The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Osamu Matsumoto
Osamu Matsumoto
Matsumoto was born in Sapporo in 1955 and is the leader of and director for theater company MODE. After performing as an actor with the Bungakuza, company for ten years, he founded his own thatear company, MODE, in 1989. There he won acclaim for adapting and directing works by foreign playwrights like Chekhov, Becket and Wilder as contemporary Japanese plays. He has also collaborated actively with leading contemporary Japanese playwrights including Miri Yu, Yoji Sakade , Oriza Hirata, Masataka Matsuda and Akio Miyazawa. From 1996 to 1998 he served as full-time director of the Hokkaido Theater Foundation. For five years from 1997 to 2001 he served as associate director of the Setagaya Public Theatre and mounted there in 2001 a highly acclaimed production of a play based on Kafka’s Amerika that was brought to stage through a year-long process of auditions and workshops. A revived production of this play in 2003 won Matsumoto the Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix Outstanding Work Award and Outstanding Director Award, as well as the Senda Koreya Award of the Asahi Arts Awards. In 2005, his production Shiro based on Kafka’s The Castle again won him the Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix Outstanding and Outstanding Director Award Work Award. In addition to his series of works based on Kafka, his notable productions have included Watashi ga Kodomo Datta Koro (Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix Outstanding Work Award and Outstanding Director Award), Puratounofu (Yuasa Yoshiko Award) and Galileo no Shogai. He is also an assistant professor of the Art Dept, of the School of Literature of Kinki University.
The Trial
The Trial
The Trial
Setagaya Public Theatre production
Shinpan (The Trial)

(Nov 15 – Dec 8, / Setagaya Public Theatre)
Written by Franz Kafka
Directed by Osamu Matsumoto
Photo: Katsu Miyauchi
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
The world of director, Osamu Matsumoto − Staging Kafka with his unique style with workshops and composition cards  
Starting out as an actor for the established Shingeki (Japanese New Theater movement) companies, Bungakuza, Osamu Matsumoto founded his own company, Gekidan MODE, in 1989. There he won acclaim for small-theater productions based on works by playwrights like Chekhov and Becket using an improvisational acting style in plays composed of fragmented scenes. In 1997, he became associated director of the Setagaya Public Theatre and used that as an opportunity to begin efforts to create public theatre productions through workshops, among which his series of productions based on works by Kafka have won particularly high acclaim, beginning with Amerika (Setagaya Public Theatre + MODE production) in 2001, followed by Shiro (The Castle; New National Theatre Tokyo production, 2005), Henshin (The Metamorphosis; MODE production, 2007), and this year’s three-week alternate staging Shinpan (The Trial)& Shissosha The Man Who Disappeared; Setagaya Public Theatre + MODE production). We spoke with Matsumoto about his career leading up to the Kafka-based plays and his unique style of directing.
(Interviewer: Yoichi Uchida, journalist)

I would like to begin by asking you how you came to stage Kafka works in the first place.
    It started when the theater director of the Setagaya Public Theatre when it opened in 1997, Makoto Sato, asked me to come in as associated director. It seems that he had noticed my work using workshops to create theater productions, and the fact that I was holding theater workshops around the country.
    When I began directing theater, I would not follow play script but prepare a number of different short studies, what you would call etudes in French, and act them out in the rehearsal studio in a workshop atmosphere in an effort to find how the text could be brought to the stage in the most interesting way. When I did the production Watashi ga Kodomo datta koro (When I Was a Child) based on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and toured with it around the country, I tried a method in which we would tie up with the local public halls and hold workshops for the local citizens before the performance and choose several people from among the workshop participants to play roles as extras (people in the crowd) for the actual performances. It seems that Mr. Sato was interested in using that kind of activity and creative method in his new theater.
    So, I became involved at the Setagaya Public Theatre doing things like workshops for high school students. At the same time I was asked to submit a report about the kinds of plays the theater could add to its repertoire. I believed that Setagaya Public Theatre provided an opportunity to do things that I couldn’t do with my own company and to try new things I hadn’t tried before, so I suggested doing Brecht and Kafka. The first play to actually be done from that proposal was Brecht’s Life of Galileo.
    Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle had already been made into plays abroad, but Amerika had not, and therefore it had not yet been labeled “theater of absurd.” It is a story that is interesting in its Bildungsroman (cultured novel) aspect while also presenting a very Kafka-esque world. I wanted to spend some time and work on this project in a workshop atmosphere to see how the actors would read this novel from the standpoints of the characters’ movements and relationships. It was in my fourth year as a director (at Setagaya) that the plan for this project was finally approved and we were able to do our production of Amerika.

You started out as an actor for the Shingeki (New Theater) company, Bungakuza. At the time in the early 1980s it was the height of Japan’s small theater movement and the Tokyo theater scene was a patchwork of many different styles and forms of theater. Within that context you started your own company, Gekidan MODE and began creating productions using the workshop format. How was it that you originally came upon this method of working through workshops.
    Japanese acting takes on a number of different forms depending on the writer, the director and the company. But, if you were to divide it into two main types it would be the natural acting style of the New Theater companies like Bungakuza, which I belonged to, and that of the Angura (underground theater) movement that criticized our style. When I was attending Hirosaki University the upperclassmen in our university’s theater club were already saying the New Theater was no good anymore, but I hadn’t even seen any New Theater at that time. The attractive movie actors at that time like Yusaku Matsuda, Kaori Momoi and Yoshio Harada were all originally New Theater actors, so I thought I should get to know it a bit, and that was the kind of half-serious attitude that I joined Bungakuza with. But I already had the underground style acting habits of typical college theater at the time, so when I was a trainee at Bungakuza I used to take a semi-crouched pose and really shout out the lines (laughs).

A semi-crouched pose and shouted lines would be an “Angura” (underground) acting style. Did your instructors point that out or criticized you for that?
    Yes. I was told to try to speak a little more naturally. The representative actress in Bungakuza at the time was Haruko Sugimura, and under her were actors with refined acting styles like Kiwako Taichi and Kazuo Kitamura. Seeing them firsthand, I couldn’t help but appreciate how skilled they were.

In other words, your experience there was one of re-discovering natural acting and the good aspects of it?
    Yes. I wasn’t actually good at it myself, though. Even in Bungakuza there are people who are good at it and people who aren’t, and I belonged to the latter group. But, discovering the differences between good and poor natural acting styles was interesting for me. Although she would be acting in a natural vein, however, Kiwako Taichi might suddenly shift gears to a different level of concentration and her acting would change from that point into something that wasn’t natural. Her acting and her methodology when she was in a gear like that seemed to me to be no different from that of the great Angura actresses like Lee Reisen and Kayoko Shiraishi.
    The premier New Theater actress at the time, Haruko Sugimura, was the same. Even though she would point out to the younger actors, “You’re not being natural,” her own acting went beyond the natural. Even though she was past 70 at the time, she played the part of a 17 year-old girl in Onna no Issho (The Woman’s Life). That is certainly not natural.

She went on to play a girl at the age of 87.
    I even thought it was close to the butoh dancer Kazuo Ono dancing in the costume of a young girl in his old age. Sugimura would play the role of a girl using an artificially young voice into her 70s, but in the end, from the second to last time she preformed that role in Onna no Issho she used her own low voice. I saw that performance at the Toyoko Theater and it really moved me. When I told her about it, she said, “I have been saying for decades that you don’t have to make a false voice, but I only just now have realized that for myself.” I thought that was incredible.
    There were amazing actors like that in New Theater and, on the other hand, among the actors raised in the company of Tadashi Suzuki, who was a strong critic of New Theater naturalism, there were people who became too entrapped in a particular form of style. And, that fact made me think that it was possible to be just as critical of Angura acting. That is what brought me to the conclusion that there was a need for everyone to feel out their and the others’ acting in studio rehearsals first, and I believe that in turn led to my workshop approach.

You have just mentioned how incredible it was watching Haruko Sugimura. Was it like experience the primal ground of acting, or perhaps one could say the magic of moments, for you?
    Yes. As a young aspiring actor at the time, those were the kinds of things I was most interested in, and then after that my interest began to shift gradually toward directing. I became interested in how an appealing performance was created. Was it method? My interested began to shift toward what from the actor’s perspective would be called a re-examining or re-evaluation of one’s acting.
    Around the time I started my MODE group, there were a number of theater companies in Tokyo that were using an improvisational method and we got an actress from one of those companies to participate in one of our productions. But, part way through the preparations, she started to get nervously distraught because the way of working was so different from that of the director of her company. She asked me when the lines and the acting would be finalized. I answered that we didn’t finalize them and I asked her how they did things in her company. She said that the improvisational part was only up until a certain point and then the rehearsals would be taped and, from those tapes, they would finalize the lines and the acting. When I told her that nothing was finalized in our plays until the final day of performances, she said, “Then I’m quitting now.” (Laughs)
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