The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Kudan no Ken
Kudan no Ken
Photo: Naoshi Hatori
Premiere: 1995
Length: 1 hr. 35 min.
Acts, scenes: one act and six scenes
Cast: 2 (men)
Japanese Drama Database
Play of the Month Play of the Month
Kudan no Ken by Tengai Amano 
A Kudan is a legendary monster born from a cow with a human head atop a cow’s body. Immediately after birth it prophesies war or a natural disaster and then promptly dies. The word kudan is also a pronoun in standard Japanese meaning “that affair,” making the play’s title a pun on these two meanings.
This title thus affords a glimpse of the way Amano’s theatrical world links words by sound to create an enticing blossom of unrelated images, or distorts the story so that the lack of restraint spreading dreamlike into space becomes a driving force of the play. Furthermore, his stage props transform to blur the line between “object” and “symbol,” while also imbuing the scene with energy. The frequent use of dazzling collages of time and reversals of the laws of cause and effect to give the play a dreamlike, even mythical quality and highlight the unique labyrinth of space-time is a hallmark of Amano’s work. His plays are also imbued with extraordinary playfulness and a hint of nostalgia.

One summer’s day, at no particular time, in no particular place… Hitoshi is behind a shabby old counter when Taro comes in. Having once lived in the area, Taro has returned to enquire after a stray kudan that he had kept in an upstairs room of his row house.
The pair amuse themselves chewing gum, exchanging cups of barley tea, playing at being barbers or pretending to be in a time machine, and so forth, with their antics becoming increasingly frenzied. This unremitting and deeply unsettling spectacle is rather like seeing the two of them in a dream in which each is seeing the other in a dream.
When they talk nostalgically about a “true summer” that they once shared, we begin to realize that they were apparently childhood friends. Taro opens up his cloth bundle to reveal a bright red watermelon and, as they eat the fruit, they recall one July 7 when they had still been friends. This is the night of the Tanabata, or Star Festival, when people typically write a wish on a strip of paper that is then hung from bamboo. Hitoshi’s wish had apparently revealed his eschatological tendencies, while Taro’s wish had put a curse on Hitoshi. It thus seems that their relationship had been one of ruler and subject.
Before long, the bright red watermelon comes to be associated with a freshly severed head covered in blood, the phrase “squash a mosquito” (ka o tsubusu) becomes “squash a face” (kao o tsubusu) and the “cow upstairs” (nikai no ushi) is transformed into “brain dead upstairs” (nikai nou shi). The allusion is that when they were children, Hitoshi had somehow been pushed down the stairs by Taro and split open his head, and even now remains in a persistent vegetative state. Taro has kept this traumatic memory suppressed, but it is now revived.
The stage revolves to show a rural-style upstairs tatami room. Hitoshi is taking care for Taro, who has just recovered from sunstroke. Perhaps that room is Hitoshi’s, as he awakens from his thirty-five-year coma… Perhaps it was all Taro’s dream… The play ends abruptly as Hitoshi mutters that he’d woken up only to find that there was nothing left in the world. Everything is removed to leave, but only the home-delivered pizza just arrived in the real world is left on the bare stage.

Profile: Born: 1960
Born 1960 in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, Amano is a playwright, director, and leader of the Shonen Oja Kan group. Formed in 1982, Shonen Oja Kan is based in Nagoya and active throughout Japan. They stage productions in a wide range of genres, including theater, dance, puppet shows, concerts, fashion shows, and so forth, while also being active in fields such as manga, design, and journalism. In 1998 Amano formed the theatrical company KUDAN Project together with Hideji Oguma and performed abroad, as well as touring Asian countries. His best-known plays are Oshimai (The Sisters), Hoshi no tengu (Goblin of the Stars), Takaoka shinno kokai ki (Prince Takaoka’s Logbook), Twilights, Kudan no ken (That Kudan Affair, nominated for the 1999 Kishida Drama Award), and Mayonaka no yaji san kita san (Midnight Yaji and Kita). His first directed short film titled Twilights (1994) won the grand prize both in the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and the Melbourne International Film Festival.