- The Theatre Practice of Tadashi Suzuki: A Critical Study with DVD Examples
Since the beginning of his career in the early 1960s, Tadashi Suzuki has developed a well-known system of actor training, staged plays and adaptations ranging from Greek tragedy to Chekov, organized an international theatre festival, and designed three theatre complexes. In The Theatre Practice of Tadashi Suzuki, Paul Allain offers a critical account of Suzuki’s varied career. Originally published in 2002 as The Art of Stillness, the book is divided into five chapters, each addressing one aspect of Suzuki’s work in a more or less chronological fashion. This new edition, however, also significantly adds a DVD that not only demonstrates the basic exercises of the Suzuki Method, but also provides an alternative soundtrack, allowing the viewer to hear Allain’s comments as the exercises progress.
Allain’s first chapter is both an introduction to Suzuki’s work and an exploration of the sources of his inspiration. Born in 1939, Suzuki was raised amid the destruction of World War II and the humiliation of the Allied occupation. These experiences, combined with his veneration for traditional Japanese culture, his interest in Western philosophy, and his participation in the general rebellion of Japanese youth in the 1960s, provide a ground for the absurdist dystopias that Suzuki creates onstage. Fragmentation is not only a postmodern trope, but the experience of deprivation and impotence fused into the marrow of those who survived a manmade cataclysm and its aftermath. Consistent with this is Suzuki’s recurring image of the world as a hospital, peopled only by patients and the nurses who try to care for them in the midst of their afflictions. As Allain observes, Suzuki’s work reveals cultural influences that are curious and eclectic: “Suzuki’s existentialist views can be related to Buddhism, but they are just as likely to have arisen from his contact with French philosophy in the 1960’s” (32).
In chapter 2, Allain assesses Suzuki’s impact as a theatrical innovator, especially with regard to his status as a teacher, director, and organizational leader. In this regard, Suzuki, like many advocates of radically new artistic forms, is presented as something of a victim of his earlier successes, compelled and perhaps condemned to the repetition of various diluted memes, while his company and its affiliations dwindle (45). In chapter 3, Allain provides detailed descriptions of the theatre spaces Suzuki created in collaboration with architect Arota Isozaki. These purpose-built theatres are the concrete expressions of Suzuki’s unique aesthetic, in that they contain intimate as well as epic performance spaces and combine classic Greek, Elizabethan, and Noh theatre influences. Allain’s description of the outdoor theatre in Togo, set beneath the mountains and against an alpine lake, is especially beautiful. Suzuki and Isozaki replicated this effect in an indoor theatre, incorporating large doors in the back wall of the stage that, when opened, revealed Mount Fuji in the distance. Allain lauds the skill and vision that led to the development of Suzuki’s performance spaces, while also acknowledging that the very specificity of the architecture may make them difficult for any other artist to work in (86, 93).
In chapter 4, Allain delves into an exploration and critique of Suzuki’s system of actor training. Both on the page and in the accompanying DVD, one can sense the love and will necessary to accomplish and master this technique, which could almost be classified as a martial art. Indeed, a central goal of the Suzuki Method is the cultivation of Noh theatre’s “battle psychology on stage” (121). Like a martial art, Suzuki’s exercises ultimately aim to develop the will of the actor. Accordingly, Suzuki training can appear authoritarian, even fascistic, especially to those trained in Western schools of acting devoted [End Page 474] to imagination and emotional truth. As Tom Nelis remarks: “What Suzuki is interested in is taboo in the United States. The only experience equivalent to working with him is being held up at gunpoint. When you think...