Yume no Shiro (Castle of Dreams)
(at Theater Tops, 2006)
Photo: Wakana Hikino
|Your next work after Knight Club was Shintai Kensa (Physical Examination).
When we did Knight Club, the reality achieve by making a play out of physical and emotional reactions and worked out was so interesting to me that I continued to slide in that direction. Shintai Kensa was a radical pursuit of that direction. Knight Club still contained elements of dramatic entertainment, but I thought that in fact those elements were not really necessary at all. I was confident that even without those elements a work could be created that would be interesting to watch.
What was the work actually like?
The first half is set in a sex industry “Nuki-Caba” (a bar/lounge type establishment where the object is for hostesses to service male customers to ejaculation without actual sexual intercourse). Blue-collar workers come to the club and if a customer can win the consent of a hostess, a contract is signed and she takes him to a private room to service him. After showing that process as real action rather than a play for about one hour, all of a sudden it blacks out. During the blackout, we showed a subtitle saying “Seeing this [the first half] is not enough to communicate the intention of this play.” Then we show the rehearsal video, which comes across purely as documentary.
Practically speaking, what I had the actors do was to actually go through actions on the stage that cause them to embarrass themselves and to hurt others and bring out those kinds of negative emotions. The actors take to the stage as individuals, not as actors, and they go through a process of trail and error until they achieve this task. I thought that this process would make an interesting stage to watch.
Also, I thought that it would be best to inform the audience beforehand that what they would be seeing on stage was real action and not a scripted play. So, I wrote on the show’s leaflet “This is a documentary.” This would prepare them to watch what was happening on stage not as fiction but as real events. Since I had told the actors that no faking and no acting was allowed, if the actors hurt other actors, for example, they could no longer use the excuse that it is just acting. So the things that happened, the hurt and such, would remain after the rehearsal and after leaving the stage when the performance is over. This made the things that were happening on stage very close to an actual documentary. In the process, we saw numerous instances of actors talking about their individual traumas and actual personal relationships being revealed, and these were instances that you would never see in an ordinary drama. I have done these documentaries because I want to see these moments of revelation.
Didn’t the actors dislike doing that?
They did dislike it. But, if the actors showed themselves enjoying doing it, I thought it wouldn’t be interesting for the audience. So the rehearsals were painful. There was trouble that occurred, but we were able to overcome it and bring the show to the stage.
And the actors endured all that and stayed with it?
It seems that, because they are actors, they definitely have an inherent desire to show themselves, to embarrass themselves and show their pain and hurt before the audience to a considerable extent, and I think they also accept and appreciate it to a considerable degree when that process becomes a viable stage event worth seeing. Of course, there was also a lot of resentment directed at me.
After Shintai Kensa you presented the works Make Love and Nettai Video and Otoko no Yume.
Make Love is somewhere half way between a play and a documentary. Because we create a set of a “love hotel” on the stage, this part of it is a lie, unmistakably. But, I had the actors act out their own real emotions, without faking, in that false space. I want to make it clear, however, that this is not an etude, because the actors have been told beforehand that they are forbidden to act. For example, I had an actual couple come out and make love with their true feelings of love for each other, and I had another pair who weren’t a couple yet but were exploring the possibility of becoming lovers and let them go through that frustrating situation with those actual feelings.
With Nettai Video (Tropical Video) I also wanted to explore the documentary possibilities, so I used all kinds of methods from the rehearsal stage. Since the contracts that I used for Shintai Kensa [forbidding actors to withdraw from the production] made it seem like I had the power to work my evil demands on the actors and they essentially came to feel like victims being used by me, I changed to a “letter of intent” by which the actors stated their own intent to participate in the production. I believed this was essential for it all to work, with reality and honesty. From the rehearsal stage the actors resigned themselves to the job they had to do and tried to do their best to make it work, but of course there are limits to what can be done. During the making of Nettai Video some interpersonal problems emerged and some were saying that this was going to be the end of Potsudo-ru. But at the time we were doing these documentaries, we were all poor and struggling to achieve something, and it was also the period when Potsudo-ru was beginning to win some recognition for the first time. So, we had a feeling that we had to go to these kinds of extremes.
Shintai Kensa drew three times the audience you previous works had received.
Yes. But at the same time I was worried about the reason behind this attention. To continue that kind of popularity we would have to continue to escalate in terms of the radical-ness of what we were doing because that is what the audience would be expecting. I knew it would be meaningless to just try to answer the audience’s demand for this kind of fare. I realized that if the “scandalous” elements became the draw, people would misunderstand what we were trying to do in the first place.
One of the reasons I stopped the documentary style is my disappointment at this realization. Eventually, what I am interested in was the unavoidable moments when human essence is revealed. So I decided to try as best I could to write these things into a script and do it as fiction. I wrote Otoko no Yume (Every Man’s Dream) for this purpose and deliberately eliminated any scandalous aspect.
In Otoko no Yume and Gekijo (Violent Emotion) that followed it, conversational drama seems to play a much more important role.
There is actually about a year and a half between Otoko no Yume and Gekijo and I think of them as two completely different works. I think Gekijo is a work that goes against my nature [as a playwright] more than any other I have done, because I included narration in it and did things like bringing in pieces of storyline.
In Gekijo I think I was interested in the idea that I could create realistic portrayals of people letting out their emotions of anger or sadness and such, and that I could create realistic expressions of emotion even while bringing in strong theatrical elements (narrative, story elements). Since reality I define in this case is a matter of how to depict faithfully people’s communication, I thought that I could overcome the limitations of a strong narrative element by the way I staged the play.
Your work underwent another big change with your next play, Animal.
Since I had done a theatrical work with Gekijo, I was able to put that issue behind me for a while. Then, while I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I got an invitation from the Mitaka City Arts Center.
One day I was in a park and I saw some college students talking about something way off in the distance. I was too far away to hear what they were saying but as I watched I realized that I was beginning to understand what they were doing just from their actions and that I naturally came to see the human relations involved, too. In the end, I was able to sit there absorbed in the voiceless action for about an hour. That made me think, “This may make for viable entertainment.” So Animal was a work where I tried to create viable theater just by providing the visual scenes, without dialog or narration. Since we were faced at the time with the problem of whether or not we were capable of doing something in a large theater hall, I thought that this would be the place to try it.
Was there a script?
I wrote one, but there are some sections where there is no script. In the parts where it was just sufficient if it looked to the audience like the actors are talking I just let them talk about anything they pleased, and then we worked out the scenes in the rehearsal studio. Since the only important thing is the visual aspect of the action, there are many places where it would be meaningless to have the actors speaking actual lines. This was a play where the only thing that mattered was how it looked.
The characters in Animal are members of the car gangs they call “teamers” in Japan. What made you choose teamers?
I was not trying to give a realistic portrayal of what teamers are like. The theme of the play was the death of a person. I thought that if I used teamers as the context it could give an interesting accentuation to how light and inconsequential a death can be. It may be a simplistic idea, but if the essence is in the visual action, it is easy to understand and I thought that there would be an interesting contrast between the times when the teamers are playing around and when the death occurs. But, as for the way the teamers act, this is all just from my imagination, so I can’t vouch for its reality in that aspect.