TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 109-113
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Kawamura Takeshi: New Ideas in/for Japanese Theatre
an interview by Carol Martin
Contemporary Japanese Performance
The following interview with the playwright/founding director of Daisan Erotica took place on 14 November 1997 in New York.
MARTIN: What was the cultural climate in which you first began to make theatre?
KAWAMURA: It was the beginning of the 1980s during which Japan experienced the "bubble economy." People thought Japan was the richest country in the world. But there was no structural support; it was just a money game of the stock exchange. I began my theatre practice just before this. In terms of theatre history the practitioners of angura [underground theatre] were still very active. Terayama Shuji [1935-1983] was a visible figure when I first began my work [Terayama's theatre was known as the Upper Gallery or Tenjosajika], as was Suzuki Tadashi [b.1939] with his Waseda Little Theatre [renamed SCOT in 1984] and Kara Juro [b.1940] and his Situation Theatre [Jokyogekijo].
MARTIN: When you first began working you were still a student in university. How did you see your relationship to angura at the time?
KAWAMURA: My position was to critically accept the legacy. If there was something I considered important I would try to explore more, but if something didn't seem important I denied it.
MARTIN: What kinds of things were important?
KAWAMURA: Angura theatre practitioners denied the shingeki [new theatre] style of theatre with its tradition of realist acting and text-based productions. Shingeki did not explore the real possibilities of the theatrical; it was more focused on drama. As a result of the rejection of this approach to theatre, I was left with ample room to explore the possibilities of the theatrical.
MARTIN: What aspects of the angura movement did you reject?
KAWAMURA: Angura practitioners, in order to transcend or deny the shingeki tradition, adopted the strategy of referring to traditional forms, such as kabuki or noh in the case of Kara and Suzuki. At the beginning of the 1980s [End Page 109] this did not seem like an interesting or effective strategy. I felt it had to be changed because it was not useful for the kind of work I was interested in creating. This kind of work needed to be rethought in different terms.
This also relates to the situation of butoh at that time. Of course butoh, Suzuki, and Kara are, at least theoretically, closely connected. At the beginning of the 1980s their aesthetics became static. They were not exploring any further. They had established their aesthetics and they were enclosing themselves within what they had established. There was a feeling of closure of the possibilities of exploration. Their world closed down.
There was also a kind of "spiritualism" that the aesthetics of these artists were connected with. And the way they established their theatre collectives was that there was one great artist father who controlled everything.
That kind of collective seemed irrelevant and even impossible at the beginning of the 1980s. It's interesting that the organization of the Aum sect that made the cult attack in the subway in 1995 was very much like the way Suzuki or Kara organized their collectives in the 1970s. They were very worried when this came out because their ideas about collectivity were clearly manifest in the organization responsible for the subway massacre.
MARTIN: Butoh companies often have a similar cult-type of organization revolving around a leading male. In both angura and butoh there is nostalgia for a premodern Japanese world. From my perspective, this seems like a contradiction. Experimental or avantgarde companies organized in this way seem to be politically on the right rather than on the left.
In your work you use a combination of Western and Japanese techniques. The text can be Western, the staging is perhaps what I would call international avantgarde--I recognize it. Yet in A Man Called Macbeth you question the Japanese adoption of Western things. Could you talk about this?