The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Tomohiro Maekawa
Tomohiro Maekawa
Born in 1974 in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Pref. Tomohiro Maekawa founded the theater company Ikiume in 2003 and has since written and directed all the company’s plays. The name Ikiume implies getting glimpses of the other world [the afterlife] while still alive, which is Maekawa’s theatrical concept. He has drawn attention in the theater world with works that combine elements of science fiction, horror and the occult in ways that bring a sense of wonder into everyday life situations. His works include Sampo suru shinryakusha (Strolling Invader), Kansu domino (Mathematical Domino), Nukeana no Kaigishitsu (Meeting Room with an Escape Hole) and Omote to ura to, sono mukou (Outside In, and Out There). In December 2007 he also published a short novel version of Sampo Suru Shinryakusha.

Ikiume Toshokan-teki Jinsei Vol. 2 Tate to Hoko (A Library-like Life Vol. 2 Shield and Lance)
(Oct. – Nov. 2008 at Mitaka City Arts Center)
Photo: Aki Tanaka
Toshokan-teki Jinsei Vol. 2
Toshokan-teki Jinsei Vol. 2
an overview
Play of the Month
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Weaving a thread of the supernatural into the daily lives of the young generation The world of playwright Tomohiro Maekawa and his theater company Ikiume  
Playwright Tomohiro Maekawa, leader of the theater company Ikiume, is the focus of increasing attention in the theater world for works that bring a sense of wonder into everyday life situations with touches of science fiction, horror and the occult. Through situations such as aliens that enter and usurp control of human beings, other worlds that are neither Heaven nor Hell, time machines that rewrite events of the past and other bizarre elements, he creates a unique world with its own view of human nature. As a rising star of the small-theater scene in high demand as a playwright and director, Maekawa talks about the essence of theater works.
(Interviewer: Hirofumi Okano)

You were born in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Pref., and we hear that you dropped out of high school and came to Tokyo originally with the aim of becoming a chef. Can you tell us in some more detail what you did before turning to theater?
    My father was a landscape gardener who also painted, played music and rode motorcycles, and I feel that I was greatly influenced by having a father like that. I liked cooking and worked part-time as a cook when I was in high school, and from around the middle of my freshman year I began skipping school to ride around on a motorcycle. I finally reached the point where school just didn’t suit me anymore and I ended up dropping out after the first semester of my second year of high school. After that I would work at part-time jobs until I saved up enough money to go off traveling.

Where did you travel? Did you travel around to the far corners of Japan?
    Not really to the far corners, I was actually rather haphazard in my choice of destinations; I never went to [the northern island] Hokkaido, for example. I didn’t go to [the southern island] Kyushu either. For some reason I just went here and there around [the main island] Honshu (laughs). But I did a pretty thorough job of getting to all the prefectures of Honshu except Yamaguchi. And I walked the pilgrim’s trail full circle around the island of Shikoku when I was in university.

After coming to Tokyo with the intention of becoming a chef, how did you end up entering theater?
    I worked in the restaurant industry for about half a year, and I got a cook’s license with the aim of becoming a chef. Around that time I was influenced by my older brother, who is what you might call an intellectual, and he inspired me to begin reading book, which I hadn’t done until then. I realized that mangas and movies wasn’t enough. The only ideas I had about what to read was that foreign literature seemed a bit cooler to read than Japanese literature (laughs), so I went to the used book stores and bought sets of Iwanami classics and just read and read.
    I didn’t have any friends in Tokyo at the time, so I was just working and spending all my free time reading until a friend of my brother’s said, “If you like to study, why don’t you take a university entrance exam that you can take even if you haven’t finished high school. So I went to a cram school for a while and passed the test to get into the university. When I dropped out of high school my parents virtually disowned me, but when I got accepted to university they were suddenly more than happy to pay my tuition (laughs).

During those times of traveling and training as a chef and reading literature, what was in your mind most of the time?
    I read a lot of books concerning Buddhism and I was attracted to Zen thought. When I was traveling around the country on my motorcycle, I often stopped at little-known local temples. I could sleep out there for free, and I often had the opportunity to talk with the priests. Many times I found myself being impressed with the things they had to say. I also liked Buddhist architecture and Buddhist art, and I found the Buddhist sculptures and temples of the Shingon sect of Tantric Buddhism to be especially cool (laughs). At the time Jun Miura and Seikou Ito were writing a series of articles in magazines about the traveling around and observing Buddhist sculptures in the various regions of the country from their own interesting perspectives under the title “Ken butsu ki” (Diary of observing Buddhist Sculptures), and that was close to what I was doing and feeling too. It was not like I was interested in Buddhism from the standpoint of a believer, but like some people find the monsters in the “Kamen rider” and “Ultraman” series cool, I would find myself thinking things like, “The Thousand-handed Kannon sculpture at such-and-such a temple is really cool!” That’s why you will still find things like that coming out in the plays I write today.
    I also felt an affinity for the American Beat Generation writers and their movement of counterculture. Perhaps I like them because a lot of the works of the generation were influenced by Zen.

Can you tell us about the process you went through going to the philosophy department of Toyo University and then eventually getting involved in theater?
    At first I thought I wanted to make movies, so I entered the film club at university. It was just around the time when moviemakers were switching from film to video, and since video was cheaper and you could make more mistakes without big cost, I wanted to use video. But the film club had a thing about using only film. So I decided to do it on my own, so all four years of university I would work at side jobs and save up money to use on making video films with friends I gathered for each project. But I couldn’t keep it up for long because the common practice with self-financed movies was for the director [me] to pay for everything, from the actors’ box lunches to transportation fees.
    After I graduated and was just knocking around, an actor who had acted for me in one of my movies was acting in a play by the Tokyo 23 Kugai Theater Company and I went to see it. I didn’t have any real interest in theater at the time but I was curious about how theater companies like that managed to put on plays, the financial side of it. So I asked them and was surprised to find out that they all put up money together to pay for the theater and staff fees and then each actor sold a certain quota of tickets, so in the end they are able to mount a production with the cost of only a few hundred dollars to each of the members of the company. It’s an amazing system, isn’t it? The actors don’t get paid to perform, they are made to pay from their own pockets to perform. Isn’t it something? (Laughs) So I said, “If that’s all it takes, then let me write a play.” That’s how I got into theater.
    The first play I wrote was never performed, and they told me I should try experiencing theater as an actor once. They told me that would help me see the flow of the process by which a play comes together; you have the actors, the director, you have the script, the staff work and then you put it together in the theater. I tried it, but it didn’t suit me, or perhaps I couldn’t accept the fact that I was being made to do it. Anyway, it didn’t work. So I went into writing and directing, and eventually in 2003 I got together with a few members of that theater company and formed a new company named “Ikiume.”
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