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Artist Interview
A world of the imagination overflowing from the everyday- Playwright Norihiko Tsukuda
Listening to you talk, it sounds like you are a person who is always trying to see yourself objectively to some degree. When you are writing, are you the type who finds the words pouring off the tip of the pen. In other words, the type whose pen seems to move by itself?
When I am writing I get tired very quickly. If I write for an hour or two, I have to lie down then for about an hour. Then I get up and write for another two hours before I have to lie down again. It is a repetition of that. Day and night no longer exist. When I lie down to sleep I will dream and suddenly get a revelation in my dreams about the story. If I have just a little free time during the day I will use it for writing. Even when the writing is going well, I will stop to take a nap and rest. I believe that it is not good to be in a state where the writing is going too well and the pen is running on by itself. Maybe I am too much of a skeptic. My writing is always punctuated with naps (laughs).

It seems that there are many writers who can’t write and the frustration builds and then all of a sudden the words come pouring out. So, what you describe seems rare. A napping writer (laughs). Perhaps that can be called a kind of objective writer. By the way, in your Kishida Award-winning play Nukegara, the protagonist deceased father sheds his skin repeatedly, getting younger each time. That idea was brilliant. How did you come by it?
The idea of a dead person coming back as a rejuvenated incarnation of themselves is an idea that many writers have used in the past. Kazuo Umezu used it in his manga Again, so it is not really new. In fact, when Bungaku-za asked me to write a new play for them it was just at a time when I was living with my father, who was battling with senility. He would go to the toilet at night and not come back for an hour or more. I would go and open the toilet door and of course there he would be. It was then that it occurred to me, “What if he shed a layer of himself like an insect, left it there in a wrinkled pile and came out a younger version of himself?” I quickly wrote the idea down and said to myself, this is going to work! [for a play] (laughs).
I think that part of the basis for the story may have come from an Umezu manga that I read some time ago. And the opening scene where the six shed skins of the father are all sleeping together comes in part from the first scene of Takeuchi’s Yoi-Machi-Gusa. That play begins with a scene of remembrance where a woman is sleeping under a tree. I had long wanted to do a play that started that way, and I thought it would be interesting if all of as sudden there were six fathers all sleeping together.

It seems that you are in fact quite a journeyman writer.
Yes. I think I am a journeyman, a writer who works steadily at his craft. Another playwright in the Nagoya area, Tengai Amano of Shonen Oja-kan is someone I think of as a genius type, while I see myself as a journeyman type craftsman. I have had this feeling about myself for more than ten years now. It was at about the age of 30 that I started seeing myself that way, around the time that I came down with a duodenal ulcer. I realized that I wasn’t a genius, and I have followed the path of the craftsman ever since (laughs).

Just being a skillful craftsman doesn’t win someone a Kishida Drama Award, though (laughs). I would like to ask you what the theme that you are most interested now is.
It is the theme of what morality is. That is what my new play Puramoral (Plastic Morals) our company will present in June is based on. I have a daughter who is just entering middle school and I am serving as the president of the PTA right now. As everyone knows, there have been an increasing number of incidents of “suspicious persons” appearing harassing children lately. But, when I go to the school wearing my usual worn-out denim jumpsuit, I must look like one of those “suspicious persons” (laughs). In fact, I have been mistaken for one in the past.
“Who is this strange guy?” You can’t know a person just by looking at them. If you meet someone for the first time and you have no information about them, it is in fact hard to tell what a human being is like. When a murderer is caught and you see them on TV, you often think, “How could such a serious-looking person do such a thing?” At other times you may think, “He looks like the kind of person who would do such a thing.” Like Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote in his famous story Yabu no naka (In a Grove), people can look completely different to different people or when looked at in a different light. That is what I am interested in. We ask, “Who in fact are you?”

When a terrible incident happens and the commentators on TV are saying “How could a person do such a thing.” But, wouldn’t you say that human beings are unfathomable creatures to begin with?
Yes, yes. By nature, there is no way to really know people, or what they will do. That is why most of the people in my plays don’t have names but designations like “Man 1” and “Man 2.” I do this because if I give a character a name like Mr. Kimura, the audience will accept him and have him imprinted in their minds as Mr. Kimura, and I don’t know if that is a good thing to allow. Because he has the name Mr. Kimura, is it all right to let him be known simply as Mr. Kimura. It is because this is a point that bothers me.

When was it that you arrived at that kind of style as a playwright?
It began in 1992, when B-kyu Yugekitai did the play Indojin wa Bronx e Ikitagatteiru (The Man from India Wants to Go to the Bronx) and Takeuchi directed it for us. He was ruthless in telling us the bad parts of the play and criticized everything, right down to the way the actors stood. That was an eye-opening experience for me in countless ways.

Of the things the Mr. Takeuchi told you at that time, what left the deepest impression on you?
He said “Show them from the beginning. Let the audience know the answer from the beginning.” So that is what I did with Nukegara too. He often told me, “If you think of something interesting, write it right away and make it into a play right away.”

Your plays often begin with absurd or irrational situations, like Dokan (Earthenware Pipe), where a big earthenware pipe suddenly juts into a room and provides an opening into new worlds, or Kan-Kan Otoko (Kan-Kan Man) about a man whose job is collecting the bodies of people who have been hit by cars and killed. How do you feel about being called a playwright of the absurd?
I can’t write unless I have one of these [strange] situations to start from. So I don’t think of it as absurdity, but I don’t mind be called that kind of playwright. It is like the eating of a clam and having the sand grind between your teeth that I mentioned earlier, I can’t start anything without an odd situation as the starting point.

Your plays themselves unfold in the situations of everyday life. What is it that you find in everyday life that you want to make into the motif of a play?
I find it very interesting when I get a glimpse of some “passion” that is hard for a third person to understand. For example, I have a friend who works in a police crime lab, and he says that when he sees a footprint he can tell you a lot about what kind of person left that print. Ever since he was a child he had a fascination with the bottoms of feet. Even with wild animals, it was only his footprints that he was interested in, and he could tell you what animal it was just from its footprints. I love to listen to the things people like that have to say.

So, you are interested in people with unusual talents?
Right. Especially people with talents in seemingly meaningless areas. For example, if I hear about a person who loves turtles and is obsessed with turtles, I start to imagine the world of the person and the turtle. Then I come up with a story like “Two Men Who Devote Their Lives to a Turtle That Has Grown So Large It Fills a Room” (laughs).

Is it an attraction to the extremes to which such passions go? Or is it an attraction to the “existence” of the human beings themselves?
That’s a good question. When I encounter a person with that kind of passion, I begin to look in my mind’s eye for potential distorted variations or developments. For example, in Kan-Kan Otoko there is a person who is staring fixated at the railroad tracks. I begin to develop it in a distorted way and soon I am asking, “What is that person? Is it the body of someone who has been hit by a train?” The imagination is given free rein and then I as how I relate to that imaginary world. I want to look at both that distorted world and we who are being pushed to the breaking point by that distorted world.

So, the world of theater for you is the distorted things you create and yourself there dealing with them. Is that a correct analysis? You drive yourself to limit as you write, and the result is that you have to create a distorted world with seemingly absurd situations. But, always you find yourself there, too, dealing with it.
Yes. That is a pretty good description.
 
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