(Jul. 2008 at Osaka Geijutsu Sozokan)
(Aug. 2007 at Biwako Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Shiga)
The Cherry Orchard
(Oct. 2008 at Kichijoji Theatre)
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
|When I saw the production of Chekov’s Three Sisters it thoroughly surprised me. You boldly restructured the original Chekov text but that did not result in a dissection of Chekov. On the contrary the result produced very faithful images of the original play. What’s more, your staging was completely different from the “realism theater” we have known up until now and so was the acting method. The way the lines were pronounced and the delivery were also different. How much of this unique style was formulated in your mind while you were in France?
I like television a lot, and while I was in France I often watched TV. But, on the news programs they speak so fast that I couldn’t understand much of what was being said. So, I would often find myself thinking completely different things as I watched. Every night I would come home after a day at the theater and I would turn on the TV and leave it on as I thought about the plays I watched. So, the effect was that every day I was experiencing a state where the things I was looking at and the things I was hearing were different and I was not understanding the meaning of much of the French I was hearing and things were constantly out of harmony with what I was thinking about at the time. If I was going to see a classical play, I knew I wouldn’t understand the language being used, so I would read a translation before I went, but even then I couldn’t understand the meaning. The daily repetition of those types of experiences was a form of training for me. It was from that time that I began to think that language used on stage should be even more different than what you could call “discrepancy between word and action” or naturalism in movement.
Adding new critical interpretation and changing the structure of classical play texts is something that Tadashi Suzuki has also done, isn’t it?
As I said earlier, there is naturally an influence of Suzuki-san’s work in mine. Actually, there was a period in my second and third years of college when I was thinking that I had had enough of doing theater. At that time, I would go to Shimokitazawa or Shibuya after classes and watch one play after another, perhaps 200 or so in one year. I also kept a theater diary of notes about the things I had seen. I had probably begun to look at plays critically from around that time. The ones I found interesting I would watch three times or so. There were definitely some interesting works, but on the whole I was beginning to think that I had seen enough theater and it wasn’t for me.
You were born in 1973, so that period in your life must have been in the early 1990s, wasn’t it?
Yes. And it was just when I had begun to feel that way that I had an experience I will never forget. There happened to be a flyer for SCOT’s Toga Festival in the folder for a play I went to see in Shimokitazawa. I had read Suzuki-san’s book What is Theater? (Engeki to ha Nanika) but since his plays were not performed in Tokyo, I had never actually been to see one. I thought it was something I shouldn’t miss, so I went to the festival. What I saw was a finished production what could be called Suzuki-version King Lear, and it was truly a shocking experience for me. I had seen many plays up until that point in time but I got the feeling that with this play I was seeing true “theater” for the first time. It was a great surprise for me and it left me veritably stunned and motionless for some time.
I felt that the approach to theater was completely different from anything I had seen until then. I don’t especially like Shakespeare, and I had normally felt that it was strange when Japanese actors tried to do Shakespeare. But when I saw Suzuki’s King Lear I realized that I had been missing the point of what theater really is. I realized that theater was an act of presenting something critical, and it was platform for showing the “distance” to what you have been thinking. It made me feel that I was seeing true contemporary theater for the first time.
After that I went to the Toga Festival every year and studied Suzuki-san’s approach to theater. What influenced me most from all of this was his use of the wheelchair as a stage device. I think it is amazing that he came up with that idea. Suzuki-san’s wheelchair might be considered an equivalent to the faucet that Shogo Ohta used in his Water Station plays. When an actor is sitting in the wheelchair, an automatic division between the upper body and the lower body is created. With that wheelchair he was able to give visual expression to the “story-telling body” and the “moving body.”
I realized that true directing was coming up with devices like this wheelchair. It has been more than just a case of me being influenced by Suzuki-san, I have even done a good bit of outright stealing from him (laughs). It is not an exaggeration to say that is how I staged Three Sisters. And it is the same with the human-sized baskets used in [Suzuki’s] Ivanov (Chekov). When the actors are wearing those baskets, they can hide inside and then poke their head out of the basket suddenly and then pull it back in. The audience laughs, but it is in fact no laughing matter. Because using those baskets provides you with the means for instantaneous stage entrances and exits. I thought that inventing devices like this is something that a director can and should do.
When the Three Sisters production was ready I wrote a letter to Suzuki-san and told him that a young director he has never met has finally created a stage that I could show him with pride. And he actually came to the performance and praised me for it. That made me feel—perhaps prematurely—that I could finally leave my mentors behind and strike out on my own. It also got me thinking about what I could do that even Suzuki-san hasn’t done yet.
What made you decide to move your base of operations to Kyoto?
The fact that I had gone independent from Seinendan and the fact that Kyoto is something like Paris. And I also thought that the size of the city is just right and it is an easy place to put works together. My father was a company man who was constantly being shifted to offices around the country, so I was used to moving here and there since childhood, and personally I am not one who feels rooted to any particular place. Like a pro baseball player who is willing to move to any city that has a good franchise.
I would like to ask you about the stage art and sets that your company Chiten creates. To me the sets appear simple, symbolic and beautiful. I hear that you place importance of staff-work, but can you tell us how the set planning is done?
We hold repeated staff meetings. I don’t go into the meetings with some specific plan for the stage art that I try to communicate through drawings or the like. When I have something I want to communicate to the staff I do it only through words. And it is usually single words. For example, a word like kehai (a “sense” of something present). In my director’s notes as well, it is just individual words that I write. They are long lists of words that have come to mind or words in the original script that have caught my imagination or troubled me.
From those notes I bring out words in our meetings, like, “Three Sisters is actually a play about the fact that they can’t go to Moscow,” or, “Is it really a drama about the fact they can’t go to Moscow?” Or, in meetings we may have exchanges like, “The prop is going to be pajamas,” then, “Maybe it should be a negligee,” then, “No, make it a bed sheet.” Then when we actually try it, I may say, “I guess this won’t work.” Then the stage artist takes that home and thinks about it until the next meeting to make a new proposal that we will then work on again in the rehearsals. In that process of trial and error we will try things and drop them, try something else and drop it, until we gradually find the things we want.
So, what I have in my own head is not images but only words. It is the feelings = connections that are born from words. For example, “ennui.” What I want to do appears from out of words like that. Taking those words as hints, the actors think about their lines, the stage artist thinks about the set, the lighting artist thinks about the light design. That is how it works. We all explore the feelings = connections that are born from words like that as we create a work. Then we talk and come to conclusions like, “This may be good.” However, in the end I am the one who makes the final decisions about what the audience will see. Which often involves shifting things to the right or left in increments down to one centimeter.
You mean with the final parts of the set?
Yes. I think there is something inside that even I am not aware of. I am not a writer. I don’t even have the desire to write. I have never thought that I wanted to become a painter. I have never thought of giving expression to something I created all by myself. I like to “watch” things. I like to watch something in a particular environment and then try moving it around. That is why I always say to the staff, “There is nothing that I want to be done.” (Laughs)