The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Yukio Ninagawa's new theatrical venture Confronting the realities the common people' history together with the elderly and young people
Yukio Ninagawa's new theatrical venture Confronting the realities the common people' history together with the elderly and young people
Sanada Fuunroku (rehearsal)
Sanada Fuunroku
Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
Re-evaluating Sanada Fuunroku as a Japanization of Brecht

The play you chose for the first Next Theater production is Yoshiyuki Fukuda’s Sanada Fuunroku (Tale of the Sanada Family). This play is known as a revolutionary work of historically importance in contemporary Japanese theater that premiered in 1962 directed by Koreya Senda. With the Winter Battle (fuyunojin) and Summer Battle (natsunojin) of Osaka castle in which the Edo Bakufu forces overthrew the Toyotomi clan as the setting, this is an entertainment-oriented lay with songs that depicts the accomplishments and misfortunes of Yukimura Sanada and Juyushi Sanada, while at the same time being a political play that skillfully integrates the student protest movement and anti-US-Japan security pact confrontations that shook Japan at the time. What was the reason for choosing this particular play?
When the Japanese New Theater (Shingeki) movement tried to give Japanese body and flesh to Brecht-like Theater, Yoshiyuki Fukuda was the first to actually do that. Fukuda-san’s plays were the first one’s in which theater people at the time succeeded in creating a truly Japanese alienation effect in theater. In the ensuing Small Theater (Shogekijo) playwrights Juro Kara and Tadashi Suzuki went beyond Fukuda-san to a new realm all at once, but if it weren’t for Yoshiyuki Fukuda there would not have been the foundation from which they could have made their appearance like that. That is how important Fukuda-san’s work was and how significant it is historically.
  Fukuda-san also wrote plays for the Budo-no-kai company that did “folklore theater” as well as realist theater works like Nagai Bohyo no Retsu (Long Rows of Gravestones), he re-evaluate theater, including popular theater and tried to write plays that included the perspective of the common people but also had an underlying alienation effect lie the plays of Brecht. The Brecht plays directed by people like Koreya Senda of Haiyu-za and Eitaro Ozawa were well done but they still had the scent of drama in translation somehow. Fukuda-san had digested all that and made theater that wasn’t embarrassing when performed with the Japanese physique and mannerisms.
  Eventually Fukuda-san worked with the popular theater actor Ryuji Sawa, and I think it is because they wanted to create a type of theater that embraced also the pre-modern traditional Japanese that had been forgotten by modern Japanese theater. I wanted to do plays by Fukuda because I don’t think these aspects of his work have been fully appreciated or evaluated. If I gave the young people Sanada Fuunroku as a text and explained the issues involved in the acting of it, the fact that the performance would have to have both the realism drama aspect and the alienation drama aspect, you could covered the large part of contemporary drama, which inherently includes both elements. And I chose this text with the intention of teaching both of these drama elements.

Neither the historical events of the story’s setting or the demonstrations protesting the US-Japan security agreement that are superimposed on it in the play are things that today’s young people are familiar with.
Personally, when I am working with the young people in directing this play, I don’t stress the significance of the political confrontation much. Because, if I bring the political confrontation to the forefront too much, there will be too many things that the young people don’t understand. However, it is a fact that the protestations of the students and the overall emergence of the new leftist movement in Japan is a central theme underlying this work, so I talk to them little by little about the worldwide student revolt that took place at that time.

Fukuda-san also wrote several very good works besides Sanada Fuunroku in the 1950s and 60s.
I think Hakamadare wa dokoda (Where’s the Bandit) and Nagai Bohyo no Retsu (Long Rows of Gravestones) are good works. And, besides Fukuda-san, I was also very much impressed by Kaeru shōten (Ascension of the Frog) written by Junji Kinoshita in 1951. It takes an actual incident from the political trials at the end of the war involving a serious young man who commits suicide after being interrogated as a witness and transposes the story into a frog world. I was deeply impressed by that alarming dramatic world created in that play. I saw the premiere of that play at the Mitsukoshi Theater, where actor Yasue Yamamoto ran through the audience shouting “I hate war.” It shocked me. I had never imagined that theater could be like that. The fact that I often make use of the audience space in my directing today may come from that influence (laughs). I had no idea theater could be that alive with raw emotions and feelings. It was inspiring in a very raw and fresh way.
  I can’t say this for sure unless I read them again, but I think it can be good to perform the works of playwrights like Juro Miyoshi and Matsuyo Akimoto that were in the Shingeki (New Theater) genre but were never properly recognized by the Shingeki world because of their innovative nature. The people of the younger generation know well enough about pursuing the realities of their own world, but I also believe that gaining stage experience and knowledge about plays like this that are of a different existence will eventually be meaningful when it comes to making plays for and of their generation.

So, you take texts from these avant-garde Shingeki plays that influenced you and use them for the program of Next Theater now.
Yes. There is little meaning in having older people do this, but I think it is good to young people re-read these texts. I believe it is meaningful to have them read these texts as plays and also to read them properly as a stage in the development of our cultural history.
  However, it is no easy task to get them to understand this. At this point, these works are distant enough that it is like doing a foreign play. They don’t know how to approach the text or the attitude to read them with, nor do they understand the customs of habits of the time that appear in them. It would be easier just to skip over all that and make a comic play. There is not single negative thing about learning to use the body to express things, so I want to tell them to do that.

This time you will be doing Sanada Fuunroku using only the stage area [without using the full hall] of the theater’s large hall. Why is this, when the theater also has a small hall?
The Saitama Arts Theater small hall is a little too large a space. I wanted to have them experience the close unity that is possible in a smaller space, and experience creating something using only the body. So we are creating a little theater on the stage itself as an educational experience for the actors.
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