Asian Theatre Journal 23.2 (2006) 407-411
[Access article in PDF]
Ku Na'uka is a Japanese theater company formed in 1990 by the director Miyagi Satoshi and actors such as Mikari (she uses only one name) and Abe Kazunori. The company is known for its performance style of separating each role into what it calls a "speaker" and a "mover." The speakers use a bunraku-style chanting technique, and the movers engage in ningyō-buri, a kabuki technique of having humans imitate bunraku puppets. However, unlike kabuki's ningyō-buri, there are no black-robed actors (kurogo) who perform as "puppeteers." Thus, the "movers" are self-motivated, rather than appearing as puppets manipulated by black-robed puppeteers. Although inspired by traditional theater techniques, this is a contemporary, experimental troupe that uses both male and female performers. Gender identities vary within and across plays (women can play men or vice versa), a technique that is unique to the troupe. Their performance techniques are applied to both classic and contemporary [End Page 407] plays from Japan and the West. In a discussion after the production of Medea in Biwako Hall, director Miyagi Satoshi said a reason for this performance technique was his desire to express the schizophrenic condition of postmodern people, their pain of being split into language and movement. He also explained that the technique is particularly suitable for premodern fantastic plays, such as Medea, which depict "exotic" characters (e.g., royalty) engaged in grand dramatic events (e.g., war). Miyagi said that realistic performance techniques put a mask of normality on such fantastic characters. By splitting speaker and mover, this performance style creates distance between the audience and the characters, leading, as Miyagi suggests, to the feeling that Hamlet is not our neighbor.
Clearly, these two motivations (the schizophrenia of postmodernity and the distancing of premodernity) are at odds with each other, but somehow they coexisted comfortably in Miyagi's postcolonial/feminist Japanese interpretation of Medea. First produced in Japan in 1999, this production was revived in Japan in 2000 and 2001; in Korea, Russia, Morocco, Italy, and France in 2001; and in Vietnam, Singapore, and France in 2002. With Medea played by Mikari as a Korean woman who lived in Japan, it evoked the pain of the colonized woman, forced into division from her language and body, with the former suppressed and the latter exploited sexually. This separation is in contrast to the one female character that both moved and spoke for herself throughout the show, namely the old Nurse. This character highlighted the artificiality of the speaker/mover separation as well as the audience's role as witnesses of exploitation taking place on stage.
In Ku Na'uka's Medea, the setting is the Meiji period (1868–1912), when Japan, for the purpose of its "modernization," began to "learn" from the West. In international affairs, what began as liberal reform became an ultra-right nationalist policy that would last until the middle of twentieth century: Japan invaded its Asian neighbors, with the stated intention of creating a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" that would free Asia from the yoke of Western imperialism. In the production, Euripides' Medea is a play-within-a-play, which is initiated for fun in a restaurant/brothel by men wearing black gowns, showing they are intellectuals. The speaker/mover dichotomy is only applied to the play-within-the-play.
The show started with a superb scene. A dark semi-transparent curtain revealed many women in traditional Japanese kimono. The stage had been decorated beautifully with traditional Japanese umbrellas painted with people and colorful scenes from the rapidly changing period. The center of the floor was covered with a white fabric, and in the middle of this sheet was a red circle. From the circle rose a huge pillar, which looked like a sword. The fabric obviously represented the national flag of Japan, and the sword with the "rising sun" was a symbol of its colonial...