The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Yukio Ninagawa
Photo: Shugyo Ohara
Yukio Ninagawa
Born in Saitama Pref. Artistic director of Sai-no-Kuni Saitama Arts Theater. Joined the theater company Gekidan Seihai in 1955 and founded the company Gekidan Gendaijin Gekijo in 1967. Made his debut as a theater director in 1969 with a production of Shinjo afururu keihakusa by Kunio Shimizu. Founded Sakura-sha with Kunio Shimizu and others in 1972. Following activities in these two companies, he became active as a commercial theater director with the Nissay Theater production of Romeo and Juliet. Since then he has continued to be one of Japan’s representative theater directors, presenting a string of highly acclaimed productions. Since assuming the artistic directorship of Sai-no-Kuni Saitama Arts Theater in 2006, he began a new challenge by launching the Saitama Gold Theater project for people over 55 years of age, once again attracting much attention in the society.

Saitama Next Theater
The founding of this project was inspired by the meeting with many young actors in the 2008 production of Between 95kg and 97kg. Recently, open auditions were held to select the cast for Sanada Fuunroku (Tale of the Sanada Family) from among more than 1,200 applicants, with 27 men and 17 women being selected (total: 44). The project will continue to mount productions of new works with the aim of nurturing young actors.
Saitama Next Theater
Sanada Fuunroku

(Oct. 15 – Nov. 1, 2009 at Saitama Arts Theater - Inside Theater)
Written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda
Directed by Yukio Ninagawa
Sanada Fuunroku
Sanada Fuunroku
Sanada Fuunroku
Sanada Fuunroku
Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Yukio Ninagawa's new theatrical venture Confronting the realities the common people' history together with the elderly and young people  
Yukio Ninagawa's new theatrical venture Confronting the realities the common people' history together with the elderly and young people  
Yukio Ninagawa is certainly one of Japan’s busiest theater directors today. A glance at the calendar of projects he is involved in from this year into next year shows that he is undertaking a succession of ambitious projects in his capacities as artistic director of the commercial-base Bunkamura Theater Cocoon and the public Sai-no-Kuni Saitama Arts Theater. In March he worked with playwright Hisashi Inoue, known for his works rich in humor and deep knowledge of his subjects, to present his new work Musashi. In May he presented a re-staging of the play Ame no Natsu, Sanjunin no Juliet ga Kaette Kita (Summer of Rain, the return of 30 Juliets) by Kunio Shimizu, a playwright with whom Ninagawa has worked for many years on Theater Cocoon productions, and in June he restaged his Kabuki-version Shakespeare play NINAGAWA Twelfth Night and gave London performances. In September he presented the nine-hour work Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard, and in November he presents 12 Angry Men. For January of next year he will be directing a debut performance of Chi wa Tattamama Nemutteiru, the first play ever written by Shuji Terayama. In March he presents the 22nd sequel in the Saitama Arts Theater’s program to present the full works of Shakespeare, which features this time Henry VI (in a shortening of the original triptych into a diptych with a total stage time of six hours).
Another center of attention in Ninagawa’a activities is the two projects he has launched since assuming the position of artistic director at the Saitama Gold Theater in 2006. One is for unknown or amateur seniors over 55 years of age that is dedicated to “searching for a new form of theater based on personal histories” and nurturing professional stage actors. The other is called Saitama Next Theater and is dedicated to training and nurturing the next generation of young actors. This October, Saitama Next Theater presented its first production, a play titled Sanada Fuunroku by Yoshiyuki Fukuda, a playwright who would eventually have a strong influence on contemporary Japanese theater. This play stands as a masterpiece of Japan’s 1960s, a time when the country was shaken by student political revolt and a revolution in theater that brought a shift from the Shingeki (New Theater) movement to the avant-garde Small Theater movement. As a thespian of the era of student revolt, Ninagawa has taken up the task with his young actors of re-evaluating this and other works from that era of revolution and innovation. In this interview he speaks about this endeavor with Next Theater and its reflection of his personal views on theater, and about his activities with the elderly members of his Gold Theater in search of new forms of theater.

(Interviewer: Akihiko Senda; venue: Saitama Arts Theater, Sept. 28, 2009)

Next Theater launched with noise-free young actors

You became the artistic director of the Saitama Arts Theater in 2006. That year you started the Gold Theater project for amateur seniors, and this year you started the Next Theater project primarily for young actors. Was that your idea from the start when you became artistic director?
I had the idea for Gold Theater but I didn’t have the idea for Next Theater at the time. I had been working with young people in my company, NINAGAWA STUDIO, but recently those activities had been missing. It might have been partly the frustration of that loss that inspired the new projects.

The present NINAGAWA STUDIO began as the GEKI-SYA NINAGAWA STUDIO back in 1984. What are its activities like now?
The STUDIO still exists. But the Benisan Pit building where we had rented our studio space was torn down because of its age and deterioration, so our studio space is gone. When we had a studio space we did our etude work there and created works that we then performed. Now, without that space we are unable to do that. The etude part is an essential part of our craft. So, I left the NINAGAWA STUDIO name as it was and told the people that I was starting Next Theater separately, and if anyone wanted to come for auditions, they could come there. For me, the STUDIO and Next Theater remain distinct, separate entities.

For Gold Theater you have set an age limit of over 55. What is your policy concerning Next Theater? Do you run it as a production type company that holds auditions anew for each work to be performed?
That hasn’t been decided specifically yet, but some specific system may be set eventually. I am also interested to see what these young people think about the organizational aspects. As we do productions for performance, there will be some people who are assigned parts and others who aren’t. If those people are still interested in being part of a group led by me, it will be possible to continue, and if that happens then we will have to think about adopting specific methods. At this stage, no one is being paid to participate yet, but if people, audiences find the performances interesting, we might possibly get funding support from the prefectural government. I believe it will take at least three years before people start considering that. (With a seniors company, there are no problems of the members having to earn a living) but if Next Theater becomes organized as a company, we will have to give the actors set salaries in order for it to continue operating.

How many performances do you plan to do?
I think we will do two or three productions a year, and if Gold Theater is included, that will make four a year, which will be quite a lot considering my present working schedule. At first, I will be directing, but eventually it would be good if I am able to pass that responsibility along smoothly to young, new directors.

What standards do you use in choosing the young actors? I have heard that many of the people taking part in your recent audition were young people who have studied drama at various universities.
Basically, the criteria I used for selecting them was whether they could speak their lines well, whether they can move naturally and the other things is whether they have what I call “lots of noise.” Wanted to find young people with untamed, animal-like instincts. But most of the actors you see are rather square. They have good posture. They have clear skin. Their speech is clean and proper. There is no interest in all of this. There is no noise, at all. It is important to be able to deliver your lines with clarity, but clarity without meaning is only annoying. There has to be something inside that possesses the actor and is brought out in words on stage, but there are few actors like that. What I am interested is having the actors speak to the audience with their acting, without any superfluous theatrics, but I don’t know yet how it will work out. It remains to be seen what we can do.

Has the character of the actors changed?
Yes, it has changed. When I first began doing productions with NINAGAWA STUDIO, there were more actors with noise. Back then, that’s what Keizo Kanie and Renji Ishibashi were. They weren’t your proper actors. They stood out like sore thumbs, they did things that disturbed you, they disrupted my work (as director). (Laughs) They were many actors then who wanted to do something different from what others were doing. In contrast, most of the actors today are truly naïve, and too tranquil.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |