As a result of Japan's push toward modernization in the second half of the 19th century, kabuki could remain aloof from new cultural elements no longer. Alongside characters donning the traditional kimono and topknot, newcomers in Western dress and short hair (zangiri: literally, “cropped hair,” referencing Western-style haircuts as opposed to the topknot) began to appear on the stage of kabuki. We can find them, for example, waiting for a steam engine to arrive, consulting their wristwatches under the glow of gas lights. Performers such as Onoe Kikugorô V and Nakamura Ganjirô I, remembered today as consummate actors of the canon of classic kabuki, performed wholeheartedly in this theatrical crossroads of tradition and modernity. A representative fûzokugeki (a drama of manners) with a predilection for realism was the kabuki war drama. Out of traditional kabuki production was engendered a curious entity representing the battles fought by a modern Japan. Displaying a coexistence of classic masterpieces and such hybrid new plays, the kabuki of this time rewards careful reconsideration of its inherent possibilities as an art.
This paper will propose to evaluate Good-bye (Sayonara), the “first android theatre piece” which premiered in 2010. Rather than focus on technological advances, however, I will focus on the piece as artwork that reflects the aesthetics of Hirata Oriza (1962-), a Japanese playwright and director who produced this work in collaboration with roboticist Ishiguro Hiroshi. While some denounce Good-bye as being no better than mechanical puppetry, it encapsulates Hirata's dramaturgical principle of oscillating between fakery and authenticity, which has characterized his plays since he began his professional career in the mid-1980s. One of his representative works, Citizens of Seoul (1989) and its sequels serve my purpose of demonstrating this characteristic. Featuring a dying young woman and her android attendant, Good-bye appears to be a cheap melodrama that provokes sentimentalism, but it maintains its precarious poise by regaining authenticity through the playwright's tactful device of having the android recite poems. The thematic tension between similarities and difference in the poems recapitulates Hirata's dramaturgical focus on the juxtaposition of genuineness with falsity.
“…it's the simple that complicates.” Herbert Blau, Take Up the Bodies Intercultural theatre has spawned many different kinds of hybrids. Recently the interweaving of different cultures and theatrical styles has become extremely subtle. Among those who devise such complex intercultural theatre are creator-dramaturg-director Phillip Zarrilli and playwright-director Yôjirô Okamura. They use primarily Asian aesthetic principles and training methods in combination with non-Asian ideas and dramatic content to construct highly experimental performances. This paper will compare their employment of quietude as a central concept in their respective work. Quietude is a Japanese aesthetic principle of minimalism that comprises mainly silence, stillness, and open space. It can include masks and tends towards a “poor” theatre, where the actor's physical presence is dominant on stage. Both artists have a substantial knowledge of nô, as well as postdramatic aesthetics. Furthermore effective actor training is crucial in creating a quiet “theatrical moment”. To this end, Zarrilli utilizes Indian kalaripayattu martial arts, while Okamura combines nô acting with modern training methods. Specifically I will discuss Told by the Wind (2009), which Zarrilli devised with the Llanarth Group, and Okamura's Aminadab (1997; rev. 2008). The former piece ’dances’ a mindscape where “identity, memory, and remembrance haunt transformation”; it owes its inspiration to string theory as well as to Shôgo Ôta's theatre of divestiture. The latter play makes use of masks to present a theatrical arrangement of Maurice Blanchot's short story, “L'Arret de mort”.
Velina Hasu Houston, a Los Angeles-based American writer, is often regarded as a multicultural or postmodern playwright because of the characteristics of her works written from her transnational or multiracial point of view, but she posits herself as a feminist writer, resisting the labels such as “multicultural artist” or “postmodernist” that may force every “ethnic theater” into an “artistic ghetto.” She creates works revealing struggles and frustrations of transnational, multicultural and multiracial women in the white male-centered society, dreaming of a new world community where they are treated equally and with respect. Houston challenges to accepted practices by exploring theatrical innovations in her pursuit of an identity that dissolves any border. In her most successful play, Tea, her heroine, a ghost, who, having killed her husband and lost her daughter, committed suicide, crosses the border between this world and that world, listening to the interactions of four other Japanese women who are visiting her house. Scenes go back and forth; in some scenes five women enact the roles of their husbands and daughters. Such use of scenes defies chronological order; the use of geographically unfixed sets and multiple roles played by a single performer are features often seen in contemporary feminist theater. She often re-envisions the gender relations of ancient myth and creates a new myth where individuals “transgress borders of nations and identity, forming new communities that often defy categorization.” Mina in The House of Chaos, based on the Medea myth, is a Japanese woman who defeats her husband and his male ally who conspired to drive her away to rob her of the firm she had inherited from her Japanese family. Mina's spirit of resistance will be passed on to her daughter. Keiko in Calling Aphrodite, a survived victim of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, has a fictional confidante in Aphrodite, a Greek goddess of beauty, who advises her to foster “hope.” The play reveals Houston's effort to find an ethical solution to such a difficult issue as the bombing of Hiroshima by looking at it from an angle of how one can overcome atrocious memories of war and heal pain. Houston, thus, uncovers the pain in racial antagonisms, cultural wars, social conflicts, family problems, etc. in our time, tackling complicated matters that today's women, especially multiracial, multiethnic, and transnational women are faced with, and hoping for the formation of a borderless community with new communal understandings.
The Japanese performance group Port B, established in 2002 by director Akira Takayama, has often worked on forgotten or unknown aspects of the city of Tokyo without using professional actors, but ordinary people who are related to each theme of the performance. Its early works were performed in theatres or in other buildings, but since 2006, the group has been mainly conducting “tour performances” which do not keep the audiences in a conventional theatre but rather take them outside. Although the history of modern theatre since the beginning of the 20th century includes many examples of performances which have been held outside conventional theatres, Port B's “tour performance” follows a unique approach. The audience, either in small groups or even individually, visits various locations, always following different sources of information. Therefore, it takes part in the same performance at a different time. Each member of the audience is guided to forgotten or unknown places within the city where s/he discovers something, e.g. a new fact, or someone related to the theme of each “tour performance.” Moreover, participants are required to talk with group members or those people related to the performance theme in certain places. Port B's works transcend the conventional dualistic theatrical constellation such as stage and audience or performer and audience. The “tour performance” turns the perspective of the audience completely around , while the audience eventually revises her or his own image of the city. The effect of this revision has ever been increased since the project Compartment City Tokyo (2009), because contemporary phenomena of the city of Tokyo are made the subject rather than simply its history. Port B's audience individually watches interviews on DVDs that have been conducted with ordinary people - including children and non-Japanese residents - and is encouraged to talk to some of these people. As a result, s/he gains the impression that s/he is also an element of the city, not as a passive audience member, but as an active performer. Moreover, by using social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook, Port B's recent “tour performance” refer to today's urbanized living conditions in our era of media technology. In this context and in terms of the reversed relationship between performer and audience, Port B's “tour performance” can be called a Brechtian Lehrstück for the 21st century. This treatment of the audience is very original and this is what distinguishes Port B from most current Japanese theatre groups, which make neither its audiences aware of current social and political issues nor encourage them to be proactive as a performer themselves.