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TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 97-108

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Japan As Dystopia: Kawamura Takeshi's Daisan Erotica

Peter Eckersall


Contemporary Japanese Performance

Japan as a nation is well on the way to eradicating history. As long as we stay within Japanese society, this will induce a pseudo-utopian euphoria. The moment we step outside and look around, we will see our condition for what it is: deformed, distressed, and unnatural.

--Yomota Inuhiko (1991:47)

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= Investigations of contemporary Japanese theatre--in English at least--have concentrated on the work of "first wave" theatrical innovators, especially Suzuki Tadashi, Terayama Shuji, Sato Makoko, and Hijikata Tatsumi (see this issue of TDR for a special section on Hijikata). While the scope of such work is too wide to singularly categorize, a few conclusions stand out. The angura (underground) "small theatre" movement that emerged in the 1960s recuperated premodern Japanese theatre and folklore (see principally Goodman 1988). The taboo nature of premodern expression--revived and reinvented--was connected with the radical counterculture and the political turmoil of the '60s (Goodman 1988; Senda 1997). Nevertheless, scholarly writing on angura deferred questions of politics in favor of discussing actor training (Brandon 1978; Allain 1998). More problematically, essentialized notions of the angura performing body as a pseudo-mystical narrative, and the emergence of hybrid
Japan-West theatres have been investigated by scholars (Kurihara 1996; Marotti 1997; Eckersall 1998). Unfortunately, this has meant less discussion of more recent theatre groups that emerged from angura--discussions of how these groups are interacting, not with Japan's fractured history, but with the dystopic atmosphere of today's society and culture. 1

The vastly different context for 1990s theatre has undermined angura as a site of radical culture. As Senda Akihiko, a long-time observer of new Japanese theatre, argues, "the relentless logic of capitalism has unified us all" (1997:10). The 1980s popularization of angura signaled a trend towards ludic escapism that has been rightly criticized for its reactionary politics, as has the more recently popular hyper-naturalistic "quiet theatre" (shizuka na engeki) (Kawamura 1998a). Even so, interesting theatre has emerged from the angura paradigm. Despite the appropriation of the avantgarde by the "relentless logic of capitalism," there are some critical and transgressive theatre works. That is, [End Page 97] works that are antinostalgic, works that expose what Senda calls our "phantom concepts of revolt" hungover from the 1960s (1997:8); works that are innovative and at the same time critical of recent Japanese social and political trends. One source of such work is Kawamura Takeshi's Daisan Erotica.

Daisan Erotica was founded in 1980 while Kawamura (b.1959) was a student at Tokyo's Meiji University. All productions are written, or adapted, and directed by Kawamura, who occasionally also acts. The group's first work was the apocalyptically titled Seikimatsu Love (Fin de Siècle Love, 1980). The company produces on average one or two new productions annually. The best-known include Nippon Woozu (Nippon Wars, 1984), Rasuto Furankenshutain (Last Frankenstein, 1986), Macbeth to yu na no Otoko (A Man Called Macbeth, 1990), Tokyo Torauma (Tokyo Trauma, 1995), and Obsession Sight (1996). In 1985, Kawamura won the prestigious Kishida drama award for his play Shinjuku Hakken-den, Dai-ichikan Inu no Tanjo (Eight Dogs of Shinjuku, Volume 1: Dogs Were Born). In 1997, he received an Asian Cultural Council grant allowing him to observe theatre in New York, where he returned in 1998 to direct two plays by Mishima Yukio with students at NYU's Department of Drama, Tisch School of the Arts. The Mishima plays--Yoroboshi and Sotobakomachi--had been performed by Daisan Erotica in 1989.

In addition to leading Daisan Erotica, Kawamura works as a freelance director. Most recently he directed Kara J uro in a theatrical collation of Beckett's Endgame and Waiting for Godot, in a production titled after Beckett's novel The Unnamable (1998). In 1999, Daisan Erotica did Kawamura's The Lost Babylon (see this issue of TDR); and Hamletclone, a collectively devised piece citing contemporary social events intercut with...


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