The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
Artist Interview
Playwright Hisashi Inoue puts a prayer for peace in his play Chichi to Kuraseba (The Face of Jizo), now translated into seven languages
Face of Jizo
Face of Jizo
73th Komatsuza production
Face of Jizo (Chichi to Kuraseba)

(July 27 – August 1, 2004 at Kinokuniya Southern Theatre)
Directed by Hitoshi Uyama
Photo: Masahiko Yako
Yume no Sakeme
Yume no Sakeme
Yume no Sakeme (A Clack in the Dream)
(May 8 – 31, 2001 at New National Theatre, Tokyo "The Pit")
Directed by Tamiya Kuriyama
Photo: Masahiko Yako
Yume no Namida
Yume no Namida
Yume no Namida (Tears of the Dream)
(October 9 – November 3, 2003 at New National Theatre, Tokyo "The Pit")
Directed by Tamiya Kuriyama
Photo: Masahiko Yako
Yume no Kasabuta
Yume no Kasabuta
Yume no Kasabuta (Scab of the Dream)
(June 28 – July 23, 2006 at New National Theatre, Tokyo "The Pit")
Directed by Tamiya Kuriyama
Photo: Masahiko Yako
What can the role of theater be in such a world?
I believe that theater can be a tremendously powerful force. Since I also write novels, I know that novels are cumbersome things. In theater, you have a man and a woman on the stage and when they smile at each other, that is all that is needed to communicate the meaning. In a novel, however, that same scene has to be expressed in words with carefully detailed portrayal. In the case of theater, however, you have the actors’ bodies and gestures, facial expressions and voices to read the meaning from instantaneously. And, because of this physical use of the human body, theater also has the power to transcend national borders easily and become a borderless form of communication.
I often use King Lear as an example. You might for example have an elderly lady in the audience, and sitting next to her is a young entrepreneur, and behind them sits a scholar. The lady had a pair of tickets forced on her by her daughter, who had originally been planning to see King Lear with her husband but suddenly changed her mind when they were able to get tickets to a football match. This daughter had always been a selfish, self-centered person. She made her mother—the elderly lady—take the tickets, saying that she could refund one of them and use the money to have a nice eel dinner or something after the show. The lady is not interested in the play whatsoever, and she is fed up with her daughter, but she also has nothing better to do. So here she is at the play, although she is not enjoying being here at all because she is in a complaining mood.
As for the young entrepreneur, he is in fact in debt and being chased by the loan collectors. He has no place left to run, and when he ducks into the theater he happens to be passing, he is told at the ticket office that someone just returned a ticket. He buys the ticket and finds his way to the seat. He is a man with no dreams or hopes left and he is tired out.
Behind them sits the scholar, who happens to be a theater critic. He is from a rich family and has never known any real hardships in his life up until now. He was able to study abroad as if it were a natural privilege, and his only real concern is that he can’t get a position as a college professor. When he was younger, there had been an offer for him to marry a professor’s daughter, but he ended up marrying a prettier girl at graduate school. He now regrets that decision. He thinks he knows this play thoroughly and sits there in the audience not expecting much from the performance.
However, once the curtain rises and the play begins, it turns out to be a wonderful performance of King Lear. Part way through the play, the elderly lady has found herself in the protagonist King Lear. Like the King, she feels that she tried hard to raise her daughter with care and loving, but that love was lost on her daughter and now she is treated as nothing more than a bother by her. She feels King Lear’s anguish so tangibly that although she is sitting in the audience her heart is up there on the stage. In her mind she is cries out, “That old man’s anguish is the same as my own!”
Meanwhile, the other people in the audience are for some reason feeling the same thing that the lady is feeling. They are all feeling that sense of identification with King Lear. Moved by the old lady’s reaction, the scholar suddenly begins to think about his elderly parents. He has seen King Lear many times before, but he has never felt this association. He begins to contemplate the hardships his parents have been through. Until now he had thought that going to a good school and being able to study abroad naturally and continue his studies uninterrupted were all the results of his own efforts. But now he realizes that perhaps it wasn’t so. He decides that he will give his parents a call when he leaves the theater. At the same time, a change is taking place in the young entrepreneur sitting in front of him. Although he had thought himself too worn out and distressed to think about business or anything anymore, he now finds himself thinking that he is alive and here today because of his parents’ care. He had caring parents and many people who helped him in some way or another. Perhaps thing of himself as alone and independent had been little more than self-delusion. He, too, is now leaning forward in his seat, trying to catch every gesture and every word that comes from the actors.
By this point the stage and audience are one and the entire theater is enveloped in a special atmosphere. It is as if everyone in the theater is involved in the play together, with all of their combined pasts, their knowledge and their intellects joined together. A good play may be a sort of ritual that has the power to make you forget yourself for a moment, to become innocent and receptive and to be reborn.
Then the curtain finally falls. The same audience will never be together to see a play in this way again. And, naturally, the performance of this same play will never be exactly the same. This is the end of an event that will never take place in this way again in the universe. Realizing this, it is hard to stand up and leave. When a play has been performed well the audience is slow to get up from their seats. There is a softness to the elderly lady’s face that wasn’t there before. The young entrepreneur has decided that he is not going to try to run away anymore. The scholar stops in the lobby to make a cheerful phone call to his parents. These are the kinds of miracles a play can make happen. Surely no amount of preaching or lecturing could ever have moved these people like this. It would have done no good just to tell the elderly lady that a daughter is a daughter no matter what kind of personality she might have, or to tell the young entrepreneur that if he just keeps hope and works hard there will be rewarding days too. Such lecturing is useless, but one good play can have the power to move the very soul of a person and change them.
Because I work with an art with such power to move people, I feel a responsibility to give plays that I believe are truly good. People are constantly the prisoners of time, right up until the moment we die. The one time when we can be free from the chains of time is when we lose ourselves in theater. That is when we can stand boldly and look time in the face. That is the kind of special place I believe the theater is.

Your plays contain a rich assortment of laughter, song, play on words, plays within a play and even surprise endings. Is there a particular philosophy behind this kind of richly diverse theater style?
If the type of time that flows in the theater is the same as that of daily life, there is no reason to come to the theater in the first place. If it is biographical play you have to compress, for example, the 37 years of Kenji Miyazawa’s life or the 24 years of Ichiyo Higuchi into a couple of hours. In other words, the job of the playwright should be to create some sort of temporal theory of how to capture time and develop on it. A surprise ending is a type of conversion of time and comedy can be likened to a process of filling in the gaps in time. You can employ interesting ways to abbreviate time, or you can draw out time like Shogo Ota does in his wordless theater. I want to employ these methods to create time where we can forget our selves.
To do this I must work with great care. When it comes to the choice of words, I usually choose yamato kotoba, or native Japanese words. In Japanese, you can usually choose among three types of words. For example in the case of saying “washing” we can choose the native Japanese word arau, the Chinese character derivative sentaku suru or the English derived kuriiningu (cleaning) suru. You have to choose one of these. If you choose the Chinese derived sentaku suru the audience will pause to think for a moment, and it is a moment when they are drawn back into reality. Consider the three words of rule, Japanese kimari, the Chinese derived kisoku and the English derived ruru (rule). In this case kisoku is more difficult to understand than kimari. The playwright shows his/her skill by choosing the word that will make the audience understand instantaneously.
Also, I question the use of too many English derived katakana words. Katakana English appears new but is often lacking in content. When I have time while riding the trains, I often make a practice of translating the English derived words in the advertisements in the train back into Japanese. If you try it you will see. If you use these words your Japanese will become poorer, and people who use them in excess will soon be tired out by the process. I believe that speaking and thinking in Japanese words that we feel most intimately is the best practice. As a playwright, what I want to give the audience is a “joy of living with the Japanese language” of the kind that makes people feel glad they were able to hear things expressed in Japanese and glad that they speak the Japanese language. I would go further to say that I want the audience to share with me the “Joy of living with language.”
 
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