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Unspeakable Acts

Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-Garde Theatre of Terayama Shuji and Postwar Japan

Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei
Copyright Date: 2005
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  • Book Info
    Unspeakable Acts
    Book Description:

    Terayama Shûji (1935–1983) was one of postwar Japan’s most gifted and controversial playwrights/directors. Since his death more than twenty years ago, he has been transformed into a cult hero in Japan. Despite this notoriety, Unspeakable Acts is the first book in any language to analyze the theater of Terayama in depth. It interrogates postwar Japanese culture and theater through the creative work of this unique yet emblematic artist. By situating Terayama in his historical milieu and by using tools derived from Japanese and Western theories of psychoanalysis, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and aesthetics, Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei has woven a sophisticated and provocative study.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6543-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Note on Japanese Usage
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Terayama Shūji (1935 – 1983) would have been an alchemist if he could. He was constantly metamorphosing, transforming, and reinventing himself. His multifarious identities included internationally renowned poet, playwright, director, filmmaker, photographer, novelist, lyricist, cultural critic, theatrical theorist, advocate for the rights of youth, and spokesman for lonely teenage girls—as well as gambler, peeping Tom, and anarchic destroyer of tradition. He spent his forty-seven years in search of a personal philosopher’s stone, an elusive element that would permit him to complete his life’s project. That project was transforming the dross of mere existence into golden art, leaden reality into...

  6. Part 1. Performing Terayama | Terayama Performing

    • chapter 1 Cultural Outlaw in a Time of Chaos
      (pp. 17-50)

      Terayama’s universe consisted of constantly transposing mirror images and constantly shifting masks. During the sixteen years of its existence, his theatre company, Tenjō Sajiki, presented over three hundred performances outside of japan, garnering rave reviews, prestigious international awards, and major foundation support. Yet it was also the subject of vicious vilification. No one left a Terayama play without a strong opinion about it. At Tenjō Sajiki’s first European performance, in 1969, one German critic raved, “This is the most shocking japanese avant-garde performance since Kawakami Otojirō” (Nagao 1997, 253). While the reviewer was obviously impressed, the statement is pure hyperbole,...

    • chapter 2 Masks and Mothers: Staging the Inner Self
      (pp. 51-102)

      Terayama’s lifelong search for identity and his complex relationship to his mother color all aspects of his early work. In order to analyze Terayama’s most personal and autobiographical creations, it is necessary to consider several theoretical issues that will inform the discussion. These issues derive from psychological, anthropological, literary, and aesthetics studies. I must once again emphasize that these theoretical discourses and historical notes are not meant to suggest a totalizing narrative for the understanding of “Japan” or the “Japanese.” Rather, they seem to me to offer especially useful tools for an analysis of Terayama and his work in the...

    • chapter 3 Outcasts and Aliens: Staging the Outer Self
      (pp. 103-152)

      Terayama no doubt embraced Mauss’ concept of outcast magicians as a confirmation of his own path. By associating himself with traditional outcasts and by interrogating traditional views of the national past, Terayama attempted to come to terms with the slippery realities of his present. Although always claiming to be nonpolitical, he nevertheless expressed political views in sometimes oblique (or apparently contradictory) fashion. As he shifted away from an emphasis on the mother-child dyad, he began to explore alternative staging as a means of relating to the larger world outside the home. In analyzing his interests in the realm ofsoto,...

    • chapter 4 Tombstones Carved Only of Words
      (pp. 153-170)

      Words. Poetic words, imagistic words, lyrical words, shocking words. Terayama’s stated wish for his “tombstone,” in his final published work (an essay inShūkan Yomiuri[Yomiuri Weekly], February 13, 1983), reveals that he wanted to be remembered by his words, not the rambunctious antics and chance encounters that made him famous and controversial. Those experiments, for which he abandoned words, did not succeed in changing society as he claimed they would, but are instead remembered primarily as emblematic of the wildly experimental 1970s. Hismodoki, trickster persona has been so often mimicked and parodied that he remains a “celebrity” even...

  7. Part 2. Translations

    • The Hunchback of Aomori (Aomori-ken no semushi otoko) A One-Act Play in the Manner of Naniwabushi
      (pp. 172-195)

      Taishō matsu: An aging bride¹

      Woman minstrel: A girl student

      Man on crutches: A masseur,² identified by a white flower; crutch in script

      Man on crutches: A masseur, identified by a red flower, red flower in script

      Taishō matsukichi: A hunchback who yearns for his mother

      Dwarf: Master of ceremonies

      Beautiful girl: A compounder of poisonous drug mixtures

      Butler: A researcher in medical jurisprudence

      Beautiful boy: A bathhouse attendant

      Venus: Nude

      Old hag 1: Old hag of the eyes

      Old hag 2: Old hag of the ears

      Old hag 3: Old hag of the mouth

      (Like a wind swooping out...

    • La Marie-Vison (Mink Marie) [Revised 1970 for English-language production in New York]
      (pp. 196-225)

      Mink marie: A forty-year-old male prostitute in his prime

      Kin’ya¹: A beautiful boy

      Girl (monshiro)²: A beautiful boy dressed as a girl

      Servant: Good old Erich von Stroheim

      Ugly marie³: The ugliest woman in the world

      Nameless sailor: A tattoo of a snake looks good on him

      Six ghosts of beautiful girls

      Pleasure pot: A physically beautiful young man

      Boy i and boy ii: Poets, but it’s all right to call them sodomites⁴

      Ah! Is it a dream, or a mirage

      The time is the present.

      (Zarah Leander’s “La Habañera” is heard from the bell-shaped speaker of an old hand-cranked...

    • Heretics (Jashūmon)
      (pp. 226-261)

      (Abiwain the darkness. Light like hellfire. Onstage, thechoruscan be heard performing what seem to be the magical rites of a gathering devoted to esoteric Buddhism. But the audience remains in total darkness, as though blindfolded. From time to time, a group ofkurogoruns like shadows through the spectators’ seats. The stench of reeking blood, advancing like the tide. A group of wanderingkurogo.Suddenly, they call one member of the audience by name and pounce on him, drawing a flashing japanese sword. The astonished shriek of the spectator who is dragged off. Still nothing can...

    • Excerpts from The Labyrinth and the Dead Sea: My Theatre
      (pp. 262-314)

      This work is the culmination of my thoughts about “dramatic method” during the last ten years, based on the activities of Tenjō Sajiki’s experimental-theatre laboratory. I chose the profession of theatre not merely as a mode of artistic expression, but as a way to participate in society.

      When I am asked to name my favorite play, I immediately answer, “History.” However, I do not propose to write a thesis analyzing history as drama. Most previous historical analyses have attempted to reconstruct human conflict within or between states, usually in order to celebrate victory over revolutionaries and the restoration of national...

  8. Works Cited and Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 315-324)
  9. Index to Part 1
    (pp. 325-333)
  10. Index to Excerpts from The Labyrinth and the Dead Sea
    (pp. 334-336)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-340)