The Japan Foundation
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Artist Interview
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada
Who Knows We Are Not Injured like the Others? (2010)
(Feb. 14 – 26, 2010 at ST Spot; Mar. 1 – 10, 2010 at Yokohama Museum of Art, Lecture Hall)
This play depicts events following the historic administration change from the Liberal Democratic Party’s long decades in power to the forming of the new government by the Democratic Party of Japan following the Lower House elections of Aug. 30, 2009. The play unfolds with actors making their entrances and exits on a bare stage space with no set. What appears to be a normal, happily married couple who are about to move to their new high-rise condominium are spending time at home as usual. We see the planned visit of the wife’s colleagues to the home. After they leave, the couple is alone again at night …. This ambitious work attempts to use the actors’ physical presence and actions as a medium to communicate the “insecurity within happiness” or the “happiness within insecurity” lodged in the hearts and minds of the audience.
Who Knows We Are Not Injured like the Others?
Photo: Kazuyuki Matsumoto
There seems to be a definitive difference in the system of work creation between Europe, where works are created n the theater context, and Japan, where the creative work is company-based. Last year you did several productions in succession at public theaters in Japanc.
I have made a number of statements in the past about frustrations in working with [Japan’s] public theaters. As you can clearly see from watching our chelfitsch works, the type of work I want to do, what I want to achieve as a director, can only be achieved through the actors. The level I work on is not one that involves concepts, or creating sets, or interpretation of plays or the roles involves. I can only exercise my abilities or worth as a director through the strength of the actors’ performances themselves. So it is very difficult to bring out that kind of strength of performance I want from a new actor that the [public] theater has chosen for me to work with and in their short timetable. I should rather say that it is impossible.
 There is also the issue of the production span that these theaters want to work on. They are thinking that a work’s lifespan will be just one month, or they may even think that a two-week span with 20 performances is enough. By nature, a work of theater becomes more mature through repeated performances. Furthermore, you can certainly say that a work with a longer lifespan and more performances should make it easier to recover the production costs. But, these theaters are trying to do it all in two weeks. Their whole production concept is based on the assumption that the work will be short-lived.

Does that mean that the European system makes you better able to undertake the challenges you want?
From now, I have to live for the rest of my lifetime, so I will be in trouble if I am “consumed” too quickly. I have to live in a way that that doesn’t happen. So, I have to keep pursuing the things I want to do and create works that have real strength, and I have to keep doing that for the rest of my lifetime. Of course I may retire some time (laughs), but as long as I am living as an artist, that is what I have to do. So, I can’t afford to let myself be “consumed” too easily. Still, there is always the fear that one will be consumed and left behind and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m always in a race with my tires wearing down and having to ask myself, can I win this race, or will I lose (laughs).
 With regard to that fear of being consumed, Europe provides an environment where one work can be performed many times, and that has given us the prospect of continuing this as a career. It is an environment where we can experience the joy of slowly bringing the works we have put so much effort into creating to maturity and to have that process functioning on a solid financial base.

But in Europe, as well, there is always the fear of being “consumed.”
Certainly there is, and it is something that I may have been worrying about. Five Days in March is in a sense a “lucky” work that was created without any concern for such things, but I did have the concern afterwards that it might end as a one-shot success. So, after that, the question arises as to whether the next work you create intentionally from scratch will reach the audiences as Five Days in March did. But the essence of the problem is not whether it is well received or not, or whether it goes beyond the localism of the Japanese setting. The essence, I believe, is whether, as an artist, you are able to rise above your past work. It is sad if the representative works listed in your resume are from decades ago, but in some cases that is a fact, and it is something that you have to fight as an artist. Or you may just live on past laurels. That is why doing Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech at HAU and having it be a success was so meaningful, I believe.

By the way, you had a period when you were also working for the theater ST Spot in Yokohama, and you served as festival director at Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo. What kind of influence does working in positions like that have on an artist?
That depended on the artist. In my case, the time I spent at ST Spot was not the kind of experience that can be talked about on the level of whether it was “useful” for my career. Rather, it is something at the very core of what I am today. For example, it was a complete coincidence from my standpoint that ST Spot happened to be a space with a strong commitment to dance. But, thanks to that, I was able to meet artists like Natsuko Tezuka, and encounter dance, which until that time had held no interest in whatsoever. There were so many things like that which I was able to gain from by working there. I feel very fortunate in that sense.
 This is just my case, but that curiosity, or that receptivity to the things that can happen to you is probably a necessity. This is a matter of the individual artist I believe, and there are some environments that tend to rob the artist of these kinds of opportunities. All I can say is that I would like to see those kind of negative circumstances not occurring.
 Anyway, I feel it would be a bit irresponsible to say that these kinds of positive encounters are just a matter of fate or fortune, but I consider myself to have been very fortunate. Also, I think it was good that I was completely unknown for a long time until I won the Kishida Drama Award. I think that was very fortunate for me.

It would seem natural that coming to perform overseas would lead you to experience new worlds and meet a variety of new audiences, which would expand the actual realities you can experience. Despite this, do you think the things you portray will remain unchanged?
I am of a generation that people joke about as being only able to portray things “within a 3-meter radius.” So, even if we go abroad and see worlds previously unknown to us, I imagine that the tendency to portray things within a 3-meter radius will not change. And looking at myself, I can’t imagine it changing. But, I do feel that I am now much more conscious of the 3-meter framing. I definitely find myself to be increasingly aware of that sense of portraying things within that 3-meter radius. I think that awareness is evident in my latest work Who Knows We Are Not Injured Like the Others? For example, if I were asked why the setting for Five Days in March is the Shibuya district of Tokyo when there are plenty of other possible cities in the world like New York or Baghdad, until now that was not something I was thinking about.

What do you think is the value in performing those works written about a 3-meter radius being performed in distant lands?
I think the values lies in the audience. For example, the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Brussels is held in the context of the local issues of that city and its region, such as multi-cultural and immigrant populations, as an opportunity to stimulate thought on these issues. So, at least I believe that there should be some value in the audiences there seeing a work that defines conditions of another culture like Japan.
 I believe that probably the purpose of theater is not to show something to the audience, such as showing the moving emotions of a drama, but to change the audience with what you present. That doesn’t mean changing their entire character but giving them something.
 It is only recently, however, that I came to think this way. When I think about it, I realize that I have come to use the word “audience” more and more in my directing. For example, I am now saying to the actors, “Think about what you can do to change the audience rather than about what the realities are to you or the problems you are dealing with in your own consciousness” In my opinion, that is eventually the concept that Brecht had. Not in the sense of what is known as Brecht style theater, but in the sense that the system we call theater is in fact something for the audience, a system intended to do something to the audience. In other words, it is not a matter of how much reality you can bring to your staging of the drama within the play, but how you can bring a change in the audience. Isn’t that where the true meaning of theater lies?
 In that sense, I feel that Brecht lies at the foundation of European theater today. That is why we see things [in Europe] today like a form of theater where the audience is seated in the cargo compartment of a trailer truck and driven around to give them an experience of the trucking business and get them to think about the distribution system. That is by no means a strange form of theater but, rather, a very appropriate form. Because it is a way to change the audience, and that is what theater is about.
 It is only recently, however, that I have come to realize these obvious truths. In fact, it may be just in the past few days that I have come to feel this so clearly. As I wrote in my message for the in-theater pamphlet for Who Knows We Are Not Injured Like the Others?, I have been making plays until now about contemporary life, or the state of being weak and unmotivated, or being languid, or about physical movement, and until recently those had been ends. But now they are beginning to become means instead of ends, I feel. Instead, the goal is becoming how to do something to the audience. It may be a complete misunderstanding on my part, but I believe that is what Brecht was saying we should do.
 
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