The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Norihiko Tsukuda
Norihiko Tsukuda
Norihiko Tsukuda was born in Nagoya in 1964. He is a playwright, director and actor who graduated from Meijo University. He is leader of the theater group B-kyu Yugekitai. Using outlandish situations, he creates a theater world that unfolds in a straight and rhythmical way peppered with comedy. He has won many prestigious awards, including the 3rd Nagoya City Culture Promotion Award for his play Shimpan--Horonigaki ha Caramel no Aji, the Playwright Association Outstanding New Playwright Award and the Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix Outstanding Play Award. The play Nukegara for which he won the 50th Kishida Drama Award was written for an Atelier performance at the Bungaku-za theater.
Bungaku-za Atelier no Kai Nukegara
(at Bungaku-za Atelier, 2005)
Written by Norihiko Tsukuda
Directed by Yuko Matsumoto
Photo: Kenki Iida
(See also Play of the Month)
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
A world of the imagination overflowing from the everyday- Playwright Norihiko Tsukuda 
Norihiko Tsukuda won the commemorative 50th Kishida Kunio Drama Award for his play Nukegara. It was the first Kishida Award for a Nagoya-based playwright since Sou Kitamura in 1984. Despite being a regional city, Nagoya was a place where small-theater productions that had won recognition in Tokyo would often tour in the 1980s, and Tsukuda is one who came of age with exposure to the plays of the first and second waves of the small-theater drama movement. His award- winning play was acclaimed for the use of an exceptional idea of having the protagonist’s elderly father make successive sheddings of his skin, at which he would grow ten years younger with each shedding until a collection of shed skins in their 60s, 50s 40s and 30s had made appearances. As a playwright, Tsukuda has the ability to bring forth unexpected ideas that seem to open frightening cracks in the everyday, while as a director he is skillful at bringing out the individuality of his actors, but we find the man himself to be completely natural in bearing, even though his mind is full of the seeds of creative fiction.
(Interview, editing: Jun Kobori/Cooperation: Katsumi Mochizuki. An interview recorded at the B-kyu Yugekitai studio in Nagoya, Aichi Pref., May 10, 2006)

Were you born in Nagoya?
I was born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture in 1964. It was the year the Tokyo Olympics was held and the year that the Shinkansen bullet train connected Tokyo and Nagoya. I grew up in the Imaike district of Chikusa-ku which is famous as a bar district and I went to the local Meijo University. In short, I’ve never lived outside of Nagoya.

When did you begin working in theater?
In middle school and high school I was in the Kendo (Japanese sword fencing) club and absorbed in the martial arts. About the only theater I saw was the Yoshimoto comedies on TV. But, I did like people such as Hachiro Oka and Kanbi Fujiyama.
At college I was in the Business Department, so I had no direct relation to theater, but when a friend said he was going to enter the theater club at our school named Shishi, I went along with him. It turned out that there weren’t many people in the club and they were really anxious to get new members, so they welcomed me too, and I thought, “Why not?” (laughs).

What was your first production?
I took part as an actor in a play based on a script that one of our upperclassmen had written. I don’t even remember what my part was, but the script was like a play on Kohei Tsuka’s Hiroshima ni Genbaku wo Otosu Hi (The Day the Atomic Bomb is Dropped on Hiroshima), or rather it was like a perfect copy of the script. Our upperclassman insisted that it was his own original, though (laughs). Anyway, that was my first experience with a play, so I thought, “This is theater!” There was the actor facing the audience in the pin spotlight and delivering long lines, and there were actors talking to each other in machine gun-like speed until the words got garbled. It was a perfect copy of a Tsuka play (laughs). I myself had never seen a Tsuka play, but his works were very influential in the college theater scene at the time.

When did you begin to write your own original plays?
It was in my second year of college. We had been invited to give a performance at a prison hospital and I wrote the script. I don’t even remember the name of it now. It was written with a Tsuka touch and at first they liked whatever we did, but it was a 3-hour performance and near the end that atmosphere in the place was getting pretty annoying (laughs). After that I became Shishi’s representative and I wrote a trilogy based on Japanese myths. The title was Takarajima -- Back Drop wa Kousurunda (Treasure Island -- this is how you do a back drop), and it was a really a preposterous story that brought in scenes with professional wrestling. I got the idea for the professional wrestling from a performance by the Minami Kawachi Banzai Ichiza theater group that I saw at the Nanatsudera Kyodo Studio. It was incredibly funny.

When you began to work seriously as a playwright, were there any writers who influenced you especially?
Juichiro Takeuchi was definitely the biggest influence. I feel that I’m conscious of Takeuchi’s style at times when I am writing a script. I didn’t see his plays from his early period, but I saw the remakes of Ano Oogarasu, Saemo and Kaki ni Akaku Saku Itsuka no Ano Ie in the 1980s. I saw not only the Nagoya performances but also went to Tokyo to see the Atelier performances, too.
The first Takeuchi play I read was Shonen Kyojin. It’s the kind of work that keeps hitting the audience on the head like a baseball coach who makes his players practice their fielding endlessly. When I read it, I asked myself, “What is this stuff!” But when I saw the actual performance I was really moved by the strong presence of the actors Katsumi Kiba and Ryuichi Morikawa.
In the end, my plays during my college years were a combination of the writing style I borrowed from Takeuchi and the action I borrowed from the Minami Kawachi Banzai Ichiza theater performances.

Whose plays were you watching besides Takeuchi’s?
Before college I had never been to any plays, but after I joined the theater club my upperclassmen told me I had to go see Juro Kara’s Jokyo Gekijo (Red Tent), so I did. There was a performance of Red Tent’s Shin Nito Monogatari at Shirakawa Park, so I went and stood in this long line of people on a rainy day. There was a gritty, underground feeling to it all and I remember feeling that if I entered that tent I might never leave it alive. There was something truly frightening about the atmosphere (laughs).

Sounds like a Horror House (laughs).
No. At a Horror House you know there is an exit at the end, but with the Red Tent, I wasn’t sure that I would ever get out (laughs). I was seated there right in the front row and suddenly Kara came out and shouted, “Hey, all you patients of the Shinjuku Asylum!” I didn’t know what was going on. When Kara and the actress Lee Reisen would come out on stage there would be calls from the audience of “yo, Kara” and “Lee!” like at a Kabuki performance. I don’t remember much about the contents of the play but I do remember how exciting it was. I can still see in my mind’s eye scenes like when an actress was trying to stuff some money in the napkin disposal box in the women’s toilet and couldn’t seem to get it in.

I would like to back up a bit and ask you what it was that originally attracted you most about Takeuchi’s plays.
One of the things that attracted me was his rhythm of the prose. That is for certain. When I read the plays of Takeuchi they entered my head and stayed there so naturally. Plays like Hisan na Senso (Tragic War) were so easy to understand and so fascinating. And, after seeing the play on stage and then reading the script again it was even more interesting because I could enjoy reading it with the pace and intonations of the actor Kiba. Originally I wanted to be an actor, so I was determined to enter Takeuchi’s theater company, Hihozerobankan. In my senior year of college I had already gotten a regular job offer, but I called Hihoreibankan and asked if they had any openings for new actors. I could tell from his voice that it was the actor Kiba who had answered the phone, and when he said no, they weren’t recruiting. Before I hung up, I said “You’re Mr. Kiba, aren’t you. Please keep up the good work.” Then I said to myself, “This is hopeless. I guess I’ll just have to take my job offer.” It was just at that time that I went to see the movie Keppu Rock directed by Sho Ryuzanji. There were a lot of actors from the small-theater movement there, and after listening to Ryuzanji and Takeshi Kawamura do a panel discussion after the movie, I decided that I couldn’t just go off and join the ranks of the business world (laughs).
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