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Special event sponsored by the Waseda University Public Relations Magazine Seihoku-no-Kaze
Round-table discussion to commemorate the opening of Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan

Reviving Waseda theater (Part 2)

Theater is the driving force behind the transmission of Waseda culture. The Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan, a new symbol which will further inspire theater activities at our university, is currently being constructed on the birthplace of Waseda Shogekijo, a theater group known for being the first generation of the small theater movement. The Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan is scheduled to open in April 2015. Permission to use the name Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan was obtained from director Tadashi Suzuki (1966 graduate of the School of Political Science and Economics), founder of the Waseda Shogekijo. The Drama-kan now bears great expectations from theatrical circles. To commemorate the start of construction, a round-table discussion was held among Shoji Kokami, Daihachi Yoshida, and Keishi Nagatsuka, all of whom are prominent figures in theater and film circles. The discussion was moderated by Minako Okamuro, Director of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum.

Participants

Mr. Shoji Kokami
Author, Theater Director

Shoji Kokami was born in 1958 in Ehime Prefecture. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Law in 1983. While studying at university, he belonged to the Theater Research Club and founded the theater group The Third Stage in 1981. Since then, he has been active as an author and theater director. He won the Kinokuniya Theater Prize for With a Sunset Like the Morning Sun, Golden Arrow Award for The Angel with closed eyes, the Kishida Drama Prize for Snufkin’s Letter, and the Yomiuri Prize for the theatrical scripts Globe Jungle. His current writing and directing activities are focused on the production unit KOKAMI@network and Kyoko-Gekidan, a theater group founded in 2008 by a gathering of young thespians.

Mr. Daihachi Yoshida
Film Director

Daihachi Yoshida was born in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1963. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 1987. After working as director at a TV commercial production company, he made his directorial debut in 2007 with Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!, a film adaptation of the drama by Yukiko Motoya. The film was invited to participate in International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Later, he directed the films The Wonderful World of Captain Kuhio and Permanent Nobara. His fourth work, The Kirishima Thing, won him the Best Director of the 37th Hochi Film Award, and the Best Director of the 36th Japan Academy Prize. In 2013, he directed Warm Poison, his first theatrical production.

Mr. Keishi Nagatsuka
Playwright, Theater Director, Actor

 Keishi Nagatsuka was born in Tokyo in 1975. In 1996, he founded the theatrical production unit Asagaya Spiders, fulfilling the three responsibilities of playwright, director and actor. In 2008, he spent 1 year studying drama in London through the overseas study program for upcoming artists of Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 2011, he founded the solo project Kuzukawa Shichosha, working as director and actor in performances Juro Miyoshi’s Buoy and Those Who Committed Crimes, as well as Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. His recent works include writing, directing and acting for In A World Without Sound, writing, directing and acting for Akai Kurayami Tenguto Gentan (Red Darkness), and directing for Macbeth. He has won numerous awards including the Best Producer Prize of Yomiuri Theatrical Grand Awards. In December 2014, he will direct the SIS Company’s production of Itachi (written by Yutaka Mafune).

(Moderator)Minako Okamuro
Director of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Why is the Theater Research Club special?
Okamuro

Now, I’d like to hear how each of you made your own theater productions and films while at university.

Nagatsuka

When I was a student, Waseda theater had groups like Tokyo Orange and was really vibrant. Other groups thought how the Theater Research Club was special and there were sometimes big arguments in front of the club building.

Kokami

Really? Actually, there was a lot of turbulence with the Theater Research Club itself. Misfits of the Theater Research Club borrowed facilities from Gekidan KODAMA to hold performances and rehearsals.

Okamuro

The Theater Research Club was glamorous at that time. Also, Masato Sakai of Tokyo Orange was extremely popular even when he was a student. Mr. Nagatsuka, the Asagaya Spiders were also very popular from around the time when you were a student. Once, I tried to buy today’s tickets to see a performance, but I couldn’t get in.

Nagatsuka

I started the Asagaya Spiders in 1996 when I was still studying at university. Prior to that, I founded the Warau Bara Theater Group in 1994 and put all of my efforts into developing the theater group. After about one-and-a-half years, I decided to disband the Warau Bara Theater Group if 1,000 people didn’t gather for our next performance. Only about 950 came, so that was the end of the theater group. However, I learned a lot from operating Warau Bara, so I was able to start the Asagaya Spiders quite smoothly.

Okamuro

950 people sounds like a lot to me! Mr. Kokami, did you watch the theater performances of other students?

Kokami

When I was a student, the Building No. 6 Rooftop Atelier was at its peak. I also watched many performances by the theater groups Asia Gekijo, Gekidan KODAMA, and other ensembles of the Theater Research Club.

Okamuro

I see. As a theater professional, how were you impacted by other performances?

Kokami

Within the reckless system of the Theater Research Club, I learned the necessity of firm resolve and the willingness to fight in order to express myself. The club had resources including lighting equipment and audio equipment which was offered free-of-charge by the university. Viewed from the opposite perspective, all club members are desperate to get their hands on that stuff. I learned the great struggle necessary to use that equipment. That experience has given me a foundation to work as a theater professional. Even today, I remember that my theater productions at university always began with a fight.

Nagatsuka

I was jealous that Tokyo Orange of the Theater Research Club had its own venue, equipment and performances packed with people. My group had to rent all of our venues and equipment. We held performances by pooling money that we had earned through part-time work. The sensibility of performances given by Tokyo Orange matched the times perfectly. I watched the group’s plays and found them very interesting. Of course, these just made me even more frustrated! Afterwards, performers from the Theater Research Club began to appear in my plays and we had more interaction with other groups. Even today, I recognize the great significance of being involved while a student at Waseda University. The jealousy and frustration that I experienced became a source of motivation.

If you want to enjoy your youth…
Okamuro

What is the difference between producing theatrical performances and films?

Yoshida

As anyone who has used an 8-millimeter movie camera knows, independent films are completely different from movies that you normally see at theaters or on television. As such, I soon realized that it would be difficult for people to charge money to see my films. However, I was greatly encouraged by how students at The Third Stage produced high-quality films which were worth paying money to view. Today, both professionals and amateurs now use the same kind of equipment when filming movies. When I was at university, there was a vast difference in equipment. This was a big hurdle to independent film-making. In the case of theater, performers act before the eyes of the audience. This means that both professionals and amateurs perform in the same arena, although there is a difference in scale.

Kokami

I’m so happy to hear that the first film Yoshida watched was produced by The Third Stage. I also visited the Cinema Research Club and other groups to survey the differences in film-making equipment. My conclusion was that 8-millimeter movie cameras are no good—movies must be filmed on a 16-millimeter movie camera. However, my research revealed that producing a movie on 16-millimeter film costs about 2 or 3 million yen. That was a huge amount of money at that time. In order to save money for production, I bought lottery tickets every week for a year. I never won anything! My point is that there was a massive difference in production costs.

Yoshida

Absolutely. While I’m sure that giving a theater performance costs money, it’s possible to make the audience pay. When making 8-millimeter films, I had to ask people to come see my films for free, only to be told that it was a waste of time! In the case of theater, I was jealous that my acquaintances appeared to be completely different people when reciting their lines on stage. There is a certain magic in theater.

Kokami

Still, there was a boom in independent films when you were a student, right?

Yoshida

That was a little bit before my time. Although some people became famous after graduating, there weren’t any stars among current university students. Our discussion today gives me the impression that Mr. Kokami and Mr. Nagatsuka were directly involved with society through theater even while studying at university. To be honest, I never felt such connections through making 8-millimeter films.

Nagatsuka

While at university, I was asked several times to act in a movie. There were a couple times when such plans went up in smoke—I never knew when the project ended or what had happened. Everyone talks passionately about films and making movies, but the films are never finished! Personally, the schedule of setting a theater performance date and working to meet that target gave order to my life. I couldn’t understand how film production always seemed to be open-ended.

Yoshida

What you say about films is true. I’m very jealous of how theater professionals get to enjoy closing parties. Parties on the final day of performances always seemed so lively, almost like festivals. In the case of films, the staff and cast finished their work at different times. There is also editing to be done after filming. This means that there is no clear end to the process. I’m sure that there is a lot of work to be done after giving theater performances. Still, having closing parties on the final day of performances is a nice landmark.

Kokami

That’s very true. If you want to enjoy your youth, theater may be the best thing. When I made a movie, we were filming on location in Hokkaido and I needed some extras. However, production staff told me that there was no money to get extras. So, I told them that I visited the theater club at a local university and asked them to give me some extras. Everyone was very surprised. Even if the film isn’t being done by someone they know, most students in theater club will participated if asked. However, in the case of a film research club, even if asked by the director himself, no one would participate without any conditions—although they would be glad to debate about the film!

Nagatsuka

Performers are interested in a wide genre of works. Therefore, they are likely to participate when offered any role.

Yoshida

That’s true. Compared to people involved in theater, film staff and cast may not act without any sense of hesitation. That’s why I recommended theater over 8-millimeter films to young people. There are valuable chances to get involved in other projects.

Okamuro

There may be a slight difference between the type of people involved in theater and film. The same is true for researchers. I teach a graduate school course entitled Studies in Theatre and Films Arts. When students introduce themselves, I can tell right away who is involved in theater and who is involved in film. Those associated with theater seem to take a step forward, while those associated with film seem to step back and speak in a small voice.

Kokami

I see. Even so, making a film is a collaborative project. Is there really such a big difference between people in the two art forms?

Yoshida

A different power of charisma is needed for theater people and film people. If you compare me and Mr. Kokami, the volume of our voices is completely different!

Kokami

But when you talk about legendary charisma, there are so many more film directors. People like Akira Kurokawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.

Yoshida

That’s simply because film is such a large industry. Speaking from my experiencing in actual filming, theater people have a powerful aura. Perhaps it is my bias, but they seem born to stand in front of an audience and entertain.

Nagatsuka

From the perspective of actors and actresses, the director seems to be important. However, upon actually working as an actor in films, I met many directors who speak in small voices. Recently, I was working on a quiet set and had to restrain myself from speaking in a booming voice! It’s not so much that I want to be noticed by people…it’s just that my voice naturally comes out.

Everyone watched works directed by Mr. Kokami.
Okamuro

Mr. Yoshida, what kind of director are you when working on a film?

Yoshida

Well, just like now, I speak in a small voice! Last year, I had my first experience in directing a theatrical production when working on Warm Poison. I realized that although the terms acting and direction are used in the film industry, the substance of both these terms is completely different. When making a movie, everyone knows that there will be editing after filming. Therefore, to speak of extremes, just the good moments of film are used. However, in the case of theater, the director and performers are together constantly for a long period of time. During that time, a growth process is shared by both the director and performers. That’s why there is a different level of trust between the two parties. A while ago, an actor that I knew ardently desired to participate in theater. In my opinion, he relished the thrill of standing in front of an actual audience. I also thought that he was addicted to theater after experiencing the intensity of the process from rehearsal to opening night. Even now, I have still to completely digest what I learned from my experience in directing theater.

Nagatsuka

What was your motive for directing a theater production?

Yoshida

I was invited by an official in the theater group Gekidan, Motoya Yukiko. We had worked on a film together before. For me, it seemed a daunting task to plan and produce a theatrical performance. However, I felt that if what I want to do was clear, the theater group would give some help with all the arrangements. It was too good a chance for me to pass up. Of course, it was a difficult experience for me, but I’m glad that I did it. Reflecting back, my two big experiences with theater were directing Warm Poison and watching Mr. Kokami’s Relayer when I was enrolled at Waseda. I was really interested in theater at that time and went to see performances of many small groups including The Third Stage. Also, I always recorded the performances and listened to them repeatedly afterwards.

Okamuro

Mr. Nagatsuka, about when did you first watch Mr. Kokami’s works?

Nagatsuka

When I was in high school. When I was in high school, everyone interested in theater watched performances directed by Mr. Kokami.

Kokami

I once heard an interesting story when working with your father. When performing with The Third Stage member Hiroo Otaka, your father had a scene in which he hit Otaka. Normally, the scene called for a single punch. However, your father added a second punch, explaining his vexation at how his son liked Otaka’s theater group.

Nagatsuka

Sorry for the trouble I caused! When I was in high school, just like Mr. Yoshida, one of my friends had tapes of performances directed by Mr. Kokami. He always made us listen to the tapes. We listened intently and mimicked what we heard. There were so many people who liked Mr. Kokami’s works, and I feel like he taught us the essence of theater. For that very reason, I was shocked later in life when I saw theater with a completely different world view. That’s the great thing about theater—it offers so many new experiences.

(Part 1) (Continue to Part 3)