The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The world of director, Osamu Matsumoto | Staging Kafka with his unique style with workshops and composition cards
The Castle
The Castle
Samples of the director's cards for The Castle
In the plays you direct, I find very effective the dance pieces that appear between the acted scenes or the music, like the brass music you used in Amerika that was reminiscent of the music in the movie Underground. Can you tell us where these ideas come from?
    The dance pieces like the one in the dream scene before Josef’s execution in The Trial, or the scene where the woman carrying a bucket crosses slowly through the crowd of people on the street, these are things I choreographed myself. I don’t think of it as dance. I am just trying a variety of methods to achieve the kind of theater (stage) space I would like to see.
    As for the music, since my MODE days I have always chosen all the music myself. So the sound people usually dislike working with me, because I don’t let them choose any of the music (laughs). In Amerika I used the Jewish folk music performed by an ensemble known as klezmer. I had people buy CDs of klezmer music for me overseas, and I listened to about 50 in all to find pieces that interested me. During the workshops I tried playing this music and having the actor perform with it as the background music.
    When I am directing I always have an audio set next to me so I can play different pieces of music and see if it fits with what is being done on stage. The music itself has a composition, of course, so you can work around the image of filling the stage space only with music and lighting during the prelude portion of a piece of music and then have the actor(s) come our on stage naturally as the music enters the main theme and have them disperse as the interlude starts and at the finale have them disappear. And you can work dialogue into the whole at different places.
    If the music matches the scene well, there are times when no spoken lines are necessary. If it is a scene that expresses grief, and a sadly emotive piece of music is playing, all the actor may need to do is to stand there. An actor who can feel this knows that words are not necessary. And there are cases where this can stimulate the imagination of the audience even more than words. In contrast, there are times when music can be use to implant an image in the actor and then when the sound is stopped at some stage the actor can remain silent and the mood continues. Even without the sound, the image already implanted by the earlier music remains inside the actor and it can have the power to make the actor a different figure, even if he or she is just sitting still in a chair.

It seems that music, art and other elements like lighting all have equal value for you and you bring them all together into one image. From the standpoint of the audience, your plays add scenes with psychological or subconscious elements that we don’t when just reading Kafka as literature, and the resulting “dramatized Kafka” is very interesting. Now that you have done dramatic productions of this much Kafka, what do you now find interesting in Kafka, and in what ways?
    Some readers of Kafka say that my plays add humor and sexuality that isn’t in the original Kafka, but I don’t think that is true. I believe that there are sexual images and lots of humor written between the lines in Kafka’s work. In the way that Kafka has been read so far in Japan, I feel that perhaps this element has not received enough attention. But in dramatizing Kafka, I have found this aspect to be a very interesting. I have realized that the reason I didn’t find The Castle interesting when I first read it as a young man was because I read it only in terms of concepts and wasn’t able to read those other aspects between the lines.
    I believe that humor is essential in theater. If you don’t have a certain amount of experience in love and experience in the ways of society, you can’t read the humor that is written into Kafka’s literature. I now find it very interesting and humorous when characters like public officials or lawyers appear in Kafka’s stories and they hold truly ridiculous principles in their jobs. But what may appear at first as nonsense are actually the kinds of situations that actually exist in society.
    Also the way Kafka depicts sexuality is interesting too. There is the desire for love and there is the desire for physical intimacy, and the two do not necessarily coincide. There is a lot of unrequited love and unrequited sexual desire in Kafka’s works. In the staging it may take the form of a character leaning on the woman and caressing her as he delivers the line, “The trouble with your lawyer is …” In other words, when it is stage you can see that gap between emotional and physical love clearly.

There surely are many instances when seeing things acted out physically by the actors brings a realization of what was actually intended between the lines.
    We can perhaps see Kafka in theater as a reflection of ourselves today. It may not be a complete baring of ourselves, but there are some graphic images we can get.
    Of course we are also drawn to the literary themes Kafka deals with. In my staging of Amerika and The Castle I used a subtitle projection system to introduce what we might call some main Kafka aphorisms. With regard to questions such as, “What is the self?” Kafka describes the solitude of the individual with expressions like “Looking up at a high window in a solitary prison cell,” which is a kind aphorism that we may or may not provide us an understandable reason.
    Also, Kafka’s descriptions of the visual aspect of people’s appearance, clothes and things like buildings are very detailed. It is interesting to try to imagine the images Kafka is describing. It brings new realizations about new perspectives for looking at things or how the streets of town appear when you are in a certain mood. I was talking to one theater director who said that showing that kind of appearance is possible in movies but it is probably difficult to achieve in theater. But, I think it is possible in theater too.
    In Kafka’s novels there are many scenes of sleep, and passages where he describes people waking up to find that things have changed. A famous example is in the beginning of The Metamorphosis where the character wakes up in the morning to find that he has changed into a giant vermin. And then he writes, “It was no dream.” He doesn’t write, “It was a dream,” he writes “It was no dream.” I believe this is what makes Kafka so interesting.

You have also staged a version of The Metamorphosis. When the main character wakes up as a vermin, you didn’t use an insect costume of anything, but just showed the character as a normal human figure. But the people around him begin to treat him as an insect. It was a fearsome theatrical device in which, as the people around him said, “You are a vermin,” he actually came to look like an vermin. I felt it connected to contemporary social problems like bullying as I watched the play. It is very Kafka-esque. If we were to be explanatory, we could say that it connected to the Holocaust and to discrimination, ethnic cleansing and other forms of annihilation of those who are different from oneself. It shows these tendencies in a very real way.
    I thought from the beginning that it would be OK to have the character Gregor Samsa just lying there in bed in his pajamas. I saw a tape of Valery Fokin’s theater version of The Metamorphosis and he had the actor appear in the form of vermin and the scene where he is on the bed and can no longer move, I found it very distasteful. The deformity and actors movements were like that of a disabled person, and in the end he can no longer move and is disposed of. That appeared to me to be very discriminatory in nature. So I definitely didn’t want to stage it like that.
    I preferred to use and approach similar to the simple structure of Noh and Kyogen theater, in which an actor can come out and just say, “I am a mountain monk from around here,” and from that point he is a mountain monk. The Metamorphosis was published while Kafka was alive and he requested that a vermin not be used in the illustrations for the book. The final print used as the illustration for that scene was one of family members peeking in the room where he lay and screaming in alarm at what they saw. It doesn’t show the vermin itself. There is much speculation about what kind of vermin or insect it was, but nothing specific is written to describe it. So, we wonder if someone really did undergo a metamorphosis. It may not have been Samsa but his family that underwent the metamorphosis.
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