- The Aesthetics of Quietude: Ōta Shōgo and the Theatre of Divestiture
There was a time, easily within the memory of Europeans and Americans who began their academic careers in the 1960s, when Japanese studies was almost virgin territory. New books on Japan by Western scholars reviewed in Monumenta Nipponica were often the first in their field, and reviewers had to rely mostly on their knowledge of work in the same area written in Japanese. All that changed with the impetus provided by the National Defense Education Act (1958) in the United States and the Hayter Report (1961) in Britain. By 1973 Europe had its European Association for Japanese Studies, and throughout the Western world Japanese studies was set on a course of expansion. Now in some areas it can be difficult to keep up with the new writing on Japan in English, and even if one succeeds, this is often at the cost of neglecting what is being published in other European languages.
Research outside Japan on modern Japanese theater has participated in this expansion, attested to recently in a conference to commemorate thirty years since the publication of Thomas J. Rimer's book Toward a Modern Japanese Theatre (Princeton University Press, 1974). This was the first book in English devoted to an aspect of Japan's twentieth-century theater history, and at that time, only a handful of people were in the field outside Japan (or even inside Japan). The conference attracted around forty mostly younger scholars, and their efforts and the efforts of others who were not at the conference, have ensured that a steady stream of books on nontraditional Japanese theater has appeared over the past decade.
There are still, however, massive holes in the story of theater in Japan since the Meiji period, and Mari Boyd's book will help to fill in one of them. Modern Japanese theater in the broadest sense has undergone many vicissitudes, and a list of what could be defined as turning points would be long. By general consent, however, the 1960s changed modern theater forever. Against a political background of disenchantment with the orthodox left and a concomitant antipathy for the establishment in all its manifestations (including the leadership of the major modern theater companies), a few young theater people grasped a freedom to be uninhibited and innovative in their art and by so doing encouraged the development of a theater culture that has astounded the world with its brilliance and variety. To be sure, this culture has been helped by the staying power of the traditional forms, but it would not be going too far to say that the vitality of Japanese theater today is due mainly to about six people. And we know far too little about their work in the 1960s.
David Goodman first brought their activities to the attention of students of Japan by his central role in the publication of the lamentably short-lived journal Concerned Theatre Japan, an essential English-language source for this period. He wrote a doctoral thesis on one of the pioneers, Satō Makoto, but it was never published as a book, and Goodman's subsequent work focused on themes and translations rather than individual personalities. It was nearly thirty years after the seminal work of the pioneers that assessments of their achievements appeared in book form, with Paul Allain's book on Suzuki Tadashi in 2002 (The Art of Stillness: The Theater Practice of Tadashi [End Page 206] Suzuki, Palgrave Macmillan) and Carol Sorgenfrei's study of Terayama Shūji in 2005 (Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-Garde Theatre of Terayama Shūji and Postwar Japan, University of Hawai'i Press). With Boyd's present monograph on Ōta Shōgo, we are another important step closer to appreciating the debt contemporary Japanese theater owes to this group.
Boyd's preface and James Brandon's foreword in a few sentences testify to the power of Ōta's theater when one is encountering it for the first time. Gloom, near...