sought out, would it be too romantic to suggest that such a voyage has constituted a striking adventure? There is a danger that my metaphor may sound that way. Indeed, I feel I can hear an echo of those lines toward the end of Brecht’sDrums in the Night, “Stop that romantic gaping!”

    Those young adventurers were sick of the boredom of the old theatrical world in which they lived, of its narrowness. Subjected...

  5. Scene I. 1971–1973:: The First Period

    • 1. A DRIFTING COMMUNE Diary of a Voyage to the West
      (pp. 18-21)

      On a cold day early in April 1972, I went to see the new Kid Brothers production,Diary of a Voyage to the West. I must say that, in terms of my own actual emotional responses, I found their work truly striking. There were certain sections of the play that I found genuinely moving. Yet what was “moving” for me cannot be simply described in terms of this one production itself. As I watched the performance on the stage, memories of these “Kid Brothers” flashed in and out of my mind; now, after a lapse of time, I was able...

    • 2. THE RED TENT IN GOOD HEALTH A Tale of Two Cities
      (pp. 21-24)

      There is nothing as joyful for me as an encounter with a fine piece of theatre, and it is in this spirit that I am writing these few remarks. Since I have begun reviewing theatrical productions, I must have written about some fifty plays, but in truth I have seldom felt such a seething excitement as I did when watching this current production ofA Tale of Two Cities. The play is a masterpiece that shows off at its richest one aspect of Kara’s powerful romanticism. What is more, the production itself reveals that Kara’s company is now in a...

      (pp. 24-28)

      Among the plays I have seen in 1972, there is one that truly seized my attention and yet has left me tormented and uneasy ever since. It is Shimizu Kunio’sWhen We Go Down That Heartless River.

      When I first read the script, I remember feeling that, unusually for this author, there seemed something incomplete in its conception; later, when I saw the production in rehearsal, I experienced, on the contrary, a deep sense of sympathy. And I was much moved as well when I attended the opening night of the production. Yet, in the days that followed, after I...

      (pp. 29-31)

      One of J. G. Ballard’s science fiction novels is entitledThe Wind from Nowhere. The protagonist in this tale is not a human being but the wind itself. This fierce wind begins blowing with a strength and velocity beyond the human imagination. Every building, every city or locus of human habitation, is destroyed in what becomes Ballard’s legend concerning the end of the world, a theme that governs his novelThe Drowned Worldas well. When I saw Hijikata Tatsumi’sA Tale of the Smallpox, the first part of a projected larger work and his first production in some four...

      (pp. 32-34)

      This current staging of Inoue’s new play is extremely striking. It ranks with Kara Jūrō’sThe Bengal Tigeras the most effective theatre piece of 1973. And it surely represents Kimura’s greatest success as a director in many years.

      As I watched the progress through the play, so closed in with spiritual darkness, of the blind protagonist, the musician Sugi no Shi (who later takes the name Yabuhara), pushing his cane along until he reaches the final bloody denouement, yet another blind man came to mind, one who tapped his cane in a similar fashion as he moved himself along...

  6. Scene II. 1974–1979:: Tsuka Kōhei and After

    • [Scene II. Introduction]
      (pp. 37-38)

      The year 1974 turned out to be symbolic. The experiments of the 1960s were now supplanted, and a whole variety of new and unexpected changes came about.

      The most brilliant manifestation of these tendencies can be seen in the activities of Tsuka Kōhei. His 1973 playThe Atami Murder Casewon the coveted Kishida Kunio drama prize. His company, the Tsuka Studio, presented one brilliant work after another, among themRevolution for Beginners: Legend of the Flying DragonandThe Story of a Stripper. The productions staged by his young troupe, performing in the Shinjuku section of Tokyo, created a...

    • 6. THE INTOXICATION OF A “MYTH” THAT SOARS The Kara Version: Matasaburō of the Wind
      (pp. 39-42)

      I have seen this new production of Kara’s Situation Theatre twice, first on an island in Tokyo Bay, then at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park in the northeastern part of the city. On both occasions I enjoyed myself immensely. Kara’s three-act play, which takes more than three hours to perform (and is by far the longest of his plays to date) captures the undivided attention of his spectators from the opening scene through the final climax; I would say that the present script and the skill of Kara’s direction makeMatasaburōa virtually “well-made play.” By the same token, the...

    • 7. THE APPEARANCE OF A NEW TALENT The Legend of a Flying Dragon: And Then a Crow
      (pp. 42-45)

      Among the new playwrights who have appeared since such now established figures as Betsuyaku Minoru, Kara Jūrō, and Satoh Makoto, none can rival the talents shown by the uniquely gifted Tsuka Kōhei.

      The first point that makes his work unique is that, unlike those who have merely pushed forward the kind of vision first proposed by Betsuyaku and the others, Tsuka engenders feelings in his own work that are altogether different. He represents no “conscious” epigone of Kara or Satoh as represented in their work of the 1970s. His vision does not resemble theirs. In a theatrical world now seemingly...

    • 8. MINUS DYNAMICS, ALL SCOOPED OUT Chairs and a Legend
      (pp. 46-48)

      The present production of Betsuyaku’s playChairs and a Legendreveals a maturity of vision that is rarely seen these days. In fact, the play shows great spirit.

      I must confess that I maintain a powerful admiration for Betsuyaku’s early plays, such as his 1962ElephantorThe Little Match Girlof 1966, and, indeed, these early works have maintained their high reputation. Within his texts woven from everyday language, Betsuyaku manages to impart astonishing tension and cohesive power. Since the author’s vision exists in a purposefully sharp competition with everyday reality, his text can soar up through of a...

      (pp. 49-52)

      At this certain point in the day, when the bicycle races finish in the suburbs of Tokyo, one sees large groups of men, crumpled racing sheets in hand, on the platforms of suburban railway stations, squatting down, heads drooping, waiting for their trains. Even in the crowded trains, surrounded by dowdy, middle-aged men in jumpers andtabi, the traditional workingmen’s white socks, they will continue to squat. And you can also see young men in well-cut coats who disdain the posture of the straphanger and instead block the aisles as they squat together.

      It is rare to see this kind...

      (pp. 53-56)

      Among those actors who have undertaken their training in the context of the orthodox modern theatre, Sakamoto Nagatoshi, I find, has continued to draw my special admiration. Part of the reason for this is that he has gained from this experience a truly successful acting technique, one that matches his unique personality. At the same time, however, while he began with this realistic school of acting in his work with previous troupes, he has since attempted a number of experimental and avant-garde productions with the company Transformation and has recently been performing in privately produced productions, even in a “romantic...

      (pp. 56-60)

      Let me state the truth right from the beginning. There is no way that I can write what might pass as a straightforward “review” of this street drama calledKnock. In the first place, no one spectator could possibly verify all the “events” planned as part of this production, which took place over thirty hours, from 3:00 p.m. on 19 April until 9:00 p.m. the next evening. These “happenings” were spread across twenty-seven locations in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward. From the moment that we, as spectators, began to stroll through the streets ourselves in search of some “theatrical event,” we too...

    • 12. HARVEST: AFTER A YEAR AND A HALF The Comic World of Shōwa
      (pp. 60-64)

      After a year and a half, the 68/71 Troupe has broken its silence and is beginning a national tour using as a performing space Satoh’s famous Black Tent. As his opening presentation for the tour, Satoh set up that tent on a piece of reclaimed land in the Kōtō area of Tokyo and presented hisThe Comic World of Shōwa, which includes three of his earlier works.

      These excellent productions, it should be said, tower over anything seen recently on Tokyo stages; they are absolutely superb. Perhaps the most important thing to note is the fact that Satoh’s actors have...

      (pp. 64-67)

      Usually when we think of watching a performance, we are limited by habit to our usual position inside the confines of a theatre. The same mentality ensues even if the playing area happens to be outdoors. Yet, in fact, our dramatic encounter begins the moment we come in contact with the performance space itself. Such was my reaction on seeing Suzuki’s troupe perform in their newly opened theatre in this remote village in the mountains of Toyama Prefecture, where they staged this memorial production.

      The sense of distance between Tokyo and this empty mountain site lost in the depths of...

    • 14. A QUESTION TO THE MAN WHO BLEW THE FLUTE The Rats of Hamelin
      (pp. 68-71)

      As its opening production, the new Seventh Ward Troupe, founded by six prominent avant-garde theatre personalities, presented a new play by Kara,The Rats of Hamelin, directed by Satoh Makoto. More than a new troupe seems to have been created, however; a number of problems have surfaced as well.

      The first of these involves doubts as to just what kinds of new theatrical experiences these artists might create since most of them have split off from such established companies as the Modern Peoples’ Theatre or the Cherry Company, where, under the direction of Ninagawa Yukio, politically avant-garde and radical plays...

    • 15. THE NŌ STAGE, NEWLY ACTIVATED The Legend of Komachi
      (pp. 71-76)

      For a critic of the contemporary theatre like myself, there is no pleasure greater than being present on those occasions when the theatrical frameworks employed in the past are ruptured, transcended. It may well be that we exist as journalists precisely in order to encounter, and report on, just such moments.

      Yet such a task—waiting for new talent to appear, then responding to it and explaining it when it does—requires perseverance and patience, for there is usually little to report. Such fresh and attractive talents and performing groups do not appear with any great frequency, and finding truly...

    • 16. MAKING THE CONNECTION: KILLING THE BEGGAR Thirty Days Hath September
      (pp. 77-80)

      “Not everyone can be classified as treacherous. And all victims cannot be dismissed as pitiful. Often, people are merely indifferent.” So Betsuyaku Minoru wrote at the beginning of his early success,Elephant(1962). Now, on seeing this production of his new play,Thirty Days Hath September, I was powerfully impressed by the fact that, beneath what appears to be his nonchalant way of regarding the world, there lies a fiercely dramatic urge, one that is altogether unforgettable.

      I have not consistently found myself responding so strongly to Betsuyaku’s work. More often that not, for me, his plays begin by seeming...

    • 17. A HUMBLE SELF-EXAMINATION The Dressing Room
      (pp. 80-83)

      While put together in a modest fashion, this production of Shimizu’s new playThe Dressing Room: That Which Flows Away Ultimately Becomes Nostalgiais one full of theatrical excitement. In this play, which takes only a little more than an hour to perform, it is clear that the author shows no overblown ambition, no unnecessary eloquence. In that sense, the style of the play resembles the suggestiveness of the title; Shimizu shows here a tendency toward a moderated silence. But this whisper, in which what is spoken differentiates between simple nostalgia and the force of silent thought, becomes an extremely...

    • 18. A SCENE OF RIPENING The Bacchae
      (pp. 83-87)

      In April 1972, Richard Schechner’s Performance Group presented in Tokyo a program of “situational theatre” under the auspices of the American Cultural Center. Seeing that performance, I was reminded of the documentary film made of his famous productionDionysus in 69. This adaption of the EuripidesBacchaewent so far as to involve the audience itself and remained one of the most famous theatrical productions of its time; nevertheless, as I watched one scene after another in the filmed version, I found it clumsy and naive, and I remember my disappointment in discovering what I described as a “rough and...

      (pp. 88-90)

      I always enjoy looking at Terayama’s photographs or at still shots made from his theatrical productions. Several collections of these have been published, and I never tire of leafing through their pages. In fact, I have hanging in my own study a signed photograph of Terayama’s, presumably an original, which I bought some years ago at a one-man exhibition of his photographs held at the Aoyama Gallery in Tokyo. In the photograph, tinted in such a way as to give it an antique cast, there is an easy chair, surrounded by a stuffed owl and an eagle; on top of...

      (pp. 91-93)

      This was the first time I have seen the work of this troupe. In fact, I was not sure who had put this group together. So it was, then, that I sat in a dreary little theatre in a building in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa district (the first floor housed apachinkoparlor, the second a sauna), waiting with no great expectations for the performance to start.

      However, soon after the play began, I found myself astonished at the vigor shown by the troupe. The script, the direction, the staging, all revealed considerable power. One sensed real talent. And, despite the fact...

    • 21. THE WHIRLINGS OF A WORLD AT BIRTH A Tale of the Original Japanese
      (pp. 94-96)

      Among the younger playwrights who have appeared in recent times, Okabe Kōdai here shows his quite remarkable abilities as a genuine man of the theatre. What I mean bygenuineis that he possesses his own strong sensibilities and shows an ability to write in a style beholden to no other. Through the organization of his own theatrical skills, he has been able to establish a troupe capable of giving a real sense of direction to his performers.

      A comparison of those figures who have appeared in the world of the theatre in the 1970s to those who came from...

    • 22. LAUGHING OKINAWA Anthropology Museum
      (pp. 97-100)

      This August, this Okinawa theatre group presented its first Tokyo performances (four in all) in its seventeen years of activity.

      If that were all there were to it, this fact would not amount to any big news in and of itself. Recently, quite a number of regional theatre troupes have been performing in Tokyo, and a number of them, particularly from the Kyoto-Osaka region, have been particularly worthy of note. But I believe these present performances to be of a truly special significance.

      In the first place, this is the first time to my knowledge that an Okinawan theatre troupe...

    • 23. A RIPENING OF MELODY Shanghai ’Vance King
      (pp. 101-103)

      No recent production has brought me as much pleasure, or made such a deep impression on me, as this truly delightful production of Saitō Ren’sShanghai ’Vance King.

      Actually speaking, this kind of work is rarely written for the stage these days. The audience follows the fate of Saitō’s fascinating characters as though poring through the pages of some adventure novel. Will they manage to live out their destinies? Or will their dead bodies end up floating in the Yangtze River? With trembling hearts we follow them in their joys, their pains. We worry over the fate of each one...

    • 24. YOHEI WHO LIVES ON Double Suicide, after Chikamatsu
      (pp. 104-109)

      This present production of Akimoto’s play, directed by Ninagawa, is a beautifully mature piece of stage artistry.

      I know little about the stagings of Akimoto’s earliest plays, but it does seem to me that, since 1967, when her workKaison the Priest of Hitachiwas first produced, the stagings of her plays have not lived up to the potential inherent in the texts themselves. There can be no denying the ardor and single-mindedness of the troupes that have performed her work. Great energy has been forthcoming in every case, and I have vivid memories of a number of brilliant actors...

      (pp. 109-112)

      Watching Terayama Shūji’s new playLemmings—Going along to the Edge of the World, I felt as though I were experiencing two works at once.

      Then, after the performance, I realized that whatLemmingscalled to mind was something I had just finished reading, the distinguished novelist Sono Ayako’s lengthy new workThe Empty Room—despite the fact that Sono takes a position as a writer that seems diametrically opposed to Terayama’s.

      In her novel, Sono, a Catholic herself, presents a cruel snapshot of a religious order that, because of the “rationalization” of church rules at the Second Vatican Council...

      (pp. 112-115)

      On those occasions when Kara Jūrō writes for a company other than his own Situation Theatre, he alters his customary style, often creating works constructed in quite unexpected ways.

      Among his many plays, for example, certain works reveal a classic clarity of structure, such asThe Virgin’s Mask, which he wrote in 1969 for the Waseda Little Theatre Company. Such plays do not manifest the expansive, baroque constructions of those he writes for the Situation Theatre. The control and sense of dramatic tension that he shows in writing for other companies seem closely related to a sense of conformity to...

    • 27. IN THE MIDST OF A WEAKENED ART The Lady of the Camellias
      (pp. 115-122)

      As it turns out, I have just finished reading a new Japanese translation of the famousLetters to d’Alembertby Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), the French philosopher born in Geneva. I found them to be of the greatest interest. Among the many classic and modern texts on such subjects, there exists no similar example of such a clear diatribe against and critique of the art of the theatre. This curious disharmony between the author’s love and hate for the stage surely derives (although Rousseau would surely deny it) from the nature of his own character. What comes across in print,...

  7. Scene III. 1980–1987:: The Period of Metatheatre

      (pp. 126-128)

      Shakespeare with a Buddhist altar and a forest of cherry trees in full bloom: once the idea of this curious mixture was born, Ninagawa’s production was already half realized.

      We sat, listening as music from the Sanctus of the FauréRequiemfloated by in all its exquisite softness. The stage of the Nissei Theatre was filled with that enormous, black Buddhist altar, its doors opening in a gentle and easy fashion, while, behind the scrim, the cherry trees glittered in full bloom as the wind began to stir the blossoms. In terms of these profoundly sensual impressions at least, Shakespeare’s...

      (pp. 129-135)

      Are these truly two productions of the same work? I found myself vaguely mumbling after seeing these two productions, for they were as different as they could possibly be.

      The journalists dubbed this the “War of the Gulls” since the productions were staged simultaneously in two different theatres in Tokyo. The Geijitsuza brought in Michael Bogdanov, from the National Theatre of Great Britain, to direct, the Nissei Theatre the Rumanian-born Andrei Serban, now so active in Europe and the United States.

      It is certainly true that this is a period in which our views of Chekhov are changing. It was...

    • 30. A DIFFUSED REFLECTION Travel of Twenty-seven Thousand Light Years
      (pp. 136-138)

      Among the various notable young writers working in the theatre today, there are few as facile and amusing as Noda Hideki, the head of the Dream Wanderers, a playwright possessing a talent whose reflections penetrate everywhere. Noda spins out dialogue that is chatty, filled with the energy of his quick wit. His conceptions often involve the play of rhyming words, and he tumbles things about again and again in order to create a sense of surprise. His dramas, in which all sorts of situations pile up together, give his audiences the sense that he skips three, if not four sections...

      (pp. 139-141)

      In the spring of 1980, I had the opportunity to make a trip to Indonesia with Inoue Hisashi. This was just after he had finished the first half of his playThe Theatre Train of Iihatōbo.

      This was the first time we had ever traveled together. After visiting Jakarta, Jogjakarta, and Solo on the main island, we flew to Bali, where we saw dance plays presented over a series of several days, listened to gamelan music, and visited famous ruins and well-known temples. It was an exalting, extremely happy time. Both of us had visited Indonesia before, but this time...

    • 32. THE BACHELORS WHO CONTINUE ON That Raven, Even
      (pp. 142-145)

      Takeuchi Jū’ichirō is a playwright who does not perform his tricks in any ordinary, run-of-the-mill fashion. The troupe with which he formerly worked disbanded last year; this fall, his new group, the Mystical Zero Troupe, made its debut with the kind of thrilling and puzzle-ridden production that is rare indeed. To say that much, however, is not to suggest that to watchThat Raven, Evenmay cause undue confusion. From the beginning of his career, each of Takeuchi’s stage works has happily romped its way past audiences in a highly entertaining, if curious and unorthodox, fashion. Yet, while we laugh...

    • 33. DREAMS THAT ARE RUFFIANS A Tale of Mannen-town in Shitaya
      (pp. 146-150)

      When I approach a particular play that purports to shock and stimulate, I apply one criterion: there must at some point exist a moment that opens up some door within me, one that can call forth thoughts and feelings of which I had previously been unaware. Then, suddenly, lights begin to burn in some interior territory of which I have only the dimmest of recollections, of which I had no prior consciousness. It is not enough for me to live within the world of the play. At some point, the action on the stage must bear some relation to my...

    • 34. TWO BLANCHES A Streetcar Named Desire
      (pp. 150-156)

      Just what kind of creatures are we human beings, anyway? The various schools of art and philosophy are so numerous because of the many ways in which people have tried to approach this eternal question. Just as the lives that people live are complex, the answers to the question must be complex as well. An answer that seems to have pinned down the basic nature of humanity may be correct in its own way, but at best it can be only a partial answer.

      Keeping such limitations in mind, one useful answer might be that “a human being is a...

    • 35. THE MAGIC OF ASSORTED MIRRORS Run, Merusu—a Girl’s Lips Are Dynamite!
      (pp. 157-161)

      When I see a play by Noda Hideki, I often have the sensation that I am watching a kind of beautifully constructed magic show, filled with miracles that make me roll my eyes. A scene will go innocently along, then suddenly vanish, some seemingly unrelated situation taking its place. Then, before you know it, this new scene will have been transformed into something else altogether different and preposterous. Like a magic box that shows one blinding image after another, one vision after another, Noda’s technique is to present us with a series of apparently unrelated images, thereby creating momentum. Yet,...

    • 36. SIGNPOSTS ALONG THE WAY A Legend of Fish: A Teacher Kills His Student at Rikkyō University
      (pp. 162-164)

      This play seems like an attack. The power and emotional impact of this production goes far beyond such issues as its “success,” its sense of “completeness,” or how well it is performed. Frankly speaking, the experience made me feel as though some dark and heavy object had been thrown right in my face. “I give up!” I whispered in my inner being when the play finished, for, just as the title of this play suggests, Yamazaki’s production represents an invasion, a violation.

      A Legend of Fishis without doubt the most successful drama, and the most polished production, ever prepared...

    • 37. A SNACK BAR IN THE WOODS OF ATHENS A Midsummer Night’s Dream
      (pp. 165-168)

      It really seems as though latelyA Midsummer Night’s Dreamis turning up every season. Certainly there have been quite a few stagings this summer. Besides the Shakespeare Theatre’s anniversary production, there has been a musical version at the Actor’s Theatre, another staging at the Jean-Jean Theatre in Shibuya, and yet another production is expected in August.

      Apparently,A Midsummer Night’s Dreamis a frequent summer offering in Europe and the United States as well. According to the drama scholar Takahashi Yasunari, the play is presented outside in Regent’s Park in London virtually every summer. Some time ago, when I...

    • 38. LAUGHTER IN A GOTHIC MUSICAL Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
      (pp. 168-172)

      A new and exciting kind of musical has appeared on the stage that changes the very nature of the form and, indeed, breaks new ground. WhenSweeney Toddopened on Broadway, it was referred to as a “musical thriller,” but it shows certain connections to the gothic novel, most popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and so it seems to me that we might equally well consider it a “gothic musical.” This work blends terror, black humor, and a sharp critical spirit; in that sense it stands as a masterpiece, and Suzuki’s direction is dynamic and intense. It might...

    • 39. THE POWER OF THE OLDER SISTER, THE POWER OF THE MIRROR Night Shadows—a Gentle Ghost Story
      (pp. 172-177)

      This was the first production by this troupe that I have seen. I had been hearing for some time that, of the various young companies now active, this one was particularly worthy of note. So it was with a certain degree of expectation that I set out to see this performance. When I saw the crowded theatre, filled beyond capacity, I thought of my crushed legs and feet and wondered whether I would have to cry out in pain. Yet, as this remarkable production started, I realized that my expectations would be far surpassed. And, while my poor feet were...

    • 40. DINING AND A SENSE OF FREEDOM Bubbling and Boiling
      (pp. 178-180)

      Betsuyaku Minoru is the kind of playwright who makes every attempt to avoid references in his plays to many of the vital physical functions of his characters. In the world that he creates, there are no references to sex; his plays are somehow temperate, dry. They show a certain still, hard brilliance.

      On the other hand, it is remarkable how many scenes there are in his plays in which his characters are eating or drinking. There is, for example, the unforgettable scene in his 1962Elephantwhere the “patient” and the “wife” eat their rice balls wrapped in seaweed. Similar...

    • 41. A WORLD IN WHICH THE COMPOSITION IS NOW COMPLETE Song of Praise and Thanksgiving
      (pp. 180-182)

      There are certain plays that, when simply read, do not reveal their scope, or their depth, texts that can be grasped only in performance. There is no better example of such a play than Kitamura Sō’sSong of Praise and Thanksgiving, which, in these terms, strikes me as a remarkable discovery.

      Kitamura Sō, who was born in 1952, first published this one-act play in 1979, when it attracted more than a usual amount of attention. Now, in 1982, two productions of the play are running concurrently in Tokyo, one at the Free Theatre company, directed by Kushida Kazuyoshi, and the...

    • 42. A SHOCK FROM BELOW THE BELT The Song of a Strange Family—the Case of the On-Line Fraud of Itō Motoko
      (pp. 182-185)

      We receive various emotional impressions in the theatre. There are those light ripples of excitement that run across the surface of your skin. There is the kind of hinted knowledge that can cause you to focus your attention, with a hushed clearheadedness. Or there might be a movement that can appeal to the heart directly, as though overflowing with a sweet fruit juice. Yet, for me, the most theatrical of all such impressions involves the force that goes right for the pit of the stomach, striking head and heart simultaneously. In this production by Transposition 21 of Yamazaki Tetsu’s new...

    • 43. TSUKA KŌHEI’S “STAIRCASE” The Kamata Marching Song
      (pp. 186-188)

      In a recent interview in theAsahi Shimbun, Tsuka Kōhei indicated that he was ready to “give up the theatre.” He was quoted as saying, “It’s all been a big bluff, frankly,” and, “I’m really feeling all dried up.” This January, his novelThe Kamata Marching Songwon the prestigious yearly Aoki book prize, and Tsuka has indicated that he may now turn his energies to the writing of fiction. When I met him the other day, in connection with some work I was doing for a Tokyo magazine story, he told me much the same thing. “Maybe I’ll become...

    • 44. THE POWER OF IMAGINATION LAVISHED ON A HOUSE Melancholy When the Flowers Bloom
      (pp. 189-191)

      When we approach a theatre piece by Watanabe Eriko, it is as though a storeroom of memories has unexpectedly been opened within us. The light shines into that hidden space that we had hitherto forgotten. Those things that had been sleeping, covered with dust, now begin to stir; they begin to speak. Things thrown away, things long dead, have breath suddenly blown into them again, and they start to sing.

      Sensations long gone from memory are revived as well. The sense of wonder and fear engendered by the very homes in which we were raised, for example. The dark place...

    • 45. MALCONTENT PASSIONS Radical Party
      (pp. 192-195)

      This was the first presentation I have seen by this troupe, which I attended on opening night. There were lots of empty seats in the little Art Theatre Shinjuku, where the production was staged. I had been looking forward to the performance, but, as I took a seat in the front row, I began to wonder whether I would be disappointed.

      Soon after the play began, there occurred the provocative scene in which the actors, ropes tied around their throats as though they were somehow bound together, passed from hand to hand a filthy piece of cloth that they squeezed...

    • 46. A PAINFUL SENSE OF DISTANCE Afternoon of a Man and Woman
      (pp. 195-198)

      If you get off the subway at the Machiya station on the Chiyoda line, right in the middle of Tokyo, you can follow along a narrow path, go past the shops that are just putting on their lights for the evening, then turn right by the old lantern shop (which is pretty hard to spot), then finally bear left at the corner where the noodle shop is located. If you get that far, you will eventually come to an alley of row houses, with flowerpots lined up one after another in front of the doors. There you will find a...

      (pp. 198-202)

      Those theatre works are rare indeed that you can return to see again and again without tiring of them and that not only show you something new each time but also reflect your own self as clearly as a mirror. So far as I am concerned,Man of La Mancharepresents one of those remarkable accomplishments.

      Since this musical was first presented in Japan in 1969, four years after its New York premiere, this is the seventh time this Tōhō production, directed by Nakamura Takao, with choreography by Edward Roll, has been presented (nine, if you count the Nagoya and...

    • 48. A WORLD IN WHICH THAT’S ALL WE CAN DO Memories of the Little Finger
      (pp. 202-205)

      The name of Noda’s new play,Memories of the Little Finger, puts me in mind of a song made popular a few years back by the singer Itō Yukari; both suggest at first glance something both bashful and somehow nonchalant. But, in fact, despite its title, this play is exactly the opposite, for Noda has encompassed here a much more expansive world than usual, and, as a result, I found myself happily surprised. The theatrical images he has created here show a new vitality and maturity.

      InMemories of the Little Finger, Noda goes beyond his usual theme of youth...

    • 49. THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF A VISION ALREADY EXPERIENCED Rules for Sleeping in the Universe
      (pp. 205-208)

      All those who express themselves artistically move, it seems, in the direction of one of two polarities.

      One of these involves a talent for constructing a world of one’s own making. By keeping strictly within the boundaries of this self-created universe, the talents of such a creative figure may at times not be in the closest touch with the problems of contemporary society. Digging into the deepest layers of the human condition, however, such a writer can give birth to a new world, sometimes with its own astonishing contours. This world can seem a new one for us, and at...

      (pp. 208-211)

      In recent years, one characteristic of the theatre created by the younger generation is a preoccupation with predicting the near future rather than finding meaning in the past. These plays do not comb the part for clues to understand the present. They seek to observe life as it will be lived in the future, positing, with a certain unease, the theatre as some kind of laboratory for observing the emerging human condition.

      To put things in the most general terms, from the 1960s through the middle of the 1970s, much of the work of the little theatre movement involved searching...

      (pp. 211-214)

      On the basis of past experience, I was certainly aware that “those first three moments after the curtain goes up” are often crucial to Ninagawa’s methods as a director, but I must say that, even so, this time I was stunned by what I saw.

      As soon as the curtain went up on this new play of Shimizu’s, staged in Shibuya’s comfortable Parco theatre, what should appear on stage but another audience, effectively a mirror image of the space that we were occupying. The real audience was stunned and silent, but the audience on stage was laughing feverishly, rustling around,...

      (pp. 215-217)

      As I have noted before, the 1980s have seen a new tendency in the plays being written, the more widespread use of a futuristic, science fiction–like style. Such has been the case with the work of several troupes reviewed in this volume, including the Third Erotica.

      This represents, I believe, a fundamental change. I have enjoyed science fiction ever since my high school days, yet I remember few if any examples of its use in the theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. Nor do I remember any great expression of enthusiasm for science fiction among theatre people active at...

      (pp. 218-221)

      I heard from a friend, about a year or so ago as I recall, that Ōta Shōgo was looking around for a large, open theatrical space in which to perform. He apparently wanted to mount a production that needed more space than any of the small theatres in which he had worked before; ordinary stages or halls could not accommodate him. Needless to say, his search was a hard one.

      Eventually, however, Ōta found just the kind of site he needed. And it turned out to be vast indeed. He chose the remains of an old quarry in the city...

    • 54. A TIME BEFORE EVERYTHING DISSOLVES Taking along a Sunset like the Morning
      (pp. 221-224)

      As I have written before, it seems to me that the presentations over which opinion remains sharply divided are often precisely the ones that stimulate audiences and involve crucial issues. Others merely invite a nod and the comment, “Yes, good, isn’t it?” In my experience, only the former kinds of productions, those about which people hold strong opinions, opinions not easily relinquished, enter a theatrical territory that can be considered truly challenging.

      To judge by audience reaction, the Third Stage’s present production is just such a play, for opinions about it are sharply divided. Young people who love the theatre,...

    • 55. THE JIGSAW PUZZLE OF SEX Cloud 9
      (pp. 224-227)

      It has been said for quite some time that sex has become an important topic in our society these days; nevertheless, to a great extent, the plays we see that deal with the subject seem only fragmentary in nature. The kind of stage work that can put all the pieces together and come up with some sort of synthesis is apparently more rare that you might believe.

      The British woman playwright Caryl Churchill’sCloud 9was first produced in England in 1979, then in New York in 1981. It constitutes one of those rare dramas that does in fact lay...

    • 56. SURPRISING THINGS HAPPEN Comet Messenger Siegfried
      (pp. 228-231)

      When I look back to my childhood, I remember that I always dreaded the last day of summer vacation. Like Aesop’s grasshopper, who played all through the summer months with no thought of approaching autumn, I would cower before the mountain of holiday homework yet undone and frantically try to find some way to return to that blissful feeling I had only ten days before, that the summer would never, never end.

      The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury commented in one of his novels that, for children, there are “good months” and “bad months.” June is the obvious choice for...

      (pp. 231-235)

      The American touring company ofChorus Lineis playing for a limited run in one of the large theatres in Tokyo, and I’ve been to see the production twice. The first time was on opening night, the second some two weeks later, halfway through the series of Tokyo performances. Even in such short succession, I never wearied of watching these performances, for the fine details of the construction and the direction became all the more impressive to me. I really enjoyed myself.

      I first sawChorus Lineat the Schubert Theatre on Broadway in 1976, a year after it opened;...

    • 58. THE ADVENTURES OF NOSTALGIA Children of Night
      (pp. 235-238)

      “The past is always new, and the future is surprisingly nostalgic.”

      Such are the unforgettable lines spoken by one of the characters in Ikuta’s new play,Children of Night. Actually, Ikuta used the same lines in an earlier version of this play,The Three Stigmata of Nancy Tomato, first staged in 1984. Yet, when you think over the significance of these words in terms of the kind of vision that Ikuta has consistently presented in his work, in many ways they seem to me to express the true nature of his theatrical vision.

      On the surface, this phrase would seem...

    • 59. MEDIEVAL PREACHING IN AN OUTDOOR SPACE Oguri Hangan and Princess Terute
      (pp. 239-242)

      One of the famous productions of the Yokohama Boat Theatre,Oguri Hangan and Princess Terute, was to be given a special run of three days in an outdoor performance space within the grounds of the Yūkōji temple, located in the town of Fujisawa, close to Kamakura, the old capital of Japan that lies an hour south of Tokyo by train. There are close connections between the historic events dramatized in the play and the site, so I decided to go see a performance. I was told that, because of rain, the first two presentations had to be moved to a...

      (pp. 242-245)

      Last spring, I found the all-female Bluebird Troupe’sSomething I Saw One Summerto be among the best productions staged during the season. Their opening production this fall,I Bit the Green Seed, rivals that earlier work. Or, to put it another way, last spring the troupe scouted out new territory, and this fall they have firmly staked their claim. And, as usual, the production has been created through the combined efforts of the entire troupe.

      One factor that needs to be taken account of in assessing this new production is that Kino Hana, formerly so central to the troupe’s...

      (pp. 245-249)

      It is often said that crime has changed. What this apparently means is that, not only have the ways of committing crimes changed, but the way in which crimes are explained to us has been altered as well. It used to be that, when journalists theorized about a crime, they used the work of detective story writers, criminologists, even psychologists. These days, however, it appears that such playwrights as Yamazaki and Betsuyaku have taken on the journalist’s role. In explaining the criminal’s actions, these writers are concerned not so much with recreating the crime as with ferreting out the motive...

      (pp. 250-253)

      It seems that, these days, more and more playwrights have chosen to write plays meant to be watched as a series. Take, for example, the trilogyWalkurejust completed by Noda Hideki or Kawamura Takeshi’sThe Shinjuku Version of the Tale of Eight Dogs, in five parts, written for the Third Erotica. Kōkami Shōji’sNuclear Waris also a trilogy, as is Inoue Hisashi’sHistory of the Common People of the Shōwa Era.

      Since these playwrights attempt such large-scale works, they must imaginatively order, not a brief skirmish, but a long, drawn-out war. The troupes mounting such productions must make...

    • 63. A NEST OF BOXES AT THE EDGE OF WAKING The Tempest: A Rehearsal on a Nō Stage on Sado Island
      (pp. 253-257)

      Among Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays, his late workThe Tempestis regarded as one of the most cumbersome to stage. The magic world created there can easily seem a clumsily wrought juvenile drama, and the blending of these unrealistic elements with the deeper philosophical layers contained in the play causes further difficulties.

      I have seenThe Tempestseveral times before. On the occasion of the 1973 production staged by The Cloud Troupe, in a translation by the postwar playwright Fukuda Tsuneari, I remember being bored with the whole affair, except for the ravishing scenic effects created by Inoue Bukichi. When the...

      (pp. 257-260)

      Just what is that “self” of the actor, which can exist only in the eyes of those who observe him? Such is the question that Yamazaki poses in his playZeami, which had its first, and most famous, staging in 1963, twenty-four years before this present revival.

      I did not see the original production, so, for many years, I have known the play only as it exists between the covers of a book. It seems surprising that this splendid drama, which has been performed in translation in Italy and the United States, has never been put on the stage again...

      (pp. 260-265)

      The Tōhō company has gathered all its forces together and begun a long run at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre of the Japanese-language production of the musicalLes Misérables. Seeing the performance, I was fascinated by the fact that, contrary to my expectations, this is a musical that has been created without making any real use of its central characters. The flow of the story, of course, involves the celebrated pursuit of the protagonist, Jean Valjean (Takita Sakae and Kaga Takeshi in the alternating cast), by the notorious Inspector Javert (again Takita Sakae and Kaga Takeshi alternating). Intertwined with this drama of...

      (pp. 266-269)

      Among the monster movies that Tōhō made some years ago, I was particularly fond ofMothra(1961) andGhidrah, the Three-Headed Monster(1964).

      In the movieMothra, the monster Mothra built a huge cocoon in the Tokyo Tower; after his metamorphosis, when he took wing, the director succeeded in creating a large-scale fantasy that seemed absolutely wonderful to me. This film’s carefully prepared script must surely be quite unique.

      Ghidrahincluded Godzilla, Radon, and Ghidrah, an ultimate all-star monster cast in a battle that was both ridiculous and joyous; I remember going to see that film twice. The popularity of...

      (pp. 270-274)

      It would appear that the flourishing of so many small theatre companies in Japan has given rise to a variety of differing performance dimensions. In our generation, the quantity of theatres has grown considerably, and there now exist a substantial number of young companies capable of attracting substantial audiences, while various playwrights, directors, and performers vie to exhibit the individual character of their art.

      Yet might it not be said that, despite the seemingly multifaceted nature of the theatre phenomenon and all this apparent activity, it is in fact quite standardized and that most theatre productions are more or less...

    (pp. 275-276)

    Theatre depends more than anything else on actual stage performances. Like that of a burst of fireworks, the fate of the theatre is to achieve a rapid birth, only to quickly vanish. Even if the text of the play itself remains behind, the production itself cannot return. And, even if the play is revived on stage, each presentation will by its very nature be different. We can record performances on videotape, but what is preserved can constitute only a memory locked within a fixed, selected line of vision. Inevitably, such a record is seldom consonant with our own lively memories...

  9. Appendixes

      (pp. 279-292)
      (pp. 293-296)
      (pp. 297-298)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 299-306)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)