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  • Manga Discourse in Japanese Theater: The Location of Noda Hideki's Yume no Yuminsha
  • Kevin Wetmore
Manga Discourse in Japanese Theater: The Location of Noda Hideki's Yume no Yuminsha. By Yoshiko Fukushima. London: Kegan Paul, 2003. 313 pp. + illus. Cloth $161.50.

It has always puzzled me that Noda Hideki's work is not known and appreciated more outside of Japan. His theatre is playful, interesting, and bound to popular culture, which makes it appeal to a young, mass audience familiar with anime (animated films and television shows) and manga (comic books). The simple answer, of course, is that the linguistic wordplay and levels of reference to popular culture of Japan make the work challenging to Japanese audiences and almost incomprehensible to Westerners. Fortunately, Yoshiko Fukushima's book contextualizes Noda's work within the larger discourse of Japanese pop culture and makes Noda's theatre more accessible to those outside of Japan.

After a brief history of manga, anime, and the shōgekijō (modern theatre) movement, Fukushima explores the cultural links between them and the appeal of these forms to their audiences. Whereas the shōgekijō movement began in the 1960s as a form of youth protest theatre, by the 1980s it had become a commodified and commercialized form that traded on nostalgia and fantasy. The audiences of the 1980s had grown up with Tezuka Osamu's Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy), and wanted a theatre that reflected their culture. Manga discourse is "a metaphor for Japanese society during the bubble economy" and can be "characterized as a process to communicate with its audience and as a driving force to develop an elaborate codified linguistic system," which represents a unique form of Japanese postmodernism (p. 14). Chapter 1 shows how shōgekijō and manga both "reflect the characteristics of Japanese postmodern society in the 1980s" (p. 15). The second chapter explores the [End Page 419] language of "manga discourse," followed by an extended history of shingeki and manga in chapter 3, which displays one of the problems of the book: it can be repetitive. One wonders if it is necessary to dedicate so many pages to a recapitulation of a history of modern Japanese theatre when only some of the history is relevant to the discussion at hand, so sometimes the volume feels like an unrevised dissertation. Also, although Fukushima is to be admired for her versatility in discussing manga, shingeki, traditional theatre, and contemporary history, often in the same sentence, the chapter would have benefited by the inclusion of works from the emerging field of graphic novel theory, such as Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994) or Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art (Tamarac: Poorhouse, 1990), thereby avoiding statements such as "Japanese manga, unlike Western comics, produces a series of various-sized frames," which is simply not true (p. 78). Admittedly, this criticism is nitpicking, but the volume makes such important connections and deals with cultural theory in a manner that the reader wants all statements to be factually accurate.

The first half of the book lays out the theoretical background. The second half, chapters 4 and 5, gives the history of Noda's theatre. Chapter 4 begins with an extended biography of Noda, followed by a history of his first company Yume no Yūminsha (Dream Wanderers) and concludes with an analysis of the relationship between the company and its audience. Chapter 5 opens with a study of Noda's performance theories and then continues through a close reading of two of Noda's plays: Hashire, Merusu! (Run, Merusu! 1976–1986) and Zenda jō no toriko—Kokemusu bokura ga eiji no yoru (The Prisoner of Zenda—The Night of Our Moss-Covered Infants, 1980–1992). It is in these last two chapters that the strengths of the volume show through. Fukushima interviewed Noda at length, and his statements are fascinating in terms of explaining his aesthetics, practices, and theories; Fukushima is to be praised for often allowing Noda to speak for himself. Her analyses are thorough and demonstrate clearly how Noda's work embodies the manga discourse she defines in the first half of the book. Noda does not merely play...