Asian Theatre Journal 21.2 (2004) 119-176
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A Play by Kisaragi Koharu
Introduction by Colleen Lanki
Kisaragi Koharu and Her Theatre
Kisaragi Koharu was an ultimate theatre creator: a playwright, director, artistic director, theatre educator, composer, lyricist, performer, and critic of current issues both theatrical and social. She was an all-round artist and advocate, and when she passed away suddenly in December 2000 from a cerebral hemorrhage, she left a young daughter, a husband, a vast world of unfinished scripts and projects, and a legacy of plays, essays, and theatre activism. [End Page 119]
Kisaragi Koharu was born in Tokyo in 1956. She majored in philosophy at Tokyo Women's University, and in 1976, while still a sophomore, she founded her first theatre group, Gekidan Kiki. With this group she wrote and directed her own plays following a mandate to examine urban problems and human life in big cities. In her early productions, she began to explore the treatment of the actor's body as a doll, simulating the idea that urban life turned people into alienated robotlike beings. In one of her first popularly acclaimed productions, Romio to Furījia no aru Shokutaku (Romeo and Freesias at the table; 1981) she paralleled a group of city dwellers with the Capulets and Montagues, having the Tokyoites put on their own version of Romeo and Juliet, and in production she used the device of kōken or stage assistants to manipulate the actors' bodies like puppets. Theatre critic Senda Akihiko described her early work as a kind of bas-relief of people's daily life in the city, and said that her characters were "virtual phantoms—drifting through their urban lives, becoming symbolic tableaux" (Senda 2001, 45).1
In 1982, at the age of 27, she left Gekidan Kiki and with a few other members founded a new group called NOISE.2 Kisaragi was the head of the company, writing and directing all its productions, while her husband, Kajiya Kazuyuki, was the main producer. Here she continued her work on the themes of urban life. The name for the group came from the idea of the "white noise" that exists in every second of the day in the city. The other meaning behind NOISE comes from a desire to speak out and make a difference. Particularly for women, the concept of shizuka, or quietness, is seen as a positive attribute in society, while being urusai, or noisy, is not approved of. Kisaragi and her group insisted on being outspoken and making waves, and their productions were definitely argumentative and noisy.
The company's work reflected Kisaragi's ideas about actors' voices and bodies. In her essay "Ansanburu no Shisō" (Thoughts on the ensemble) she wrote that "the point of departure is language" and also that "the body is the subject of performance" (Kisaragi 1991, 114). She worked with the combination of the voice and body, believing that the body is what creates the resonance, pitches, and quality of feeling in theatrical expression, and indeed that the voice and body are the only tools of human communication. She worked very actively with her company, linking all of her dialogue to full-out physicality. The movements and gestures were not realistic, but another level of expression for the text, and often appeared mechanical or robotlike, illustrating Kisaragi's belief that city dwellers are often more machine than human.
Kisaragi's ideas on theatre came from various sources. Her earliest performance experience was in music, in the form of piano lessons, [End Page 120] which she claims to have found generally uninspiring. As a child she was taken to some standard kinds of shows such as musical comedies and Western-style dramas, but declares to have always had more of an interest in television. Her first experience with the avant-garde theatre was during her first year in university when she went to a performance of Kara Jū...