The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Kazuki Nakashima's spectacles of manga and Kabuki and romance legends

Seven Souls in the Skull Castle (Dokurojo no Shichinin), Akadokuro version
Playwright: Kazuki Nakashima
Director: Hidenori Inoue
Cast: Arata Furuta, etc.
© Village, Inc.

Seven Souls in the Skull Castle (Dokurojo no Shichinin), Aodokuro version
Playwright: Kazuki Nakashima
Director: Hidenori Inoue
Cast: Somegoro Ichikawa, etc.
Associated with Gekidan Shinkansen and Village, Inc.
© Shochiku Co., Ltd.

Playwright: Kazuki Nakashima
Director: Hidenori Inoue
© Village, Inc.
When you think of Edo period playwrights, does Namboku come to mind for you before Chikamatsu.
Yes, it is Namboku for me. When I wrote Ashura-jo no Hitomi, I read Yotsuya Kaidan first and found it very interesting. There was strength in the words and it made me realize that the old Japanese plays were more interesting than I had thought. But, I also wondered if young people in their twenties today would find such a play interesting if they went to the Kabuki-za Theater to see a performance of it. That led me to the conclusion that, since the text itself is interesting, we should do a play that would bring the spirit of the original text across in the present-day world. And, that is what Shinkansen is doing, I believe.

Are there any particular things that you keep in mind when you are writing a play as an “action theater” work?
I avoid writing in terms of concepts and try instead to express the story completely through the bodies of the individuals (actors). In order to do this you have to translate the tale into “people stories.” In the case of Aterui, I have to make it “Aterui’s story” in order for it to work for me. I believe it is a process of working down the themes into elements of the individuals’ feelings or the way they live and how the story develops through the clashing of these characters.

So, in Aterui you have to think about the character of the individual Sakanoue Tamuramaro, for example?
Yes. I believe that you can say that something you might call a dramatic theme can exist separate of the actual drama. But, what I am saying is shouldn’t the story come before the theme, and shouldn’t the bodies of the individuals who carry the story come first, too. In other words, you should first be concerned with depicting the characters standing on stage and let the theme that lies behind the story follow naturally as it will. In the case of action theater, isn’t really a question of if so-and-so fights so-and-so, which one will be the stronger? If you don’t make that a center of interest, the climax will not be exciting. The drama is created to achieve that aim. What I want to place importance on is the catharsis of the moment the stories that the characters carry as individuals are forced to clash on stage.

And then, the characters speak words that carry weight based on those realities?
That’s right. What’s more, it must not be in borrowed abstract expression that they carry in their heads but words that pour forth from that person’s body and the beliefs born of the conditions they find themselves in. With Aterui it will be Aterui words, with Ashura it will be Ashura words, their own personal words and no one else’s. Not abstract concepts or philosophical arguments.

In your plays, the characters come forward and call themselves as names first, don’t they?
Yes, that’s right. It is the same with Bakin Takizawa, for example. In Satomi Hakkenden the characters are given names like Shin (truth), Chu (loyalty) and Gi (goodness) that have meanings in themselves. I am the same, and I spend a lot of time and thought on deciding the characters’ names. When the characters’ names are decided that also determines how they will be positioned. In other words, by the time the list of characters is complete about 60% of the play is complete. I think about the meaning the names carry and where they come from, so it takes me quite a lot of time to finalize the names. You could say that the reasons behind the names of my characters are another constant theme in my playwriting.
I think this is because the Japanese are a people of a country where words have spirits. The definite moves of the martial arts are the same way. We are quick to give a name to every move, like “makkou karatakewari” (“splitting the bamboo from straight-on”). We vie to create the coolest names and the names that sound strongest really do become strong. (laughs)

With its combination of hiragana, katakana and Chinese characters, Japanese is a very visual language. Just looking at the name of the main character in Ashura-jo no Hitomi, the swordsman Wakuraba Izumo, gives you an image of what kind of person he is. (laughs)
Another defining characteristic is the device of having things read as text in the stage notes. I also find a distinct rhythm to the dialogues.
Lately the notes and dialogues have gotten shorter, though. (laughs) There was a time in the past when I played with the text of the stage notes considerably. It is probably something fundamental for a writer, but first of all I want to write a “book” that the director and actors will find interesting when they read it. That is something I am always concerned with.
As for the dialogue, I want to write in a way that has a good rhythm for me. It is something I have only taught myself, but I basically write in a 5-syllable, 7-syllable meter and create a kind of fictional language that is different from the language of daily life. Therefore, I feel that the actors must have a fictional sensitivity and technique in order for it to work.

Do you visualize the scenes on the stage as pictures when you write?
To some degree, I do have images in mind. But, Inoue is a director who brings such strong ability to construct the visual aspect of a play, so I defer to him in the visual realm. If I am an “action theater playwright,” then Inoue is an “action theater director.” I think it is a very rare talent that he has.
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