The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
Artist Interview
Theater is an experiment in communityThe world of Yoji Sakate, pioneer in small theater


Until the last person standing
Until the last person standing
Photo by Taku Ohara
Lost in the war / Blindness
Lost in the war / Blindness
© Rinkogun
The Emperor and The Kiss
The Emperor and The Kiss
© Rinkogun
The “rinko” in Rinkogun means “phosphorescence,” but I chose it because I just liked the sound and decided to stick with it. Later on I read in something written by Lafcadio Hearn, where Hearn saw light on the sea in the distance, referring to it as a kind of phosphorescent light. Hearn said something to the effect that while by the sea he felt that he too was just a point of phosphorescent light when seen from space. Here again I saw someone, Hearn in the case, transposing himself into this light and the light on the waves becoming him. I found this part very theatrical. But this hadn’t been in my thoughts when I took the name for my theater.

I guess I was more of a movie kid. I formed a movie club in high school with some friends just so that I could see the movies that I wouldn’t normally see. Actually, I made three films while in high school. One was a crummy one about somebody who was running, just running. After all, I was in the track club at school, and the two clubs sort of ran together. Another film was set on an uninhabited island where these guys have to live in isolation from the outside world and are sent tinned mackerel in miso from a helicopter. They’re stuck on the island. As a matter of fact, this film was shown at the Pia Film Festival, which ran a competition for amateur 8mm films in the ’80s.

When I come to think about it, I’ve always been interested in the theme of isolation and of being closed in somewhere. I loved the film Hell in the Pacific, where Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin are the only people there and the drama unfolds between them alone. The secret room, the hidden closet...this intrigues me. I directed the Japanese version of an American play, CVR, which is about a cockpit voice recorder, about the cooped up space of the cockpit. I even went into a flight simulator cockpit once to see what it was like. I really go for that sort of thing, as you can see from “The Attic.”

Once I had formed the company…and this may sound strange…I felt that the company came first, theater itself second. We are a body, a group, a small community. The experiments of this community are theater, and things like the Japanese language and religious consciousness are expressed on the stage as experiments of this community.

Let me return for a minute to apparitions. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in the soul. I have no religion whatsoever. But this has become my way to get into the world, just as it was, I believe, for Zeami. It is important for me that things become transformed, that characters are transposed. We Japanese always take things without changing them. Someone tells us to do something and we follow it to the letter. Even the leftists do this. They are dogmatic and tend to turn their ideology into a kind of little emperor system. This is a terrible trait.

I have dealt with many social issues in Japan, and some outside Japan. These include the death penalty, whaling, American bases on Okinawa, and the war in Iraq, to name a few. When I read the paper I get incensed like anyone else. But the media in Japan are silent about so many vital issues and it often makes me angry to watch. And so are the Japanese people. Take the American bases on Okinawa. There used to be protest there about them, but now there are even young people who think it is cool that the Americans are there. The media exacerbates this problem by ignoring it and so do the people. I think about these problems through my plays and I am going to continue to write works about problems like these. I am now writing a play, for production in 2006 or 2007, based on Hiroshi Muneta’s book, Dear Mr. Emperor (Haikei Tenno Heikasama), about a rather slow fellow who becomes a soldier and thinks, “Hey, geez, this is great. I get to eat for free and get money doing this too.”

There have been antiwar Self-Defense Forces soldiers who were against the war in Vietnam or the Gulf War and have actually brought cases against the Self-Defense Forces. But the media won’t touch this sort of thing. Based on this type of problem, last year in Nagoya I put on a play about an antiwar soldier, Nobutaka Watanabe. He was actually taken hostage in Iraq, and I was corresponding with him before then. About half of the play is based on his experiences. Well, the production was partially subsidized by the ward in Nagoya where the theater was. When the authorities in Nagoya found out about the content of the play, they withdrew their support. Only one national newspaper took up the issue. This is a matter of freedom of speech. But no one else would touch the story.
 
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