The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Keishi Nagatsuka
Keishi Nagatsuka
Born in the 1975, Keishi Nagatsuka leads the theater production unit "Asagaya Spiders." While studying at Waseda University in 1994, he formed the theater group "Gekidan Warau Bara" (Laughing Rose Theater Company). After the dissolution of that company, Nagatsuka created the production group "Asagaya Spiders" in 1996 with the desire to do small theater productions using fewer people and not depending on the theater company format. With this group he has been active as playwright, director and actor. He has continued to expand his fields of endeavor to include writing scripts for television dramas and acting in movies while also drawing considerable attention and expectations in the theater world as a progressive director whose activities have included mounting commercial productions of contemporary Irish plays. Besides productions of his own plays, the Asagaya Spiders group has also brought together talented outside actors from the small-theater scene in productions of plays by other playwrights. Nagatsuka's own works are characterized by depictions of human relationships like between parents and children or lovers with a sense lying somewhere between reality and fiction. In 2004 his play Hataraku Otoko (Working Men) toured nine Japanese cities and drew a total audience of 14,800.
Asagaya Spiders

Wee Thomas
Wee Thomas
(original title: The Lieutenant of Inishmore)
Photo by Ryo Sekimura

After its premiere performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place, this play also enjoyed a long run in the West End. In 2003 it won the Laurence Olivier award for Best Comedy. In August of 2003, Keishi Nagatsuka directed a production of it at the Parco Theater in Tokyo. Set on the Irish island of Inishmore, this play created a sensation as a violence comedy in which young members of the Irish Republican Army kill each other in a quarrel that began over a single cat.cha's New Clothes. Became the youngest ever winner of the Otani Takejiro Award for the Super Kabuki play Shin Sangokushi.
Martin McDonagh
Born in 1971 in London, McDonagh is a playwright who debuted with the work The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 1996, a play based in the Leenane region of Ireland where his parents are from. This work won McDonagh the Evening Standard new writer award and a highly successful production the play in New York in 1998 won four Tony awards. The following works A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West completed the playwright's "Leenane trilogy." This was followed by the playwright's "Aran Island trilogy," of which The Cripple of Inishmaan has been performed in Japan at the Bungaku-za theater with the Japanese title Yume no Shima Inishmaan and in the production of the Major League Inc. under the Japanese title Billy to Helen, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore has been performed under the Japanese title Wee Thomas. In 2003 McDonagh finished a new play titles The Pillowman.
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
Keishi Nagatsuka is a leader of a new generation of contemporary theater artists who finds fantasy in the darker sides of the human character  
Born in the 1975, Keishi Nagatsuka stands out among the new generation of theater people in Japan today. He is a playwright, director and an actor who stars not only in his own plays but also other major theater and cinema productions. As a university student, Nagatsuka formed the theater production unit "Asagaya Spiders" with fellow actors Yuichiro Nakayama and Satoru Date and has since created a series of original productions in collaboration with a variety of different actors. These plays have been typified by a strong concern for narrative and have won a following especially among younger audiences for the way they explore the search for truth within the context of true-to-life human relationships. In recent years Nagatsuka has also staged foreign plays (in translation) including two works of Martin McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmore in 2003 and Pillowman in 2004. In 2004, Nagatsuka won the Asahi Performing Arts Award and the New Artist award of Arts Selection Awards of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science for directing his own play Hataraku Otoko (Working Men) and McDonaugh's The Pillowman. These awards are a clear indication of the promise Nagatsuka has shown and the great expectations the Japanese theater world has for him. Now, Nagatsuka is in the spotlight once again with the premiere of his latest play, Song of the Devil, which takes the Second World War as its theme and is the 16th play he has produced with the Asagaya Spiders. Here are excerpts from an interview with Keishi Nagatsuka during the Tokyo run of Song of the Devil which opened on March 1, 2005.
(Interviewed by Jo Meguro)

What led you to start Asagaya Spiders as a production unit?
I had worked within the context of a theater company before that and had begun to feel the limitations of what could be done in that environment. In the case of a movie, actors are selected on the basis of the role they will play and I though the same system could be applied to theater. That led me to begin working in the role of producer. My plays begin with a basic script that I write, and then play is developed from there through on-the-scene discussions, during which our two actors [Yuichiro Nakayama and Satoru Date] can make suggestions to the invited actors that we bring in for each production. They can take my play from the standpoint of actors and show the invited actors how parts might be acted out, without my having to make explanations. In that way the development work on stage moves along very well and the play begins to take shape. They [Nakayama and Date] also get new inspiration from the invited actors. If there were a unit of five or six people, I don't think things would proceed so smoothly. There is something good about the balance of a three-person unit. And, part of the reason is also that we try not to tie each other down. What's more, we are always bringing in new actors is interesting for our audience as well. So, I feel that Asagaya Spiders would not have continued to function this long if it was not a unit of three.

Earlier, you say you worked in the [theater] company format.
Yes, but it didn't work out. It wasn't a stimulating experience for me because I was there being a big fish in a little pond and always in the position where I had to be No. 1. Now I can work in a situation where I am constantly receiving inspiration from a number of people.

You write and direct and you also act. What was your original desire?
I wanted to be an actor, and in order to give myself good roles to play, I started writing (laughs). Just after I entered college I rented a small theater named Kagurazaka Die Pratze and got together with my class mates, who had been involved in sports club activities in high school and had them do a play I wrote. People liked that play more than I had expected. And, listening to the audiences laugh made me feel good. I started to think that writing could be interesting too. So, I thought I would enter the college theater company, but it didn't really look what I wanted. I decided it would be easier to do it myself, so I started my own company.
As for directing, it is only recently that I have started to really enjoy it. I had the feeling that it would be better to leave the directing up to someone else, but it is only in the last five or six years that I have started to enjoy directing.

The first play by another playwright that you directed was The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Japanese title Wee Thomas). Is it different directing another playwright's work?
When I am directing one of my own plays my mind is full of things I want to do. But with another person's play, be it The Lieutenant of Inishmore or The Pillowman, it is like there is one core, one part of the play in my mind that I really want to show. In the case of The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Wee Thomas) I had the feelings "Things go amiss because these are people who are inept in their actions and in expressing themselves" and "They are seeking something like family warmth." So I decided to believe in that main framework in directing the play. Of course I couldn't leave out the Irish problem, but I also knew that it was a problem that is hard for the Japanese audience to grasp fully. Almost everything that Martin McDonagh bases his humor and sarcasm on would be lost on a Japanese audience. So, to do this play successfully in Japan I knew I had to perhaps change those jokes.
And, to bring in the element of "warmth" that I wanted, I knew there would have to be blood. So, I spent most of the budget on blood and gunpowder and bodies. I think I was right to do that and it succeeded. I also think I was right to make it intense and not play it for joke value. You can't make comedy just funny. What both McDonagh's and my scripts have in common is that they are made humorous but with a deliberate seriousness. If you don't make the actors dead serious it is not interesting. I obeyed one of the basic rules of comedy, that the actors be dead serious in their comic situation.

Opinion was divided about your use of violence with the acts of the terrorists and the killings in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. What are your thoughts about expressions of violence?
The plays I saw in high school were supposedly expressions of the pain in people's hearts at the time, but they always seemed unconvincing to me and I asked myself, "Is that all there is to it?" If you are too pretty in your portrayal of characters, we in the audience who are not living that kind of pretty life will not be interested in it. I think real people are more earthy, unfinished beings. For example, when something makes me feel bad I don't say, "Well, I guess I'll put on some dancing music to make myself feel happy." At times like that, I believe that you should listen to sad music and try to find the "light" in it. But, even if there is a sad tone to the music I offer, that doesn't mean I don't want to offer a saving light [to the audience]. I definitely want to offer some kind of salvation. But I believe that salvation in that case comes from finding the light. I don't like looking at just bright, happy exteriors. I want to see the back side of things too. That doesn't necessarily involve violence, but at the same time there are stories that violence can't be left out of.
In the case of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, I liked the feeling of being taken into a strange world where you don't know what's happening and there is gunpowder exploding in the theater and it may work and may not and you're not sure what is going to happen. It's very tightly and minutely composed and I also think it is good entertainment.

As a playwright, do you think you have something in common with McDonagh?
When I first read McDonagh's plays I was very surprised to find something similar to Japan's small theater plays. I thought that these were plays that would be perfect for us to stage in Japan. There is nothing interesting about putting on a play that will roll by itself once you put it on the rails. In his plays I sensed something in common with our plays in the way that unexpected plot developments keep the tension going. Also, the characters are real (human, not idealized) and portrayed in a very theatrical way. I have no interest in plays that seek to bring everyday conversation to the stage. If I am going to the theater, I want to show characters that are real in a theatrical sense. What I wanted to do with The Lieutenant of Inishmore was to stage it in a way that even for an audience going into it not understanding the Irish liberation movement because it is so different from conditions in Japan, nonetheless, in the course of watching the young Irish characters talking about liberation and seeing them as people, you begin to identify with how they feel and get drawn into their world.
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