|You won the Kishida Drama Award for Ai no Uzu (Love’s Whirlpool). What do you think about receiving this kind of recognition for its excellence as a play?
I was surprised. A lot of the people around me were surprised, too. If you have read it you will know that there are places in the script where it just has a note saying: “Fill in with appropriate conversation” (laughs). I was surprised that that was enough to communicate something. I think of myself more as a director, so I didn’t expect that kind of recognition as a playwright.
The play Ai no Uzu was rewritten during the rehearsal processes and what was submitted as the play’s text was actually the final stage script, so it contains all the parts that were worked up during the rehearsal process. So I think what was recognized in that award was also the stage directing elements.
In your new work Yume no Shiro (Castle of Dreams) you present a group of contemporary young people gathering in a cluttered one-room apartment, having sex, watching television, playing video games, taking baths, eating and just generally living an undisciplined life. And, finally there is no script at all.
When I got down to what I really wanted to do … it is movement. Words are just used as a means, with no particular meaning or significance. In Otoko no Yume and Ai no Uzu there was little importance in what the actors were saying, and the focus of the play had slid toward the action. In Animal there were still some parts that weren’t worked out, but in Yume no Shiro I wanted to say that “the message gets across without words and that is the most interesting part.” And, I also thought that eliminating words would be the best way to express the feelings of lassitude and worthlessness of today’s young people and what a bothersome thing communication is to them.
What do you mean by movement? For example another popular director today among your generation, Toshiki Okada, has found a contemporary dance aspect to the movement and body language of young people today. What does movement mean in your case?
Okada is very interested in its relationship with the script (disconnection between body movement and dialog, etc.), but in my case I am not really interested in that. In my case it is situation that I am interested in. I make efforts to see how real a situation I can create on stage. And, I am very interested to see what the audience will grasp and imagine from those situations.
By the way, what does the script for Yume no Shiro look like?
There are no written lines or dialog but there directional notes in the script that define all the movements. There are a lot of small noise articulation like that in the play. For example, when there is a movement of “taking out a cigarette” I don’t have them just take out a cigarette but have them pick up the pack of cigarettes once and put it back on the table again to a dropping sound and then have them pick it up again.
I didn’t intend this play to have a particular focus on NEETs or teamers. I just wanted to make use of the revulsion people in the audience would feel from seeing these characters. If you bring these kinds of characters on stage that people can’t identify with, you know that the audience will feel revulsion. Because there they are involved in sexual promiscuity right from the beginning. So, I use that as a starting point. Even so, during the course of the play you see moments that indicate how these characters also have pasts where they have been living normal lives and this causes the audience to gradually begin to identify with them. And, finally I want the audience to feel that they have identified with them. That is what I wanted to do. I don’t portray them as foreign entities that we completely reject. I had a strong desire to portray them as people that we gradually come to feel something in common with.
Listening to you what you say, can we assume that feelings of revulsion are the starting point in many of your plays?
Yes. Before Ai no Uzu there would often be breakdowns in relationships and the plays would end in feeling of discord. Now that has begun to change. It is not as if I am trying to make concessions to the audience or offer beams of hope or salvation for anyone, it is just that in my own process of thinking out these issues have come to a point where I want people to identify with these characters. It may just be that I have gotten tired of having things disintegrate into hopelessness (laughs).
In Otoko no Yume you have not only contemporary young people but also an unexpected character (alien) of a different type in the “Yankee” (Japanese expression for young drop-outs like motorcycle gang members with an anti-establishment attitude). But in your works since then it is always the same type of people, with no “alien” characters. That may be why there seem to be almost “utopian” moments in the plays, even if these are not characters who we can feel too sympathetic for. I especially felt this in Yume no Shiro.
Yes. That is an aspect that is intentional worked into the plays. With regard to Yume no Shiro where I was trying to eliminate words as much as possible, that is one of the extremes of human relations.
Why can’t this be expressed in words?
Because I believe that words can be used as routes of escape. I thought that not having any exchange of words might express the desperateness even stronger.
Is Utopia desperate or hopeless?
I believe that Utopia and desperation are two sides of the same coin and inseparable.
The absence of the other is a kind of Utopia, isn’t it.
Yes. And that is also a hopeless, desperate state. When I wanted to express that with reality, the answer that I arrived at was non-communication. In fact, during the rehearsal stages of Yume no Shiro we were using dialog between the characters, but we were unable to communicate with words, so I removed the dialog completely.
There is something that I want to say with regard to “documentary” works. I believe that there are two kinds of documentary, with one using spoken words as interviews and they like to give impressions that stimulate the viewer’s imagination, and the other is to show real conditions. An example of the latter is like showing scenes of soldiers shooting at each other in war, and it is the latter and the strong sense of involvement it creates that I seek to use. The former is commonly thought of as “quiet theater.” What we are doing is the latter.
I don’t want to use words to stimulate the imagination, I want to leave no room for the imagination, and I want to focus all the attention on what is actually happening on the scene. What is actually happening is everything in our play. What is happening is everything and there is no room at all for literary device. I believe it is this, more than anything, is what characterizes Potsudo-ru. It is up to the audience to decide whether they find this method to be vulgar and unproductive. And I feel that people who think this way will generally show the revulsion they feel with our plays. But that doesn’t bother me.
I also think that the reason my works come out like they do is partly due to the fact that I am a very immediate person and I like things that bring immediate gratification. I don’t really like things that require a complicated process to reach gratification and pleasure. So, part of what I am doing is projecting my own no-good character into the characters in my plays. I think it would be fine if people could just work part-time and go to the red-light district when you wanted, but I can’t live that kind of life myself. In the end, I am just an ordinary person with normal values. Sometimes I ask myself why I am doing these difficult plays and why I continue to try to express these things.
Perhaps you are doing theater because there is a character that is full of desire and a character that regrets its excesses; there is a longing for the character that pursues its desires and a character that regrets doing so.
Do you think so? All I know is that I have a lot of regrets (laughs).