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Kohei Tsuka and Waseda University Building No.6

Takashi Hoshino
Research Associate at the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

"Kohei Tsuka in the 1970s" exhibition, symposium and film show

At the moment, in the corridor space of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum's third floor, the "Modern Theatre Series No.39, Kohei Tsuka in the 1970s" exhibition is on display. The display follows the activities in the 1970s of playwright and director, the late Kohei Tsuka (1948-2010). In that time, Tsuka, starting in the rooftop studio of Waseda University's Building No. 6, along with unknown actors who he met there, continuously produced works full of unique lines and laughter, gathering tremendous support from the young people of the time. That extraordinary popularity would continue by always drawing full houses at Aoyama VAN 99 Hall and Shinjuku Kinokuniya Hall, continuing until Tsuka's sudden announcement in 1982 that he was quitting the theatre business, and was called the "Tsuka Boom" in newspapers and magazines, taken to be a social phenomenon going beyond the theatre world.

This exhibition reproduces Tsuka's theatre activities in the 70s through stage photos and posters, magazine articles, videos, and testimonies from people he was involved with, and at the same time, picks up some of the activities of other theatre groups in the era following in his tracks, trying to look in on the theatre scene in Japan in the 1970s.

In this exhibition, there are many exhibits that are on show to the public for the first time, especially the program of the theatrical troupe Kamen Butai's debut performance, which Tsuka was involved with during his days at Keio University, stage photographs of his early productions Yuubinya-san Chotto[Please Mr. Postman] and Shokyu Kakumei Koza Hiryuden[Beginner Course for the Revolution, Hiryuden], video recordings of rehearsals for Hiroshima Ni Genbaku Wo Otosu Hi[The Day They Are Going to drop the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima], and actor scripts from Itsumo Kokoro Ni Taiyo Wo [Keep Hope in Your Heart] (scripts with lines noted down from Tsuka's verbal instructions).

Also during the exhibition, on the night of May 14 (Mon.), at the Okuma Auditorium, Morio Kazama, Mitsuru Hirata, and Toshie Negishi, actors who were the mainstays in Tsuka's works in the 70s, will appear as speakers with theatre critic Akihiko Senda as host, and hold "Symposium - Kohei Tsuka in the 1970s" (19:00 start). On the day, part of Stripper Monogatari [A Stripper's Tale] (April-May 1975), which was performed at VAN 99 Hall, will be screened for the first time. Also, a film show screening the full film of Stripper Monogatari, made-for-television Senso De Shinenakatta Otosan No Tame Ni [For All Fathers that Couldn't Die in the War] (1977), and the screen film of Itsumo Kokoro Ni Taiyo Wo, performed at the Kinokuniya Hall (1980), will take place on June 24 (Sun.) and July 22 (Sun.) at Waseda University Ono Azusa Memorial Auditorium (14:00 start on both days). Entry is free for the exhibition, symposium and film show. I hope you all take this opportunity to visit the Theatre Museum and venues holding related programs.

*For more information, please visit the Theatre Museum website at the URL below

Waseda University Building No.6 Rooftop Studio
Kohei Tsuka
(Photo courtesy of Saito Kazuo Studio)

By the way, this Theatre Museum is located right at the back of the Waseda University campus, but on the roof of "Building No. 6", in front of the museum, is a studio that university troupes used to use for performances and rehearsals. A place that used to be used as a laboratory by the School of Science and Engineering, the theatrical group Jiyu Butai started using it for rehearsals in about 1967, and until its closure at the end of the 1990s, became the on-campus theatrical base at Waseda for over 30 years (Note 1). It is now used as a storeroom for the Aizu Museum, and is home to a great amount of archaeological stones. In the early days, there was an anvil block on a concrete floor as a stage and were pigeons flew overhead in the studio that was surrounded by a black veneer. The studio is extremely the right starting point for the 1970s Tsuka to begin his theatrical activities. This exhibition touches upon all of Tsuka's activities during the 1970s, so here, I only want to give a general outline on Kohei Tsuka's Waseda era without going into too much depth.

Theatrical Company Shibaraku

When Masafumi Chinen, current promoter of Theatrical Company Choju Giga, paid his first visit for a while to the Building No.6 studio, which served as a rehearsal room for Shibaraku, the company he established himself after the summer holidays in the autumn of 1972, he says he was greeted with surprise when seeing the troupe, led by Tsuka, rehearsing hard for the first time.

The training they were doing was beyond great. "What's this?" I thought. Because I was the founder, I had gone in with a feeling of importance, but everything was kind of revolving around Tsuka. Sanshiro (Mukojima) came up to me and said, "Chinen, we've found someone amazing. Hey, show us your stuff." [.] Tsuka's rehearsals were rigorous and tough. That's because he would make us do it from 10 in the morning till 10 at night. The security guard would come, so we'd do it until then. Then again from the morning. Really, it was like that every day. (Okuma Ura, Engeki Books Publishing, 1990, p.46)

From Chinen's words, it would appear that Sanshiro Mukojima, who started up Shibaraku with Chinen, brought Tsuka to Building No.6. I won't go into details but, Shibaraku was influenced by Waseda Little Theatre, chaired by director Tadashi Suzuki, to the extent that the standing signboard at their opening performance read "Director / Warushi Suzuki". It is said that around that time, Tsuka would frequently visit Waseda Little Theatre and jot down faults about Suzuki's actors (Note 2). The founders of Shibaraku and even Tsuka started theater in the Waseda neighborhood while being strongly aware of Waseda Little Theatre at the time when the Theatre embraced actress Kayoko Shiraishi and performed the Geki-teki Naru Mono Wo Megutte II [On the Dramatic Passions II], etc. It can be said to be a natural crossroads in their activities.

Later, in 1974, Tsuka took the opportunity to advance into VAN 99 Hall and split from Shibaraku, but kept his ties when Chinen continued to appear on Tsuka's stages in later years, and Tsuka helping with direction when Shibaraku performed his works. During that time, in 1975, when Shibaraku performed Atami Satsujin Jiken [The Atami Murder Case ]and Shuppatsu [Departure] at Ikebukuro Theatre Green, Tsuka met Morio Kazama, who went on to become a central actor in Tsuka's works in 1970s.

Tadashi Suzuki and Minoru Betsuyaku

From around 1972, when he entered Shibaraku, Tsuka also enthusiastically contributed poems, plays and essays to the theatrical magazine Shingeki [New Drama] (Hakusuisha Publishing). Starting with Atami Satsujin Jiken, with which, in 1974 at the age of 25, he became the youngest recipient at the time of the Kishida Kunio Drama Award (joint winner with Kunio Shimizu), almost all his early plays were published in this magazine. What probably stands out here are the full length critical essays about Tadashi Suzuki and playwright Minoru Betsuyaku, Natsukashi No Suzuki Tadashi [The Good Old Tadashi Suzuki] (October, 1972) and Mukashi Mukashi Betsuyaku Minoru [Once Upon A Time, Minoru Betsuyaku.] (November & December 1972).

Especially the writings on Minoru Betsuyaku were a huge piece taking up more than 80 pages of writing paper and spanning over two volumes of the magazine, and in later years, Tsuka would talk about what he had already repeated in this review, that Betsuyaku's methodology of "looking for a goal in results" had become the starting point for ideas in his own plays. After touching upon an episode relating to his "grandmother's death" in Mukashi Mukashi Betsuyaku Minoru, Tsuka states that Betsuyaku's dramaturgy is a way of thinking that can be said, metaphorically, that "grandmother's death" comes from "tears", and not the other way around. Tsuka also recognizes Betsuyaku's great influence in saying that his own work "Shokyu Kakumei Koza is a plagiarism of (Betsuyaku's) Zo [The Elephant], and others such as Yuubinya-san Chotto are also nothing but plagiaries" (Note 3).

From these two critical essays, we can understand how great an existence Suzuki and Betsuyaku had for Tsuka in a time when he was trying to find his own dramaturgy straight after becoming active in theatre.

Tsuka works from his Waseda era

Stage photograph of Theatrical Group Shibaraku's Yuubinya-san Chotto
November 1972, Waseda University Building No. 6 Rooftop Studio,

About the state of Tsuka's works from 1972 to 1973 when his activities were centered in the Building No.6 rooftop studio, Yasuo Hasegawa, who later became one of Tsuka's supporting actors in the 70s, had the following to say about Yuubinya-san Chotto, which he saw as a welcoming performance for new entrants just after entering Waseda University.

I said, "What is this?" It was totally interesting.[.]Of course the tempo of the lines were overwhelming but, for example, with the stock phrase of the post office head, music from the classic movie Hibotan Bakuto was played loudly, it somehow turned into a scene with a finger being chopped off, when he ripped off his uniform and showed his back, it was covered in a dragon tattoo, and when you thought things had settled down, he appears by smashing through a wall on a pair of stilts, and the lines continued on that way without a break, and so on.[.]More than anything was the music. I mean, the opening song was "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees. The introduction played, and then an exchange between the song and short opening lines began. At the same time as that dialogue ended, the chorus began and the post office workers started to dance[.]the characters were totally playing around in that setting. In that playful scene, the world continued to expand. (Theatre Museum Volume 106, 2012, p.3)

In addition to these unexpected developments and effective use of a popular song, regarding performances of those days, there are also reviews showing surprise by those who only know the shouting elocution of post-1990s Tsuka works. About Shokyu Kakumei Koza Hiryuden -Revised Edition, which was performed at the Jiyu Theatre in Roppongi in November 1973, one year after Tsuka started activities at Waseda, theatre critic Yoshio Ozasa wrote the following.

Never-ending talk of a revolution between a father, a girl, and an inspector.[.]Plays acted in small theaters today are full of shouting and elaborateness, but the performance of this troupe when compared with that, is indescribably quiet and modest. However, in the image on the stage, this silent and "poor" work of Shibaraku is in no way inferior to previous works of their superior "elder brothers." (Yoshio Ozasa, "Stage," Music Magazine, January 1974 edition, p.150)

In the same article, it is pointed out that the sensation of searching for fresh words such as "splendid setback" is a weapon of Tsuka's plays.

Kohei Tsuka and theatre of the 1970s

Ozasa closed this article with, "We can hold expectations for this troupe," and wrote in another piece that from Shibaraku's (Tsuka's) performances, "This is something different to what we have seen up until now, but we have been given a real sense of it truly coming to life," (Note 4). In the same way, theatre critic Akihiko Senda, while comparing them with talented theatre creators who appeared in the 1960s - those who Ozasa called the "big brothers" - gave the appearance of Tsuka significance in the following way by calling him the "hope" of the future.

The first meaning of the appearance of Kohei Tsuka is the point that, along with Minoru Betsuyaku, Juro Kara, and Makoto Sato, the first sensitively competent playwrights had emerged.[.]Perhaps, through the appearance of Tsuka, theatre of our times, for better or worse, may be trying to break through beyond the current "little theatre movement" in the most unexpected way. (Akihiko Senda, "Modern Theatre 1974," Theatre Annual 1975, Waseda University Press, 1975, p.61-62)

This article was written in 1975 as a recollection of the previous year, 1974, but if you go forward a few years, Senda, at the end of the 1970s, brought up Tsuka's name as a "playwright carrying a historical image," and commented that those plays "express the general atmosphere of the late 1970s in the sharpest and most advanced manner." (Akihiko Senda, "Tsuka Kohei Zengo [Before and After Kohei Tsuka]," So[The Creation], August 1978 Volume, p.256-259). In the same article, while comparing him with playwrights of the 1960s, Senda stated the following about the theatrical world created by Tsuka.

Many playwrights in the 60s told of the world.[.]However, Kohei Tsuka in the 70s, didn't say much of that world in itself.[.]In Tsuka Kohei's plays, there was almost always no stage equipment. This is due to the settings with many dramatically concise effects and action, and at the same time, due to uncertainess in details of a world image. In a sense, it is a world lacking imagery and thought content, and the world has become graceful, but because of that, it is losing its wholeness.

Minoru Betsuyaku was also another person who made a connection between Tsuka and the 1970s. When Betsuyaku read Tsuka's Matsugaura Godot No Imashime [A Lesson from the Matsugaura Godot], a parody of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, he immediately thought, "Ah, the 70s." Godot, who is not expected to appear in the original, simply turns up in Tsuka's play (although as a scapegoat), and in a tone like a main character in Matatabi-mono (stories about wandering gamblers), with full of human warmth, he to Vladimir, who is tired of waiting, "I've caused you trouble.", "I won't be going anywhere anymore." Betsuyaku says "The 60s weren't this lighthearted", and at the same time points out that that lightheartedness "is equipped with a surprisingly clever critical spirit." (Note 5)

As I mentioned in the beginning, Tsuka, in the Building No. 6 rooftop studio, along with unknown young actors, starting with Mitsuru Hirata and Yoichi Miura, who were students who had only just entered Waseda, while repeating rehearsals over long hours, continuously pumped out their earliest works. Since then, they became to carry Tsuka's works of the 1970s. In the words of Senda, this studio in Building No.6, at the same time as being the starting point for Tsuka, carried him, and differing from the 1960s, was the place where 1970s theatre was manifested.

Note 1 Referenced from Okuma Ura (op. cit.)
Note 2 Ken Murakami, "Tsuka Kohei Wa Shijin De Atta [Kohei Tsuka was A Poet]," Higeki Kigeki [Tragedy and Comedy](Hayakawa Publishing, October 2010 Edition)
Note 3 The above message sent by Tsuka is according to Tsuka Kohei Ni Yoru Tsuka Kohei No Sekai [World of Kohei Tsuka by Kohei Tsuka] (Hakusuisha Publishing, 1981, p.63,68) and Tsuka Kohei No Shinsekai [New World of Kohei Tsuka] (Media Art Publishing, 2005, p.76).
Note 4 Yoshio Ozasa, Gekietsu To Seihitsu-73 Nen No Shogekijo Engeki [Vehemence and Calmness: Plays in the Little Theatre in 1973] (Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum compilation, Engeki Nenpo 1974 Edition, Waseda University Press, 1974, p.61)
Note 5 Minoru Betsuyaku, Serifu No Fukei [The Scene of Dialogue] (Hakusui U Books, 1991, p.64-65)

Takashi Hoshino
Research Associate at the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Born in 1972. Major: Modern Japanese theatrical history. Completed doctorate in theater studies at Meiji University Graduate School of Art and Letters. Major publications include Typhoon Saiko [Reconsideration of Typhoon] (Seiyo Hikaku Engeki Kenkyu [Comparative Theatre Review] No.8, 2009) and Teigeki no Musical Comedy [Musical Comedies at the Teigeki Theater] (Institute for Theatre Research Journal VIII, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University, 2007).