The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Shiro Maeda
Shiro Maeda
Maeda was born in Gotanda, Tokyo, and graduated from Wako University. He formed the Gotandadan theater company in 1997 at the age of nineteen. The charm of his work lies in its naturally laid-back and amusing humor within a theatrical space. His plays Iya, mushiro wasurete-gusa (More a Forget-Me than a Forget-Me-Not), Kyabetsu no tagui (A Type of Cabbage), and Sayonara boku no chiisana meisei (Farewell, My Moment of Fame) were short-listed for the 49th, 50th, and 51st Kishida Drama Awards respectively. In 2007, he won the Kishida Drama Award for Ikiterumono wa inainoka (No One Alive Here?) This is a lyrical and humorous piece depicting death that grew out of a workshop involving the 17 actors who were selected from auditions, and for reasons never explained, all the characters die. It has been acclaimed as strict yet fresh theater of the absurd. Many of his short stories have been published in literary magazines, and several of his novels have been nominated for major literary awards, including Ai demo nai, seishun demo nai, tabi datanai (Not Really Love, Nor Youth, Nor a Trip) for the 27th Noma New Literary Writers Prize, Renai no kaitai to Kita-ku no metsubo (Splitting Up, and the Collapse of Kita Ward) for the 28th Noma New Literary Writers Prize and the 19th Mishima Prize, and Gureto seikatsu adobencha (The Great Life Adventure) for the 137th Akutagawa Prize.
Gotandadan Nagaku toiki
(A Long Exhale)

Premier: 2003
Two colleagues are walking home from a drinking party after work, talking about nothing in particular. One of them mentions that he has recently been dumped by his girlfriend, and he turns to a fence on the side of the road and begins to pee. The pee begins dripping off the fence and onto the road (floor), but shows no signs of stopping. Passersby watch with curiosity—a grown man urinating in public, and the man himself becomes more and more uneasy when he can’t stop. Eventually his friend, who just happens to pass by and have brought a long a video camera, takes it out to record the event, when who should happen along but the peeing man’s ex….
A Long Exhale

Gotandadan Kyabetsu no tagui
(A Type of Cabbage)

Premier: 2005
A man’s memory has been taken out and transplanted into a cabbage. His wife has a worm in her head and is gradually losing her memory. A god wearing a short coat turns up. The man asks the god to get rid of the worm in his wife’s head, but the process goes disastrously wrong. The wife swells up to the size of the earth and can no longer be seen. The man now inside his wife hears her voice calling from outside. It is his memory taking in his wife’s memory, that is, the voice of the cabbageworm living inside the cabbage. Upon hearing his wife’s farewell, the weeping man begins peeling away the cabbage leaves.
A Type of Cabbage

“Series: Our Contemporary” Collaborations between Young Playwrights and Veteran Directors
Vol. 2: Majiriaukoto, Kierukoto

Dates: Jun. 27-Jul. 6, 2008
Venue: New National Theatre, The Pit
Play by Shiro Maeda
Directed by Akira Shirai
Majiriaukoto Kierukoto
an overview
Play of the Month
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
The view from an energy void  Playwright Shiro Maeda's Sense of Wonder  
Winner of the 52nd (2008) Kishida Drama Award, Shiro Maeda, was born in 1977. He has been the voice of children born in an age of plenty, those who have never wanted for anything. Using what is known in Japanese as datsuryoku-kei, or a manner of speaking that is devoid of energy, Maeda has succeeded in capturing the values and lifestyles of a generation unfettered by the burden of finding meaning in life. His characters include a man who can’t stop urinating out of sadness for a lost love, another who throws away his memories and abandons himself, and yet another who shows up on the step of an old lover, moves in and continues a hand-to-mouth existence with her. Audiences of Maeda’s generation enjoy his plots brimming with the delusions of his main characters and the small adventures they have in order to get by in life. We interviewed Maeda in his drama company’s studio, a remodeled his father’s factory. Maeda appeared looking as carefree as his characters, volunteering episodes from his own life as he talked about the theatrical world.
(Interviewer: Akihiko Senda)

Let’s start with your beginnings in theater in 1997, when you were still a student at Wako University and formed your theater company, Gotandadan. This was when you started your career as a playwright, producer and actor. Tell me about those days.
    I was bored silly in junior high and high school. Then I read that I could go see plays by small-theater companies for about 2000 yen, so I went to see them on my way home from school. I was amazed to see adults seriously at work on something so ridiculous. It opened up a new world for me. As a schoolboy I had wanted to be a novelist, but nothing I wrote was any good. I thought it would be more fun to do something with a lot of people, and I found an actors’ academy, Butai Geijyutsu Gakuin, near my high school that would teach me drama. That was how I began.

In 2003, I saw Nagaku toiki (A Long Exhale). Your plays have no music or fancy lighting. There might be a futon or some other minor prop, but that’s it. I always thought of it as minimalist theater. Actors speak in normal voices, there is none of the loud, exaggerated speaking or gestures that one usually associates with small-theater productions. Have your plays always used this style?
    My style has always been like this. When I first began acting, I practiced in my own room and performed in the corners of classrooms. If I stood up and ran around, the space would we lost. These constraints were part of the reasons my plays have never had much movement. I also knew that it would cost millions to create a stage setting if I set my mind to designing one. Rather than putting together something that was half-baked, I decided to limit myself to what I could do without spending much money. But that doesn’t mean I limited myself artistically.
    For example, if you put ramen into an elegant bowl it doesn’t mean the noodles and the soup are going to taste good. There is plenty of time to think about the bowl and the toppings later. You’ve got to start out with the noodles and the soup. Once I ate something called Crab Ramen. It was a whole crab on top of a bowl of noodles. I couldn’t tell if it was crab or ramen (laughs). There are plays like that. A story with a famous actor as topping. The focus is off. You can buy some great-tasting ramen for 500 yen. I figured that was where I needed to start. You need a script and some actors. Once those elements are in place and you’ve got something going, then you can start thinking about topping. I’m still in the process of writing plays, producing them, and getting actors to perform them. I still have a long way to go.

Have you ever worked with motifs that became the source of creativity, or had some similar experience?
    Of everything I’ve ever heard, the things that have most moved me are my own dreams. When I was in high school, I had to get up at the same time every day, go to school, and exist within the narrow confines of school society. After I started college, I no longer had to get up in the morning. I didn’t have to go to class if I didn’t want to. That was when I started having dreams. Until then I had been so constrained that I had neither the ability nor the freedom to have dreams or to fantasize. I’d wake up and go back to sleep twice or even three times. That was when I finally started having dreams. I could never remember them afterwards, and they never made any sense, but they were so interesting.
    When I was awake I couldn’t escape from reality, but in my dreams I had wild, unrealistic ideas. I was free. The value of anything creative, not just drama, but also novels and comic books, is the unfettered ideas they come from. This was my starting point for writing and putting on plays. I am still trying to do the same thing; put my dreams, just as I see them, on the stage.
Now that I’ve been doing it for ten years, though, I can see that even though I write scripts using an unconscious dream-like process, the act of producing one means communicating the story to actors in a logical manner. Actors then have the job of returning it to the realm of the unconscious.

It seems ironic that the result of all that unconscious work is having to make it all intentional.
    I’m getting better at writing. Unconscious elements are often hidden in the parts you don’t need. The better I get at writing, the more I can get rid of he unnecessary parts…. But then again, my work has a hatred of the refined, and I haven’t figure out how to resolve that conflict yet.

Other than the change in consciousness, have you noticed any other changes over the past ten years?
    My motif has always been “life and death.” Until about five hears ago, I thought it was very nihilistic. Humans move towards their death from the moment they are born. But we don’t feel at the end of the day that we are twenty-four hours closer to death. We feel like we have lived for twenty-four hours. That’s an idiotically positive point of view, and it used to seem ludicrous to me. Now I think it’s wonderful. Writing plays has been my tool for thinking. The process of my flow of thought becomes a work of art.

One of your representative works is Kyabetsu no tagui (A Type of Cabbage; 2005). The main character is a man who removes his memory from his head, and carries it around with him inside a cabbage. There is a female character who appears to be his wife. Her memory has been partly eaten by a worm, and her memory is more like a cross-section of the original. This is a play that has elements of the absurd. It makes the audience laugh and forces them to expand their own imaginations to their limits.
    I wrote Kyabetsu no tagui in the form of a myth (one always begins at the same starting point but ends up in different places). I like to take pictures, but when I look at them later, I can’t remember what it was that interested me enough to want to take them. There is a clear difference between oneself in the past and oneself now, but there is no arguing that you are that person, and you have continued to be the same person ever since those days in the past. Just like a bracelet of Buddhist beads on a string, your memory is you linking different parts of yourself together.
    So what happens when you pull your memory out later to look at it? It’s the connection to the past that makes you human. Can you call someone human if he or she has no past but lives entirely in the present? I believed a memory with layers like the leaves of a cabbage could be peeled away, one at a time, to reveal the unconscious of a man. Humans might be a life form no different from cabbages—that was the notion I built on.

I like the play Nagaku toiki about the man who can’t stop peeing. The performance uses real water and it floods the whole theater.
    I had thought before about what it meant for someone to “get through” something. I almost never get angry, but it is an experience that everyone has, and I wanted to know what it was like to get through it. So I tried getting angry. I was sure I looked cool in my anger, but the effect was completely different and I had to laugh at myself.
    I wasn’t very good at getting angry, so then I wondered about peeing. A main character who has been jilted will usually cry. But what if he peed rather than cried (to express his grief)? I pushed my character to the point where he was in danger of dying because he couldn’t stop urinating. If a person faced death like this, I thought they would probably be able to get through it and transcend it. I thought I’d look pretty cool if I was on the brink of death because I couldn’t stop peeing. I would be able to find nihilism by getting through it and experiencing death. That was the idea behind Nagaku toiki. There’s not just a man who has lost his love. There is also a father whose son has died, and he can’t stop peeing either. The pain of unrequited love and the pain of losing a child…. There is really no way to compare the two, but I thought it was interesting that there wouldn’t be much difference in the way a person expressed them. The two different types of sadness are profoundly different. Shouldn’t the way they are expressed be completely different, too? Because the expressions are similar, it just might mean that the sadness itself is also closer than we think.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |