- Tokyo Theatre Today: Conversations with Eight Emerging Theatre Artists by Iwaki Kyoko
The idea of discussing “contemporary” or “emerging” theatre artists presents scholars with a dilemma: namely, at what point is a promising theatre artist worthy of discussion and/or canonization? Absent the context and hindsight offered by time, writing about current theatre practitioners is a challenge for both reader and scholar. For the author, providing a clear reason and a framework for understanding the selection of theatre artists is critical. In addition, given the temporal and ephemeral nature of theatre, the author must provide the reader with a sense of the theatrical work of the chosen artists. If these criteria are not established, the reader will have little idea of the nature of the performances or of why these artists are worthy of study.
Tokyo Theatre Today: Conversations with Eight Emerging Theatre Artists, by Iwaki Kyoko, is a work that confronts these major criteria. The book consists of a series of interviews with eight of Japan’s leading young theatre artists with a brief introduction for each one. The work does a very good job of highlighting the similarities and differences among this group of theatrical directors and playwrights, and gives a clear and understandable context for their inclusion and consideration. The interviews are fascinating, with each artist explaining his background and theoretical ideas. However, these interviews often mention plays and productions unknown to the reader, and it is here the author struggles to provide a sense of the work beyond small snippets.
Tokyo Theatre Today is a bilingual work; the book was originally written in Japanese and was subsequently translated into English. I did not examine [End Page 547] the translation work in great depth, but areas I did look at seemed fairly accurate. In general, the English translations had a good grasp of colloquial spoken English and the interviews (in English) had a natural flow and question-and-response rhythm. This alone is a remarkable feat for a translator, let alone an author-interviewer-translator, and Iwaki Kyoko should be commended. One minor annoyance does exist, however. In the book Iwaki has given names in the English order instead of in traditional Japanese style. Instead, one wishes she had stuck with the convention of giving names in Japanese order, with the familial name first (as I have done in this review).
The book opens with a brief introductory preface that gives an overview of the Tokyo theatre scene in which these artists work. Iwaki presents three arguments as to why these artists aren’t better known and illustrates how many of them share similar philosophical and artistic traits. The book then contains interviews with the following artists: Takayama Akira, Matsui Shu, Okada Toshiki, Hideto Iwai, Maekawa Tomohiro, Miura Daisuke, Tanino Kuro, and Maeda Shiro. The artists represented are an excellent cross section of “Lost-Generation” playwrights and directors, that is, young people coming of age after the bursting of the Japanese economic bubble of the 1970s–1980s. Each interview begins with a brief overview of the artist’s career to date and some of the major influences and trends in his work. There is one small issue with the choice of artists, however. While women in Japanese theatre are still a significant minority, it would have been interesting to see female playwrights such as Kuwabara Yuko or Motoya Yukiko included.
Despite this omission, the book does give a good overview of the younger generation of Japanese theatre artists (most of the artists mentioned here were born in the 1970s). As expected, any group that shares such a chronology will also share specific cultural and artistic influences; for example, it was remarkable to read how many of them rejected shingeki-style acting and actor training and how several claimed Hirata Ozira (b. 1962), with his “contemporary colloquial theatre theory,” as a significant influence. It was also interesting to see how they had been affected by Japanese society, history, and culture. Both Iwai Hideto and Matsui Shu speak about the hikikomori phenomenon (adolescents who retreat to...