The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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Artist Interview
The view from an energy void  Playwright Shiro Maeda's Sense of Wonder
Gotandadan Idainaru seikatsu no boken
(The Great Life Adventure)

Premier: 2008
Plot:
Bedding is spread out in a room, and a man and a woman are sprawled out on top of it. The two are apparently ex-lovers, but the man is living with the woman, leading a life of seclusion. His only apparent goal is to win a videogame. Every once in a while, someone who appears to be a friend visits, and they have rambling conversations or play videogames. The man’s dead sister appears… perhaps he is having a dream. The woman he lives with orders him to leave. But the man doesn’t budge. In a way, it might even be considered positive…a “great life adventure, ” the way he continues to live his life doing absolutely nothing.
The Great Life Adventure
The Great Life Adventure


The Great Life Adventure Idainaru seikatsu no boken’s flyer (Maeda’s autograph)
Your most recent work, Idainaru seikatsu no boken (The Great Life Adventure; 2008), was also interesting. The younger sister of the main character, a young man, has died and he has ended up living idly with an ex-lover. The flyer for the play says, “We continue to live whether or not anyone else will have anything to do with us. This means that lives cannot be described as either grand or diminutive. Whether one lives holed up and idle or decides to pioneer a new frontier, there is little difference in the scale of the adventure.” Many of your plays are about characters like this who live rather anemic lives.
    I have my own ideas of what a hero should be like, and these images are reflected in my main characters. My heroes are escapees from social pressure. We often hear people say, you shouldn’t try to escape, you’ve got to stand up and fight, suicide is just another form of escape. But I don’t agree. Escaping is just another way to live. Escapism should be viewed more positively. When life becomes too difficult and you find yourself being dragged down by it, all you’ve got to do is escape. It’s an important way to live.
    Idainaru seikatsu no boken is based on my novel, Great seikatsu adventure (The Great Life Adventure). In the novel, the main character gives in once to nihilism. He manages to escape it by counting each noodle in a bowl of pasta. Escapism is a very positive skill.
    I believe my heroes are influenced by their fathers. My own father never tried to encourage me. He drinks and sits in front of the TV watching samurai shows. I used to have problems with his lack of discipline, but now I admire him for it. The characters in my books are not perceived as escaping in as positive a manner as that, but I’m a half-step ahead of them, so it’s OK (laughs).

In Ikiterumono wa inainoka (No One Alive Here?) for which you won the Kishida Drama Award, the characters die, one after the other, for no perceptible reason. It shows the variation of the stories of your plays.
    There is meaning in changing the form of the same motifs when writing about life and death. If an artist draws a sunflower, it’s going to look different depending on the time, the place and the amount of light there is. It might be a bud or it could be past its prime. You never know unless you look at things from different angles.
    My works follow several patterns. One is the “Road series.” It includes Nagaku toiki and Ie ga toi (Far From Home; the main characters are four junior high students on the road, and none of them really want to go home). A road is a public place, but when people gather on it, it turns into a personal space. That’s interesting. Then there is the “Room series” of plays that are set in something like a room, such as Doubutsu daishugo (The Large Gathering of Animals) and Futari iru fukei (Scenery With Two People). That is a category based on place. Then there are the categories of “Not Much of a Leap From Reality series,” “Great Leap Away From Reality series” and “Dream series.” Kyabetsu no tagui is in the Dream series, and Ie ga toi is in the Great Leap Away From Reality series. It’s not like I plan to write a particular series of plays, it just turns out that way.

All of your plays have elements of comedy. Do you want the audience to laugh?
I’ve never thought much about it. I have to admit that it’s easier for me when there is laughter. I said before that it was ludicrous that even though we are dying we feel like we are living. It’s basically absurd. To make a huge generalization, you could say that that is the true basis of all comedy.
    I just remembered something. You could say that laughter is very close to aggression. Once, on TV, I saw people who believed in supernatural powers debating those who didn’t believe in it. At some point, someone came out and used his supernatural power to bend a piece of steel. Those who didn’t believe laughed when they were unable to explain how it had happened. That laughter sounded aggressive to me. It might be that I see manifestations of aggression in my own laughter and the laughter of others. I saw a documentary on Mother Theresa once, and it never showed her laughing. It might be that Mother Theresa experienced laughter as being linked to aggression and she refrained from doing it.

On another topic, a lot of your plays have female characters named Kanako. Is there a reason for this?
    It’s difficult to choose names for characters. Names that are cool sound narcissistic. I give names levels. Common Japanese family names such as Tanaka and Sato are level 1, Maeda is level 2. Senda [the interviewer’s name] has got to be about level 4 (laughs). Given names are harder to divide up because they vary from year to year. Names like Kanako and Manami are easy to use; they’re always at about a middle level.
 
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