F Artist Interview: Toshiki Okada (Chelfitsch) | Performing Arts Network Japan
The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Toshiki Okada
OKADA, Toshiki
Born in Yokohama City in 1973, Toshiki Okada graduated from the Business Dept. of Keio University. In 1997 he established the solo unit “Chelfitsch,” creating the name from a child’s mispronunciation of the English word “selfish”. In order to create “works with the potential to go further” Okada uses a methodology, but he makes a point of “not holding on to the methodology to the point where it holds back the work but quickly letting go of it,” which may be strange sort of methodology in itself for creating plays. With the release of the work Karera no Kibo ni Mitore in March of 2001, Okada changed to a style using “super real” Japanese language. This produces works that have a slow-moving and noisy physical aspect. The Yokohama ST Spot is the base for his theater activities. In 2004, Five Days in March was the winner of the 49th Kishida Drama Award. The judges of this award praised Okada’s work for the strong sense of questioning it brings to the systems of theater and the fresh ideas he uses to turn that doubt into creative impetus. The work was also acclaimed for the skill with which it brings out the insubstantiality of present conditions in Japan.
Sangatsu no Itsukakan (Five Days in March)
Sangatsu no Itsukakan (Five Days in March)
Sangatsu no Itsukakan
(Five Days in March)
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
The adventurous world of Toshiki Okada, a playwright who write in  
Toshiki Okada is a playwright who has won acclaim for the language in his plays that has been described as “super-real” verbal Japanese for the way the characters speak in abbreviated sentences that are little more than a succession of conjunctions without verbalized subjects, like fragments from the conversations of private life. The performances he presents with his theater unit “Chelfitsch” are characterized by unique body language that has even become the object of attention from the contemporary dance world. We spoke with Okada about his adventurous new world of verbal expression and the “physical richness” he seeks to express.
(Interviewer: Hirofumi Okano)

To begin with, can you tell us how you first got involved in the theater world?
I had never even seen a theater play before I entered university. When I entered Keio University I joined a club in hopes of learning about movie making, which had been a big interest of mine. But it turned out that the club was actually more involved in theater than in movie making. Since all the new students were expected to take part in the [theater] performance, I was drawn into it, starting as a lighting assistant.

What made you continue to get more deeply involved in theater rather than quitting there?
I had wanted to try my hand at writing scenarios or scripts. Before I had a chance to make a movie I got involved in writing scripts for plays, and in the process I naturally became interested in directing, too.

What kinds of works were you writing at that time?
I entered university in 1992, which was the year of the final performance of Hideki Noda’s “Yume no Yumin-sha.” I had heard Noda’s name but had never really had any interest in seeing his work. When I finally did, however, it was very stimulating for me at the time. And for some time after that the plays I wrote were influenced by Noda’s works. Of course, the style wasn’t exactly the same, but the flow of the words, can I say, or the way the principle behind the movement of the words takes the play in unexpected directions… that was something of his that I imitated at first.

It seems to me that Noda’s works are very different from the style of your plays now. Was there a gradual shift, or was there some big turning point that brought a sudden change?
About the year I graduated, I did experience a major turning point when I read the book Gendai Kogo Engeki no Tame ni (For Contemporary Colloquial Theater) by Oriza Hirata. I believe what Hirata was saying is that it is strange if there is any self-consciousness in the words when an actor is speaking his or her lines, and that theory of acting and theater influenced me very much. I think this is the point of origin for what I am doing now. Before I read that book, I had taken part in a two-day workshop by Hirata. I was very much inspired by his method of diverting the actor’s consciousness of the script by intentionally placing some kind of physical burden on the actor.

What do you mean by a physical burden on the actor?
One example is having two conversations going on at the same time on stage. While the actor is talking to someone on this side of the stage there is another conversation going on across the stage, so the actor has to move his part of the script along while also reacting to the other conversation… that kind of situation. This definitely an easily apparent way of splitting the actor’s consciousness of the script.
At the same time there was another book I read that had quite an impact on me, which I found very interesting. It was Bertolt Brecht’s book Konnichi no Sekai wa Engeki ni yotte Saigen dekiruka (Can the theater reproduce the current world?). I was very much inspired by his criticism of the idea of “the fourth wall” (that invisible boundary between the stage and the audience, the idea that the actors are conscious of this fourth wall).
For me there was a smooth and natural connection between what Brecht was saying and what Hirata was saying. It is very clear to me that Brecht and Hirata are the starting point, the foundation of what I am doing now.

From this you invented the unique script language that is now being called “super-real verbal Japanese. What was the process that led to this?
One of the things that led me to start writing these scripts full of inarticulate lines, these lines that never seem to get to the point, clearly came from my experience from a part-time job I had once of transcribing the contents of interview tapes. The tapes were from interviews with local people in regional communities conducted by a think tank seeking ways to stimulate the culture and economies of the communities.
Making the transcripts was a tedious job, but at the same time there was something very interesting about it. That was because as you transcribed it word for word, you couldn’t understand what the people were trying to say. But somehow, by the end of the conversation it began to make sense and you could see what they had been trying to say, even though their words themselves were not saying anything clearly or articulately. This surprising realization was an important one for me.
However, when I am writing a play I don’t use the technique of transcribing from tapes of spoken conversations. I write it all myself. So, some people might say I should try to write scripts that are more articulate (laughs). But if I did that, part of what is important to me would be lost. I reproduce the real, inarticulate way that average people actually speak, because one of the things I want to express is what lies within that ineptness, the larger content.

Is it that you want the audience to experience the fascination of being able to understand the overall gist of what is being said even though the individual details of what is said are virtually incomprehensible?
More than that, there is the fact that this is what our verbal life is actually like. That is the important thing to me. What I am saying is “Isn’t this the way we actually speak?” Of course, it is possible to criticize this kind of verbal life, but I have no interest in saying whether it is good or bad, or criticizing it. We are actually living in this kind of verbal environment. Some people might say that since we are living in such an inarticulate world, we should at least try to use articulate Japanese in our theater. But I think that is a rather limited attitude. To me this Japanese that people actually use is even richer and more positive.

Your type of real Japanese where one sentence runs into the next without break and the subjects are deleted from the sentences until you are uncertain who the subjects is anymore, this also gives the script an aspect of ambiguity.
There is a separate point of departure behind that aspect. For the festival held at the Yokohama ST Spot, I wrote a solo-actor play titled “On the Harmful Effects of Marijuana” playing on the title of the Chekhov play On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco. At the time I got the idea of how interesting it would be if someone who is talking about a friend gradually goes through a transformation to become the friend himself. Since then, I came to write plays where several characters would go through this kind of transformation process. Behind this idea there is also a novel by William Faulkner. In the novel Absalom, Absalom!, the characters are reflected in the writing style, and I thought that this device would be even more interesting and effective if used in theater.

But aren’t there some people who say it is irritating or boring to watch the kind of development you use in your plays?
There are (laughs).

Is there anything you do to appease these bored people in the audience?
If their boredom comes from the fact that I myself have not succeeded in my attempt to give expression to my vision, I would feel that I should do something to remedy that. But if that boredom comes from a rejection of what I feel to be rich in substance, the things I want to show, in other words the fundamental essence of what I want to express, then there is nothing I can do about that.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |