The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Serious postmodern comedy  Keralino Sandorovich
Serious postmodern comedy  Keralino Sandorovich
Nylon 100°C 32nd Session 15years Anniversary, Double casted play
Sharp-san, Flat-san

Black team (above)
White team (bottom)
Written and directed by Keralino Sandorovich
(Sep. – Oct., 2008 at Honda Theatre)
Sharp-san, Flat-san
Sharp-san, Flat-san
Photo: Nobuhiko Hikiji
Play of the Month
You have written some works like Disappearance that involve only a few characters, but most of your plays involve larger groups of characters. Is this something that you do for a specific purpose?
It is easier for me to write a play involving a larger number of characters. When presenting a specific moment in time, for some reason I have a reluctance to letting one character carry too much of its specific gravity. When the final curtain comes down there is some degree of conclusion to the story. However, rather that thinking of that as the complete conclusion to everything, I always have the feeling that things will continue after that. It may sound strange to put it this way, but I write a play with a sense that the falling of the curtain is a tentative ending of sorts and beyond that point I still take responsibility within my own mind for the ongoing existence of the characters that I have introduced.

Last year you wrote the play Ando-ke no Ichiya (One night of the Ando family) for the senior-citizen theater company Saitama Gold Theatre. It is a play involving a large number of characters in a story about an aged teacher and the former students that have gathered around him in his final days. There is foolishness and there are desires, and there is also a magical world combining elements of the real and the unreal that appears rather Fellini-esque in flavor. Ninagawa’s directing was also outstanding, but I was moved greatly by your wonderful script as well. It must have been very difficult for you to write parts for all of the 42 middle-aged and elderly actors in that play.
I don’t feel that I fully wrote the parts individually for each character, maybe half. In fact, the script wasn’t finished when it should have been, so I had them send me a DVD of them working in their studio rehearsals and then wrote the parts for the people as I saw them. But, actually it is much easier to write that way for a large group of 40-some actors. The play turned out well because of the strength of the actors. It is not a matter of acting skills but of human strength, I feel.

In the last few years you have written a couple of plays about writers, including the 2007 play Waga Yami (My darkness), where one of the main characters is a novelist, and the 2008 play Sharp-san and Flat-san, involving a playwright no longer able to deal with the changing times. Do their stories overlap with your own life in some ways?
Of course they do. There is the well-known expression for writers that if you fall into a writer’s slump you can always write about a writer in a writer’s slump. But I had always thought that writing about not being able to write is an act of admitting the fact that you are unable to write, so I had always avoided bringing writers into my plays as characters. However, once I accepted the simple fact that writing about a writer rather than about a person in a profession completely different from my own offered more possibilities for insights, I was able to write about writers without any of the old fears. In the case of Sharp-san and Flat-san, it was not the idea of writing about someone who can no longer write but the idea of writing from the perspective of “What if I had not become a writer and had taken some other path in life?”

Earlier you spoke about being part of a generation that finds it hard to be optimistic about the future. Playwrights Suzuki Matsuo and Oriza Hirata are of your same generation. Do you find any things in common with these writers?
I believe there are things we have in common. I believe it is the same as with contemporaries in the rock world. For one thing, we were watching the same plays by Kohei Tsuka and Shuji Terayama at the same time in our lives.
 I lived in the Ebisu district of Tokyo as a child and Terayama-san’s Tenjo Sajiki theater was in our neighborhood. When I was in middle school I often walked down Meiji Avenue to the Aoyama district to see Tsuka-san’s plays at the VAN 99 Hall. I first saw a Hideki Noda play, Niman Nanasen Konen no Tabi (A 27,000 light-year journey), when I was in high school. But, as for angura (Underground) theater, I thought it was amazing in some way but I never felt that I wanted to be like them. I felt that I was different from them.
 The company “Radical Gajiberibinba System” that I encountered later was purely live versions of Monty Python-type comedy. The fact that both Suzuki Matsuo and I were inspired by them is evidence that we shared some of the same sensibilities. But he is someone with full of complexes who was driven to quit his job as a company employee and leave his home in Fukuoka to come to Tokyo on his own and make his career, while I am someone who was born and raised in Tokyo, where I could see anything I wanted. He overcame adversity and used that as his impetus, while I never had any adversities to overcome. I look at his work and see how he is able to create plays based on his own life. And I realize that I never had the complexes that he has as a result of his life. So I was jealous with him in that way. Well, you could say that as Tokyoites our only strength is in being raised in Tokyo, so we have to make the best of it. But, although we both have our successes and failures, when I see at Matsuo-san’s works I get a clear feeling for the things he is trying to express and I realize that it is based in shared sensibilities of our generation. He has been such a playwright I believe in the most.

If you were to put it in words, how would you describe some of the sensibilities you two share as members of the same generation?
I think the first to give form to it was Oriza Hirata-san with what came to be called “quiet theater.” And what it was is something I believe to be an inherent embarrassment or sense of shame at being on stage in the name of theater. Matsuo-san has also said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe anyone who can stand on stage without a sense of embarrassment.” On the other hand, Noda-san, for example, seems to me to be someone how overcomes that embarrassment by experiencing the momentum of things like word play and dynamic movement on stage. That is something we of the next generation can’t do. We were only able to approach theater mentally and try to succeed on the strength of our sensitivities and ideas while admitting that we knew our limitations. I think this is a consciousness shared by many people in Japan born around 1962 – 63.

How does that “sense of shame” actually manifest itself when you are creating a work for the stage?
In my case, it begins with asking the actors to give up the idea of any unnatural posing on stage as a part of their approach to theater. Since I value words, I want to eliminate any unnecessary movement on stage as much as possible. From the beginning when I first came to the theater field, I always want the actors to have a consciousness of avoiding unnecessary movement and unnecessary appeals to the audience, to the degree that that is possible.

Listening to what you say, I get the impression that your experiences from the media lie at the base of the worlds you create in your works. And many of those experiences apparently came at a very young age from a wide range of media, both old and new that you were able to absorb. It seems to me that it is the ability to utilize these experiences as resources for your creative process that makes you unique as an artist.
In fact, I suffered seriously from asthma until the age of five. Around the age of one the doctors said I might not make it, but apparently I survived. If I was considered a precocious child, it was probably because I was mostly bedridden until the age of five. While the other children were outside playing ball, or building plastic models and playing with soccer games, I was at home in bed, where my world was only television, music and books. And, since I never gained the physical coordination a child would normally acquire in those early years, when I went to elementary school I couldn’t play like the other children, so once again I turned to books and films. I believe that is why I had a special ability to concentrate, if I do say so myself. And, I believe that the things that I absorbed during those years have an especially big influence in my creative process as a playwright and director today.
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