The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
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
Ikiume Omote to ura to, sono mukou (Outside In, and Out There)
(Jul. 2008 at Kinokuniya hall)
Photo: Aki Tanaka
Omote to ura to sono muko
Ikiume Nemuri no tomodachi (A Friend of a Slumber)
(Feb. – Mar. 2008 at AKASAKA RED THEATER)
Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
Nemuri no tomodachi
Listening to you talk about your works, it sounds like you start out with a big question mark and then gradually break it down. It seems like you start in a situation where you don’t know whether or not you will arrive at an answer in the end but you keep writing with the material you have before you. Is that it?
    Yes. He first step is to find just how strange or wondrous a question mark I can put up there, then the next step is to look at that question mark from a number of perspectives, and if I can make up some angle that is interesting I consider it a success.
    With Sampo suru shinryakusha (Strolling Invader), the idea developed out of a story I had written earlier. It was a story about a young Japanese who went to America to study but developed a fear of going out and was paralyzed by his fear to the point where he couldn’t set foot outside his apartment. Three friends came from Japan to help him, but they too became terrified of going outside. There were able to get food by home deliveries and they were able to do their shopping through the Internet, they also got the information they needed from the TV. In the course of time they reach a point where it no longer matters to them whether they are in Japan or in New York.
    If their window to society is the Internet and TV then there is nothing different from being in Japan. If that is true then where are we really? And that means that the concept of “nation” is being lost. So I ask myself how they will talk once they have lost the concept of country, how will they talk when America and Japan are just the names of things, not nations? How will people change when they lose a variety of concepts like that? The development of interest in these questions is what led me to the idea that I explored by writing Sampo suru shinryakusha.
    Then I asked myself who should be the ones that steal the concepts from people’s minds? The answer that came to mind is that aliens would be best (laughs). When thinking next about what kind of aliens it should be, I remembered the character Metron Seijin (alien from planet Metron) from the Ultra Seven story Nerawareta machi (Targeted Town) (laughs). [Ultra Seven is a TV series from the 1960s filmed in special-effects style. In this popular series the hero Ultraman Seven has come from outer space to defend the Earth from alien invaders and monsters].
    This Metron Seijin character makes its base of operations a cheap apartment in a small country town and puts a poison in the cigarettes in the vending machines in front of train stations that caused people to go crazy and kill each other. And in this way it plans to conquer Earth. But why a cheap apartment in a small country town, and why does it put the poison in one particular brand of cigarettes?
    Probably the aliens from planet Metron did their research and found that there was no need for them to bring in their weapons and fight the humans because they are a race that can’t keep negative feelings from building up inside them and, as a result, once they start a war they can’t stop it. So, it would suffice just to start them killing each other. Of course this is just my own interpretation, but that image of the Metron Seijin led to the alien character in Sampo suru shinryakusha. In appearance, the Metron Seijin looked something like a goldfish, don’t you think? And that is why in Sampo suru shinryakusha the first creature that the Metron Seijin enters is a goldfish. But that is the only Metron Seijin episode that comes directly from Ultra Seven (laughs).
    At the end of the Ultra Seven story Nerawareta machi, there is a famous scene where the hero Ultra Seven and Metron Seijin face each other across the kotatsu (heater table) in the small 6-mat single-room apartment and talk about peace for Earth and the universe. That scene was really cool and remembering it made me think that I could use the device of this alien that steals concepts from people’s minds and have it sit at the kotatsu and talk about peace in the universe and love. That was a main motivation for writing Sampo suru shinryakusha—if it’s OK to let them talk that way, then really let them have a say.

You started out making movies, but when you switched to theater was there any artist who influenced you?
    When I first started out in theater I went around and saw a lot of plays, but when I did I was only really looking at what the plays were trying to say. I wasn’t looking at the plays as theater. For me, I first have a story that I want to tell, and my media just happened to become theater by chance really. So, in the end, it is the story that is most important for me.

There is a methodology by which the writer/director takes into consideration various theatrical effects from the beginning and arranges the plot development in a form similar to a maze. What do you think of that kind of approach?
    There was a period when I was thinking that way. Like a complex plot development is cooler or more sophisticated (laughs). But I believe that it is meaningless if it doesn’t get your message across. Now I think a play is stronger if it communicates its message directly and powerfully, without unnecessary twists in the plot.

It seems to me that in your plays, even if the setting is one of a broken-down social structure or pattern of events, the interpersonal relationships have not broken down; there is still trust in the relationships or a sense of brotherhood. This appears to stand in contrast to the other playwrights of your generation who write about broken down human relations or the solitude or loneliness of the contemporary human state. Where does your sense of human relations come from?
    Is that so? You feel a sense of human trust (laughs)? Personally, I had a stammer when I was young and, partly because of that, was never especially good at interpersonal relationships. I tend to be shy with people I meet for the first time, and I don’t talk much. But, I have been aware of that and have made a conscious effort to overcome those traits and try to talk more. I have never thought about were my trust in people comes from, but I do think it is one of the traits I have perhaps more strongly than some people. It is not necessarily that I believe we are born with human nature is inherently good (seizensetsu = Confucian concept of inherent human goodness) but that I want to believe in people, that when the time comes they will do the right thing. Also, I have almost no desire to bring all of the uglier sides of human nature to the stage. Of course, I think it is fine that there be works that present the uglier sides of human nature out in ways that the audience finds truly relevant and become absorbed in, but that is just not what I am interested in.
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