The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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
Komatsuza and SIS Company Joint Production Romance
(August 3 – September 30, 2007 at Setagaya Public Theatre)
Directed by Tamiya Kuriyama
Photo: Masahiko Yako
In terms of language, Chichi to Kuraseba is written completely in the Hiroshima dialect. Such a specific use of a local dialect of Japanese must have made it very difficult to translate.
If the Japanese is well written and certain in meaning, it can naturally be translated into other languages, but it is not possible to communicate the specific beauties and interest of the Hiroshima dialect. People don’t use standardized Japanese for visceral expressions of their deepest, most painful emotions or anxieties. For Chichi to Kuraseba I went to the library and studied the Hiroshima dialect as it is spoken in the Naka-ku district of Hiroshima, and I sat in coffee shops and listened for hours to how it is actually spoken as I was writing Chichi to Kuraseba. The fact that this dialect can’t be translated doesn’t mean that foreign audiences can’t understand this play, however. Just as when we read Chekhov or Dostoevsky in Japanese translation, the flavor may be somewhat different from the original, but we are still deeply moved by its stories and understand much from them. Also, in the case of theater you have the actors. Even if there are things that can’t be translated, I believe that much will be communicated to the audience through the performance of the actors.

This August you introduced your newest work, titled Romance. This is a biographical work done in a Vaudeville style about Anton Chekhov, who once said that he wanted to try writing a Vaudeville play once in his career.
I rediscovered theater as a “total” art form. Until now I had thought of theater as a total art form in the sense that it brought together on the same stage the capabilities of the musician (composer), the stage artist, the lighting artist, the director and the actors. But seeing this play, I got the feeling that theater itself—in other words the stage itself—is painting and music and sculpture and poetry. Theater is a form of expression that contains all these elements. It makes me appreciate anew what an amazing art form I am involved in. In today’s world where everything is moving in the direction of rationalization, efficiency and simplification, theater still makes audiences come to it, and even makes them pay in advance. No form of expression is as selfish as theater. Still, if we can supply the audience with good plays they forgive that selfishness and find joy in what they come to see. I felt this all clearer than ever with this latest play. In other words, with Romance this time I feel like I have finally come to the starting point of theater’s true potential. I guess that until now I have been in my period of training (laughs).

That is being too humble (laughs). And, now that your period of training is over, what kind of plays will you be writing from now on?
I wonder how much time I have left. I hope I have ten years. That should be enough (laughs).
Next I am writing about the swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. He is a subject I have wanted to tackle for some time. When we think of Musashi, our image of him is certainly colored strongly by the great work of Eiji Yoshikawa. But, I have an image that lies in a slightly different direction. I plan to concentrate not on his strength or weaknesses as a swordsman but on the ideals of his “way of the sword” as it existed in the peaceful life of Musashi’s later years of retirement from the world.
I believe that we are in an age when we are searching for new balance in all facets of life. If we don’t find a new way of living soon, and one that is on a different dimension from the way we have lived until now, the Earth would only be able to support a much smaller number of people. When we think in terms of the entire Earth the scale is so vast that things get vague, but it is really the same as thinking about the Japanese population and the Land area of Japan. For the Earth to survive we have to transcend conflicts in interest and we definitely have to find new values to live by. So, it may be that world environment issues will be the theme of my upcoming Musashi’s biographical play (laughs).
I believe that the role of the arts is to give people hints about better ways to live, if not to the whole of humankind at least to all who support the arts. You can think in terms of suggestions for ways to change one’s life or new ways of thinking. Works of art that don’t provide this are, in the end, works that the artists are creating for themselves only. If we don’t have something that we want to bring to people, if we don’t want to live life with people, if our work doesn’t have that direction then they won’t pay the cost of admission to the theater, I believe. At the core of my works I always want to have ideas that will help people find the way to live on the next Earth or ways of thinking that will make that life easier to live.
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