- Crucible Bodies: Postwar Japanese Performance from Brecht to the New Millennium by Tadashi Uchino
How is the postmodern defined in Japan? What comes after the postmodern equation? How does Japanese theatre engage in topics as diverse as intercultural performance, the body on stage, and the ramifications of the Aum attack and the Hanshin earthquake? What manifests as a “Japanese” aesthetic? These questions (and others) are engaged by theatre theorist Tadashi Uchino in his book Crucible Bodies: Postwar Japanese Performance from Brecht to the New Millennium. The book is a collection of essays that have appeared or been presented previously in a variety of sources; these works are finally available for perusal in one volume by one of Japan’s leading theatre theorists. The book is a collection of essays, which does deprive the reader of a single unifying focus. Nonetheless, the essays give the reader an excellent overview of some of the more difficult theoretical and theatrical issues being grappled with by Japan’s performance artists in the past several decades.
Crucible Bodies is predominantly focused on postmodernism and interculturalism in performance in Japan, especially during the past three decades (with some offshoots into 1960s angura performance). Much of Tadashi’s work explores the rise of neoliberalism in the theatre and the political and performative ramifications of that transformation. The first chapter gives several examples of Brechtian performance in Japan with a notable (and understand;able) emphasis on Senda Koreya and Satoh Makoto. Subsequent chapters explore 1980s theatre culture, Japanese aesthetics, “Japaneseness” on stage, and interculturalism in performance. The book then moves to a discussion of the body onstage and finishes with an examination and mapping of post-9/11 Japanese theatre culture.
Many of the essays included in the book are fascinating and thought provoking; I found myself engaged with Tadashi’s ideas and writings as both a historian and a theoretician. Of particular interest was the chapter (Tadashi calls it an interlude) on the ideas of beauty in modern and postmodern Japan. In this section he explores the difference between various terms for “beauty” such as utsukushi, kirei, kawaii, and okashi, wabi-sabi, and mono no aware. The discussion of these terms, especially as they have been employed and understood both historically and by butoh artists and groups such as Dumb Type, was both interesting and enlightening. [End Page 350]
This sense of intellectual engagement pervades the book; in many cases individual chapters felt as if the reader were participating in an advanced graduate seminar on contemporary Japanese theatre. This is both an asset and a disadvantage. As in the best seminar experiences, the reader may find himself contributing original thoughts based on Tadashi’s arguments and ideas. Less experienced readers, however, may find that the references to theorists such as Pavis, Bharucha, and Žižek overtly complicate the text. Therefore, this is a text best suited for advanced students of both Japanese theatre and theatre theory.
For versed readers, however, Tadashi’s text offers a number of compelling ideas about the state of Japanese theatre in the recent past. Crucible Bodies ventures past the standard “postmodern” explanation of post-angura theatre and delves into the possible meanings of that term, especially when applied to Japanese performance. Tadashi deftly illustrates how some works link quite nicely with the classic postmodern definition, while others seem to exceed or defy it; therefore he moves on and looks at how globalization and interculturalism intersect with a variety of performance groups to form a new possible critical paradigm.
Another noteworthy chapter in the book is titled “Mapping/Zapping ‘J’ Theatre at the Moment.” In this chapter Tadashi provides useful tools for understanding current trends in Japanese theatre and dance. Tadashi provides two axes on his graph; the y axis moves from literary to the body and the x axis moves from postmodern to modernist. Using this structure Tadashi is able to place and contextualize important Japanese theatre and dance groups as diverse as Noda Map, Seinen-Dan, Kaitai-sha, and Siberia Shojo Railroad...