- Manga Discourse in Japanese Theater: The Location of Noda Hideki's Yume no Yuminsha
Current discussions of postwar Japanese theatre tend to focus on the modern (shingeki) and avant-garde (angura) theatres, exploring the roles each played in the cultural landscape. These discussions, however, generally end at the beginning of the 1980s with the deaths of figures such as Terayama Shji, resuming at 2000 with Hirata Ozira and Ohashi Yasuhiko and their contemporaries. While this fifteen- to-twenty-year gap in English-language scholarship is slowly being filled, thanks to the diligent work of groups like the Japan Playwright's Association and their series of anthologies, volume-length critical studies of the playwrights, directors, and actors of this period have been slow to appear. With the publication of Yoshiko Fukushima's Manga Discourse in Japanese Theater: The Location of Noda Hideki's Yume no Yuminsha, this scholarly gap is beginning to close. Fukushima's book is a comprehensive study of Noda Hideki and his company, providing an interesting discursive methodology for looking at Japanese theatre. While the book has certain flaws in editing and structure, its contributions to the field are manifold.
Noda Hideki is one of Japan's foremost contemporary playwrights and directors. His theatrical work incorporates a variety of ideas, including [End Page 366] the transposition of different time periods within the same dramatic text, an extraordinary physical acting style, an awareness of popular cultural and historical figures, and an innovative use of language that features wordplay, puns, and poetry. While his plays are sometimes difficult to understand, Noda has built a large following throughout Japan and appeals to both a commercial and an artistic audience. Despite this success, most Western audiences only know of Noda through his play Akaoni (Red Demon Akaoni), which was recently presented in London. Despite his artistic and commercial success, Noda's work, especially the early work with his company Yume no Yuminsha, remains unknown to Western scholars.
Fukushima's book addresses these concerns, illustrating how Noda's sometimes bewildering display of images and wordplay parallels changes in Japanese cultural and aesthetic ideas from 1976 to 1992. The book follows the connections between the shgekij (little theatre) movement and what she terms "manga discourse," a form of communication that takes its name from Japanese comic books (manga). Connected both with Japanese art and culture, this discourse eschews linear narrative in favor of a combination of language and visual imagery. The first three chapters deal with the idea of manga discourse and its connections to Japanese postmodernism as well as theatre. These chapters are among the most compelling in the book.
Manga discourse, according to Fukushima, includes the idea of ludic figures, popular comic figures and images that include wordplay and caricature, as well as the co-presence of pictures and words. Finally, it connects with the Japanese concept of monogatari, a long oral narrative that comments upon contemporary society through the use of historical figures and the simultaneous evocation of both fantasy and reality.
This idea of manga discourse as a new way of looking at Japanese theatre is one of the book's greatest strengths. Clearly Noda's theatre fits this methodology, but throughout the book Fukushima illustrates possible applications for the ideas of manga discourse, both in classical and modern Japanese theatre forms (there are also some suggestions that this methodology may be applicable to some postmodern Western works as well). Transcultural theoretical work is always difficult at best, and with the idea of manga discourse, Fukushima has given scholars a new analytical tool for both Japanese and Western theatre.
The last two chapters in the book detail Noda Hideki's theatrical activities and illustrate how his company gained such popularity. Connecting Noda's performances with the ideas of manga discourse, Fukushima shows how Noda's theatre avoided the direct political action and atmosphere of its shingeki and angura predecessors. These chapters provide in-depth discussions and analyses of several of Noda's works as well as a fairly detailed...