The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Serious postmodern comedy  Keralino Sandorovich
Serious postmodern comedy  Keralino Sandorovich
Nylon 100°C 34th Session
Setagaya Kafka

(Sep. 28 – Oct. 12, 2009 at Honda Theatre)
Written and directed by Keralino Sandorovich
Setagaya Kafka
Photo: Nobuhiko Hikiji
In 1992 your Gekidan Kenko theater company disbanded and in ’93 you switched to the theater unit Nylon 100°C. What was the reason for that change?
Although there were some exceptions like Colorful Mary, Kenko was primarily a team that specialized in doing nonsense comedies. My goal was Monty Python. One of the reasons for the disbandment was that I was beginning to see the limitations in continuing to do the same kinds of works. I started to feel lost what is really funny. It might be that the funniest thing would be nothing happens in the drama. (Laugh) Considering the very equivocal in nature of criteria for judgments about the quality of a play, or the quality of actors, I was personally wondering if it couldn’t be possible to adopted a wider perspective and do a variety of different kinds of plays from based on different senses of value. That was the idea behind launching Nylon 100°C.
 For example, the first play we did as Nylon 100°C was pretty similar to what we had been doing in Kenko, but the second play, SLAPSTICKS, combined critical biography and melodrama aspects, and after that we were so encouraged that we began doing works that experimented with all possible kinds of dramatic expression and staging.

After launching Nylon 100°C, you began to produce more works—as many as five or six a year—that were also quite varied in nature. There were your old type of nonsense comedies, critical biographies, science fiction comedies and very serious tragic comedies. Such variety in works is surely rare for a playwright.
I do such variety because I am scared of getting bored (laughs). Also, it is not that I think there is no such thing as failure for me—because there are times when things go well and times when they don’t—but I feel that rather than not doing things for fear of failure, it is better to try a lot of things in hopes that afterward I can look back and feel that some of them went well. I believe that every time I get a spark of inspiration for a work, I should follow through on it and bring it to the stage. If I didn’t think this way, I don’t believe there is any way I could produce as many works as I do.

When you create a work, what kinds of things inspire you, and what is your working process to bring a work to completion?
There is no process, it is just a hectic rush right up to the moment the curtain rises on opening day (laughs). Take my latest work “Tokyo Gekko Makyoku” (Tokyo tale of moonlight magic), began from film footage of Japan in the early Showa Period (beginning from 1925) that I happened to see on YouTube. The film was in color, which means that it was taken by a foreign visitor to Japan, because there was no color film in Japan at the time. The footage of places like Asakusa in Tokyo had been well maintained and was in very good condition. I was also inspired by reading copies of the magazine Shinseinen, whose contributing writers included people like Junichiro Tanizaki and Edogawa Ranpo before they became famous. They were full of the vitality and creative energy of prewar Japan and they made me imagine that would be interesting to write a detective story set in Tokyo in that period. When a few things like this come together by coincidence, they have a strong effect on me and push me to create. It is not that I have a special belief in fate but I do feel that materials for a work come together naturally for me.

In 2001 you wrote the critical biography Kafka’s Dick and last year you presented a trilogy of plays based on Kafka’s three novels The Trial, The Castle and The Castaway/Amerika, and the three plays were performed together as “Setagaya Kafka.” Judging from this, Kafka would appear to be an important influence for you. Did you read his works from your high school years?
Yes, but I first didn’t understand much of what I was reading. And I fell The Castle by the wayside many times. What stays with you after reading Kafka is not so much the story as a certain scenes or situations, don’t you feel? For example the scene of the courtroom packed with people or a scene of bankers being concentrated on typing at the typewriter, or a scene of people being whipped in a company warehouse. I was the kind who liked scary folk tales or children’s stories and I think I read Kafka as an extension of such stories. I also liked (Gabriel) Marquez, Tove Jansson and, of course, the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales.
 Kafka’s Metamorphosis was short and easy to understand, and as usual, once I read it I wanted to know what other things he had written, so I went on to read his other works. It surprised me at the time to find that Kafka died at the age of 40 without ever receiving recognition as a professional writer and that we only have his works today because of his friend Max Brod. That, in turn, fed back into my reading of his works. Kafka’s life was so mysterious itself and attractive so as himself. When you read collections of his letters you find that he had his human side and then an inflexible, selfish side that led to failings, and that was interesting to me.

Among your plays there are many in which you have the comedy on the one hand but at the same time you have a world that is steadily falling apart. Some representative works of this type are your 2003 play Harudin Hotel, in which the situation of a hotel celebrating the 10th anniversary of its opening is used to show the “10 years later” state of the original guests who stayed there on the opening night, and your 2004 play Disappearance in which the main characters are two brothers living in the world after “the war to end all wars.”
I guess I just have a hard time being optimistic that things will get better in time. When people of my generation were children there was a feeling that the 21st century would be a wonderful world where everything was rosy, and that was supported by positive images in our culture like the “Atom Boy” anime series, but as we grew older the predominant feeling was that things would actually not get better. I think that perhaps the last symbol of the brighter world to come was YMO. But even at that time, I think many people were listening to their techno-pop music with a feeling that there was something fake about it. After that, I felt that it wasn’t right to be optimistic and have hopes for the future. That may be why I am attracted less to ideas of Utopia and more toward Dystopia.
 In terms of human relations too, I tend to write mostly about cruel situations where people’s good intentions in fact turn out to have bad effects, and my interest lies in how the characters then deal with those situations. This may be because I was often troubled by human relations when I was a child. For example, if there is a person A and person B present and the three of us are talking, but then, when B leaves and A starts talking about B in a different tone, I would always have trouble dealing with that. I think this may be a trivial thing that all children feel, but I probably had more trouble with it than my friends.
 For some reason I never forget those experiences. And I will use those incidents in the plays I write now at lease once to get a laugh. I get the feeling that I am clearing up past debts so to speak by turning those things I couldn’t solve or the things that hurt me as a child into comic devices.

Watching your plays, I get the feeling that all of the characters have two faces, the face they show to others and another inner face. It feels as if the script might also be written with two separate lines for the outer face and the inner face and the choice of which line to deliver would change the course of the plot development; as if saying, “In this situation we will bring out the outer face, so use this line.” Do you have that type of sense regarding the characters’ faces?
Ryo Iwamatsu, for example, says that people don’t say what they are thinking. The spoken lines are a relative thing because people don’t put their thoughts in words like they did in Shakespeare’s day. I believe there is truth to that but, on the other hand, I would tend to take an eclectic approach and say that isn’t it in fact a matter of degrees. People say things they believe and they also say things they don’t believe, so is there really a need to say it is one or the other? And that approach may take on the appearance of presenting an outer character and an inner character.
 However, when I am directing actors, I stress the fact that people don’t necessarily say what they think. I say that because actors have the tendency to equate the lines of the script with emotions. Or they tend to take extreme interpretations such as believing that the lines are meant to be deceptive because the character is in fact telling a lie. I guess I prefer a looser stance in which I might say to them, “It is actually something more vague,” or “You often don’t really know the real meaning of what you are saying at the moment you say it.”
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