The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The view from an energy void  Playwright Shiro Maeda's Sense of Wonder
Gotandadan production Sayonara Boku no Chiisana Meisei (Farewell, My Moment of Fame)
(Oct. 27 – Nov. 5, 2006 at Komaba Agora Theatre)
A playwright calling himself “I” (boku) decides to donate one of the Kishida Drama Awards presented to him by his girlfriend to a poor country. While he is away, a snake living in his room swells up as it tries to swallow the girlfriend, the entire world, and by extension the play itself. These two symbolic episodes gradually converge arbitrarily to create a dreamlike rambling story. The authorfs own experience of having twice been nominated for but failing to win the Kishida Drama Award also becomes a motif.
Farewell, My Moment of Fame
Farewell, My Moment of Fame
Play of the Month

Ftari iru Keshiki
Flyer of Gotandadan's 2006 production Ftari iru Keshiki
(Production note by Maeda autograph)
Since 2005 when you made your debut as a novelist with Ai demo nai, seishun demo nai, tabi datanai (Not Really Love, Nor Youth, Nor a Trip), you’ve been nominated for a number of literary awards. So, you’ve made a name for yourself in this genre, too.
    I’m ignorant about novels, so I can write as ridiculously as I please. No one can ever accuse me of doing something someone else has done before. At first, it was the same with plays, but as I gradually learned to tell which lines were good and which were terrible, I unconsciously began to censor the language I used. If I avoid using sensational lines, the play grows dull. If they sound sophisticated, all my plays will start sounding alike. I hear that lots of Koreans have plastic surgery. The more sophisticated people look with their surgically altered faces, the more they will all begin to look alike.
    In the old days, work was refined according to different types of information, so they didn’t resemble each other, but in our day and age there isn’t much difference in the information cards we all hold, so the more we refine, the more things are alike. The only way to deal with this is to keep information out or stop refining our work. What I respect about otaku is that they keep most information out, and show their originality by sticking to only specialized information.

What type of director are you? There are some who really push their actors.
    As a director, I first have to believe in the play (script) itself. I also have to believe in the actors. I trust them to put everything they have into it. Even if an actor can’t do the part, I have to believe that it is still the result of his or her best effort, and I must accept it. Directors who push their actors are able to get superhuman efforts out of them, but nobody is looking for anything superhuman in any of my plays. I want the actors to show transcendence at certain moments, but basically, I want my actors to look like normal, everyday people on the stage.

You also act in your plays.
    I’m always burdened with myself as the director, so when I get up on the stage, I’m aware of the audience and the other actors and influenced by them both. As an actor, I’m a little too sensitive to work with (laughs). I do a good job at times, but I can’t keep it up. It’s okay to have one sensitive actor, but actors who are much less aware of things are stronger.

The rumor is that you don’t have the ambition to move into commercial theater.
    If becoming a major player means making more money, my family is already well off, so I don’t need to focus on that. I’m just not interested in major pieces.
    People get impressed by loud sounds and beautiful lighting easily, and get excited just hearing a drum beating out a regular rhythm. It’s easy to be moved if someone comes up and grabs you by the collar and shakes you, but it’s just a form of catharsis, like giving someone an injection to make them cry. And that’s what ends up happening. Then you don’t need art. My plays might end up at the same point as others, but you can’t always be looking in the direction of the same exit.
    Good stories and plots are not that complicated, and you can create a sort of pattern. You could even program them into a computer and have the computer do the writing for you. You might get something interesting out of it, but if you want to do it yourself, you’ll just be competing with the computer in terms of speed, and you won’t be able to win. The human unconscious is the only weapon that can beat a computer.
    In Idainaru seikatsu no boken, the main character is sleeping next to a woman who may or may not be his lover. It’s hard to put into words, but there is something very human about it. You couldn’t express something like this in a major dramatic production where you have to be able to reach at least eighty percent of the population. With my plays, I’m aiming for the remaining twenty percent.
    It’s the same with television series. You have to make the audience feel good, so you leave the uncomfortable parts to reality to handle and portray only the fun parts. But if you’re going to portray life and death, you’ve got to include the unpleasant parts and the parts that are irritating. The film director, Kazuo Hara’s documentary film Yukiyukite shingun (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On; about a man who devotes years to a politically unpopular cause] made this clear to me. My impression when I saw it was that nothing could be this unpleasant. True art includes aspects that are painful and sad. That movie taught me that art has got to resemble real life.

Are you interested in performing overseas or in collaboration with foreign artists?
    It would be great just to go on an overseas trip (laughs). It would be difficult to get the subtitles right, but maybe works like Idainaru seikatsu no boken and Nagaku toiki, which are only about twenty percent speaking would appeal to foreign audiences who can relate to the lewd parts that anyone can understand. Improper subjects are ones that are easy to get audiences to share. In my workshop, I often use situations where someone is trying to hold their pee in. I have actors do an exercise where they are in a Ferris wheel trying to hold it in and they have to attempt to make a marriage proposal before the Ferris wheel goes around once. That’s an easy one for people to relate to.
    A few years ago, I thought it might be fun to do Oyasumanasai (Good Night; a play about a man who gets lonely when his partner falls asleep, so he tries to keep that person awake) with a Japanese actor speaking English. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to do a collaboration, though, until I can find an artist who would respect it.

This is my last question. I’d like to ask about your performances this year. In June, your new work, Majiriau koto, kieru koto (Mixing Together and Disappearing) is going to be produced by Akira Shirai and performed at the New National Theatre, Tokyo. In September, you are going to be producing Aya no tsuzumi (The Damask Drum) from Yukio Mishima’s “Five Modern Noh Plays.” How do you feel about your first attempts to both let someone else direct a play of yours, and direct a play written by someone else?
    As for the former, I tried to write without thinking about someone else doing the production, but it gradually began to bother me…. I make gaps when I write. Normal conversation lacks integration and begins to wander; it goes in directions I didn’t intend it to. When someone reads the script, I’m sure he will feel that it lacks coherence. It is left to production to give the piece the coherence that is not evident in the script. So it makes me think that no one but me can do the production. When I start thinking like that, it’s difficult to move on. I tend to write a rough draft and then begin to make revisions. I usually go through about fifteen drafts, but this time I’m doing even more, and I’m still not done.
    “The Damask Drum” was an offer made to me by the theater. I had never read much Mishima before, but I’m interested in what I see as Mishima’s strategic nihilism and the way he gets it across. The piece has parts that laugh at love in a nihilistic way. I’m hoping to communicate that. There are many actors who I don’t know, and I won’t know how it will go until we begin to rehearse. Actors will only stretch in the direction they want to, and that might influence what I want to do with the piece.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |