The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A look into the theater craft of Ai Nagai   A leader in the genre of social comedy
Ai Nagai
“Postwar Life History Play Triology
Boku no Tokyo Nikki (My Tokyo Diary) (1996)

A “cat crisis” in an apartment house in the closing days of the young people’s era of rebellion.

The setting is Tokyo in 1971. Even though the college student Mitsuo Harada’s home is in Tokyo, he has deliberately chosen to live in a small 4 1/2 mat room in an apartment house. Although he couldn’t really participate whole-heartedly in the often violent student demonstrations of the last few years, at least he felt that he had to move out from under the roof and support of his parents. By working at part-time jobs to support himself, he was determined at least to shake the image of a pampered son of a well-to-do family (obottchan). But at this apartment, Mitsuo gets to know Noriko, who lives with the New-Left activist Ide, and she gets him involved in a bomb plot. Meanwhile, he also has to deal with the other people in the apartment house, like a cat-hating salaried worker and a cat-loving woman who are engaged in an ongoing feud and a group of hippies trying to start a Love & Peace commune. Although it was independence that Mitsuo had sought, this apartment is throwing his life into deeper and deeper confusion.
I hear that you do a lot of research when writing a play.
Compared to writers like Hisashi Inoue or Ren Saito, you could not call me one who does a lot of research. But, I think you could say that I am a writer who investigates the things that puzzle me and then take a lot of hints for my writing from the facts I discover and the realities they reveal. Because when you do research you always discover things you didn’t expect. There are also times when research leads to discoveries of some ridiculous things that supposed adults are doing, or discoveries that really make you laugh. These are the kinds of discoveries that make me want to write.
I write plays that are easy to understand and not really new in stylistic terms, but I want to create plays that always contain something adventurous in the contents and always offer the audience new discoveries. I think that I tried to bring “new” discoveries out in Utawasetai Otoko-tachi.

I find many truly appealing characters in you plays.
In the case of Utawasetai Otoko-tachi, the principal was an absolutely necessary character, and so were the opposition teacher and the music teacher. Also, the hard-line teacher was an absolutely essential character. In this way, once you decide what the subject of the play will be, you pretty much know what characters you will want to have appearing in it. Then you start to think about where the play should take place. Should it be in the music room, should it be in one of the hallways of the school, or should it be in the large hall where the graduation takes place? You work on ideas and then say, the infirmary might be a good, unlikely place.
It wouldn’t be natural to have it staged in the infirmary if there wasn’t a character or two who was sick or feeling bad, however, so that leads to the idea of the music teacher being under stress. Then you think, the reason for her stress is surely that she is new at this job and, wouldn’t you guess, she used to be a chanson singer …. If you ask me why a chanson singer, I would be hard pressed for an answer, but I know she isn’t a jazz singer and I’m sure she couldn’t be a Japanese enka singer!
Going through this process, the rough outlines of the characters begin to take shape. The principal is rather easy to imagine. He probably used to be a labor union activist and anti-establishment when he was young. In the past, the hard-liner might have been a conservative physical education teacher, but today you might imagine him to be something like a smart English teacher who makes a show of being neo-liberalist.
As you are coming up with these character profiles you also think about who will play what roles, and from this point on I pin up pictures of the actors’ faces in a row on the wall and look at them as I think about the characters. There are many cases where the amount of information that comes out of a face exceeds the imaginations of the writer. For example, there might be a case like “a person who looks pliant at first glance but is actually quite stubborn deep down,” and if you rely too much on trying to define the persona of the character just with words you end up limiting yourself to that alone. But in fact, that face of a person expresses their world in a more general, less specific way. It is hard for me to write if I don’t have a face in front of me, so in cases where the casting hasn’t been decided, I may picture the face of one of my friends or acquaintances in my mind and take the freedom of imagining what they would do if they were in the particular role.

Do you have any plans for new works in 2006?
I will write and direct a new work for a production Yawarakai Fuku wo Kite that is scheduled from May 22 to June 11 at the New National Theatre (Tokyo). This play is set in an NGO office and is a story about the young people working and their activities during a period from before the start of the Iraq War until today.
In the autumn there is going to be a production of a new Nitosha production at the Setagaya Public Theatre (Sept. 30-Oct. 15). It is a work that takes the author Ichiyo Higuchi as the main character and its tentative title is Kaku Onna (A Woman Who Writes). There were several turning points in Ichiyo’s career as a writer. In the beginning there was a period when she wrote for money. Then came a period when she came to dislike writing for money and tried to concentrate on writing true literature while living on the earnings from a variety shop. But when that business failed she returned once again to making a living purely by writing. During the period known as the “miraculous 14 months” before her death at the age of 24, in which she turned out one major work after another, her home was a veritable literary salon, with constant gatherings of young writers of the day. I want to write a work that looks at Ichiyo’s daily life from the perspective of the act of writing. How did love affect her writing? What was the effect of having served as ghostwriter for letters for the girls in the red light district? I want to put together my thoughts about the influences of living and daily life on the act of writing. As “a woman who writes” myself, I want to try to get an experience of Ichiyo though this play.
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