|Subaru The Third Stage
Neko no Koi, Subaru ha Ten ni Noboritsume
(Premiere, July-Aug. 2006, Sanbyakunin Gekijo)
Many years have passed since her father left for work one day and disappeared and Sakura, who has kept up the traditions of the grand old family’s home all by herself, has now reached the age of 43. The only one living the big house with her is the old cat Masa-chan, some 15 years of age. Due to the intervention of relatives who are concerned about Sakura living alone and more than happy to get involved, a groom has been found for an arranged marriage and the engagement gifts have been exchanged. But it turns out that the prospective groom, Masao Akata is from a family where everyone seems to be hiding a problem. Amidst the intricate tangle of thoughts and feelings of the people around her, an “unexpected person” suddenly appears who is apparently more solicitous than anyone of Sakura’s welfare.
|In 2006 you moved to another school, but since then you have continued to write plays for the Aomori Chuo High School drama club and continue to be involved with them in other ways I hear. It seems like your actions and accomplishments have brought changes to the high school theater world. Do you feel that in any way?
If I were to comment professionally as a teacher, at first our school was at the lower end of general high schools in terms of standard deviation scores but with the drama club’s achievements I feel that we gave some more pride at least to the students in the liberal arts. In fact we were able to compete five times in the national high school drama contest, which only eleven schools in the country qualify for, and we were champions two of those times. I think it is a good thing that our students were able to say that their high school were national champions in theater when they went to college entrance or employment interviews. And it is not just something that the members of our drama club could enjoy, it has to be a point of pride for the entire school.
However, when I think about how it is at other schools and in the Aomori region, I am afraid that it is still the exception rather than the rule. Aomori Chuo High School may be doing it, but what about the rest? Still, I believe that more people should get the message that high school theater can be a viable platform for providing people for the local theater world, not only in Aomori but in all regions. In many regions, high school theater may only place where that can serve that role.
After graduating from high school, maybe half of them will leave for Tokyo or other cities, but I believe that after they become mature members of society, having experienced high school theater may be a great opportunity, a chance to have them continue to be good theater people and good theater audience and good at expressing themselves in other ways. They don’t all need to become actors or staff, but even if they have an experience of encountering theater there and feeling the positive and interesting qualities of it, that is enough. After that the things that can be learned are limitless. I believe that high school theater is the best place to get the foundation that will lead to the possibility for lots of realizations later on. In my case I am working with high school students in Aomori, but this applies in any region and it also connects to an important issue for the theater world as a whole, nurturing and building an audience.
I would like to ask you about your activities not only as an actor but also as a playwright and director. Can you tell us what led to those activities.
Actually, before I began writing for Hirosaki Theater, I began writing radio dramas. There was warlord in the Warring States Period named Tsugaru Tamenobu, who was the lord of the Tsugaru Domain, and was about 30 years younger than Oda Nobunaga and of the same generation as Uesugi Kagekatsu and others. There had been a serial manga in the local newspaper Mutu Shinpou about his career until the time when he and his child built the Tsugaru Castle. A request came to Hirosaki Theater from the local radio station saying that they wanted to make a radio drama based on it. It was a request directed at the company’s leader and playwright, Koji Hasegawa, but he was too busy to do it, so it was passed on to me. The only experience I had with writing was some things I wrote for an art textbook, but since I always tend to go with the flow, I thought, “Hey, I can do this.” (Laughs)
The program’s title was “Manji no Shiro Monogatari (Tale of the Castle of the Buddhist Cross) and it was scheduled to run in ten-minute sequels five days a week from Monday to Friday. The actual broadcast time was about eight minutes, so it required a script of about five 400-word pages. That wasn’t an easy amount for an amateur to write, but as I did the research and made trips to the actual castle ruins and other historical sites, I got more and more interested in the story. Now researching old literature and records has become one of my hobbies. At first they were saying that it would be nice if the program continued for three months or so, but it has continued for 15 years now and more than 3,000 sequels. We were fortunate that some business company in Hirosaki became the sponsor for the program, and it has the highest listener rating for any of the station’s original programs. The station has told me to continue it forever (laughs).
That program led to jobs writing other radio dramas and although no one makes a big deal about it, I have secretly won four big radio awards in the Geijutsusai Award, the Galaxy Grand Prix, the Minkan Hoso Renmei Award and the Hoso Kikin Award (laughs). Writing for radio really gave me hard-earned experience as a writer.
The first work I wrote for Hirosaki Theater was in 2000. It was the play Shomei I mentioned earlier, which was a rewritten version of a play I wrote for our high school theater. The Theater had a policy of having two writers, but with the conditions of the Agency of Cultural Affairs grant that I mentioned earlier requiring that we do four productions a year, they needed more writing and I happened to be the closest one at hand.
So you write for high school theater and write plays and direct for the theater company and also write for radio. In addition, you are now writing plays for outside companies as well. How do you switch gears to do the different types of writing?
There is no switching gears involved at all, for the way of thinking or the writing method. For the high school drama club and for my Watanabe Genshiro Shoten company that I started in 2005 after leaving the Hirosaki Theater, and also in the radio jobs, there are first of all actors or staff that I want to create something with and my creative process begins by thinking what I can create that would make them happy. The process is the same for all of these.
So, you are saying that the inspiration when you write comes more from the presence of the actors or staff than the play’s subject matter?
Yes. I get an idea like, “it would be interesting to have actress so-and-so play a widow.” And then that connects to an interesting subject. That’s the usual order of occurrence. There are subjects that I have interest in at the time, like the death penalty or bullying among children, but the scenarios don’t come directly from the subject but from thinking about what would bring out an interesting side of the actor I’ll be working with, and the story then evolves from churning ideas over and over in my head. And it is the same when I write for other companies. When Gekidan Subaru asked me to write a play for them I asked them to first give me some time to get to know the actors. Over the course of a year I went to all the company’s performances and then wrote the play Neko no Koi, Subaru wa Ten ni Noboritsume (2006).
Another thing I make a point of doing is to make sure that what I write is not something that could not have been written any place besides Aomori. Take a subject like the “Death Sentence” and I believe the way people will think about it is different in Aomori and Tokyo. There is no reason to write something in Aomori that could have been written in Tokyo. There is a distance of about 700 kilometers between Tokyo and Aomori. This distance means a difference in climate that surely creates clear differences in its people and environment, and in this sense it can provide potent “weapons” for creating works if used to advantage.
However, the director for the works I wrote for Subaru, director Ryo Kuroiwa of Seinen-za, advised me that there are times when I shouldn’t put unnecessary importance on that approach. When he directed Neko no Koi and again when he directed Oya no Kao ga Mitai, he gave me advice like, “If you are too interested in the character of the actor, the development of the story will be sacrificed to some degree.” Or, “When there are certain aspects of human relationships you want to portray, there will be times when it will be more effective if the setting is in Tokyo rather than Aomori.” So I am now more flexible regarding that rule I have applied in my work.