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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 3)

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

The Kirishima Thing
Okamuro

Moving on, I would like to ask each of you about your future plans. Mr. Yoshida, your next film is Pale Moon starring Rie Miyazawa. Are you still filming?

Yoshida

No, the film is finished. Right now, I’m preparing for the release in November. Rie Miyazawa is truly a wonderful actress.

Okamuro

I see. Pale Moon is based on the novel Paper Moon by Mitsuyo Kakuta, who also belonged to a theater club at Waseda.

Kokami

That’s right. I’ve heard that Kakuta watched performance by The Third Stage. Riku Onda is another author who watched our performances while enrolled at Waseda.

Okamuro

In addition to directors and performers, Waseda theater has also produced a large number of authors. Upon popular demand from students, we studied and discussed Mr. Yoshida’s film The Kirishima Thing in my seminar. According to students, the movie brings out different emotions depending on how the viewer had spent his or her time in high school.

Nagatsuka

I also wrote about The Kirishima Thing in a series of essays which I had serialized. I was moved by the film and wrote about my own high school days.

Kokami

I also covered the film in a column I wrote for a magazine. My theme for the article was reality in film. The Kirishima Thing is set at a high school. Just a few minutes ago, Mr. Yoshida said that he would recommend theater over film to young people. However, in the case of high school students, doesn’t film production seem like the best fit for youth? I’m often told by television companies that audience ratings will be low if a program is based on the confusing process of making a theater production. The general audience is more familiar with stories of making movies.

Nagatsuka

That’s because theater and film are completely different. I watched The Kirishima Thing on DVD at my house. I thought it was interesting that my wife, who happened to be walking by the TV, suddenly stopped and started watching the movie. In my opinion, in order to draw in someone who started watching halfway through, a film must give room for interpretation to the viewer. Recently, many films pack all the information into a single scene, but that won’t entice people to watch. The Kirishima Thing clearly allows each viewer to interpret the film in his or her own way. It was so interesting to watch.

Kokami

I thought that Mr. Yoshida was much younger. You were about 48 years old when you filmed The Kirishima Thing, right? It’s amazing that you could produce such sensibility and atmosphere at that age.

Yoshida

Thank you both very much for watching my film. Many people praise the atmosphere of the film, but I don’t think I could replicate it ever again. I can’t remember how I produced such an atmosphere.

Okamuro

When watching The Kirishima Thing, I completely emphasized with the characters and found myself sobbing at the movie theater.

Yoshida

I was surprised that so many people found themselves in the film and spoke passionately about it. I never had such an experience before The Kirishima Thing, and I doubt that I will have many such experiences in the future.

Reviving a legendary work of The Third Stage
Okamuro

Mr. Nagatsuka, you are the only participant today who is also active as an actor. Do you plan on continuing both professions in the future?

Nagatsuka

I’m just doing both without thinking about the need to select only one. This September, a performance of the British playwright Harold Pinter’s Betrayal will be given by Kuzukawa-Shichosha, a theater group which I manage. I both direct and act in this work. I find both capacities interesting, so I intend to continue.

Kokami

In that case, how do you switch between the responsibilities of actor and director?

Nagatsuka

That’s a good question—I don’t know! Our version of Betrayal stars Yasuko Matsuyuki and Tetsushi Tanaka. At first, I didn’t plan on acting in the play myself, but Tanaka encouraged me to join the cast. This time, I wanted to make the play without using understudies. Actually, I was most interested in Pinter’s work from the perspective of an actor. In this play, time flows backwards and the performance ends with an event that happened furthest in the past. This kind of setting causes actors to react interestingly. Reversing the flow of chronological time is like lying to one’s self. As a complex layer of lies increses, this play is full of contrivances for actors. It’s really captivating. So, I decided to try acting in it myself.

Okamuro

That’s fascinating. Mr. Kokami, in July and August, you will perform a revival of the legendary The Third Stage work With a Sunset Like the Morning Sun.

Kokami

That’s right. It is a revival for the first time in 17 years. I wanted to perform a work appropriate for commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kinokuniya Hall, so I selected a play which has been performed many times. While the upcoming performance will have the same basic structure, I plan to rewrite it slightly.

Okamuro

With a Sunset Like the Morning Sun is a famous work produced by Waseda’s The Third Stage. Plays directed by Mr. Kokami when he was enrolled at Waseda had a major impact on Mr. Yoshida. Of course, Mr. Nagatsuka has seen them as well. Each time a performance of With a Sunset Like the Morning Sun is released, new theatrical devices are used in the play. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s unique in the upcoming performance.

Do you have too much belief in what you see?
Okamuro

In closing, would you please give a message to young people today?

Yoshida

A short while ago, we discussed students who asked Mr. Kokami to direct a performance to be held at the Drama-kan. As Mr. Nagatsuka pointed out, that is a bit contemptible. Instead of relying on an unfamiliar adult, students should be excited at having their own chance. To be honest, while I’m very grateful that so many young people say that they loved The Kirishima Thing, I’m also quite surprised. Compared to me, young people are much closer in age to the main character. When I made the film, I was prepared to be told that my depiction of high school students was totally off the mark. Therefore, when young people tell me that their time in high school was just like the film, I can’t help thinking that they are quick to place too much belief in what they see. In particular, theater offers the possibility of independent production, so I hope that young people aren’t so quick to believe in the work of others.

Okamuro

It’s true that students today don’t really question the genre itself. They get involved in theater purely from a sense of admiration.

Yoshida

That’s a good point. That’s why I think they are too quick to believe in anything they encounter. From the perspective of a somewhat ornery older man, I expect more from young people than simply being docile.

Nagatsuka

I agree that young people need to ask more questions. Recently, many plays and movies have been simplified and made easy to understand. Growing up among such works, young people fail to notice subtle contrivances of directors. Furthermore, when exposed in advance to information on genre and other details, young people tend to categorize works before they have seen them. There wasn’t such a wealth of information when I was a student, so I was constantly tormented by my imagination. When wondering what to write in my scripts, I came up with mad ideas like having people transform into chairs. However, I think that such an experience is a positive thing. Young people should question what they see and find their own unique perspective. Instead of relying on the preparations of others, they need to break down convention and transform tradition into their own ideas. That’s a more interesting way to work and live.

Yoshida

While young people shouldn’t have the goal of opposing everything, such spirit is rare in today’s society. Even in the case of theater and film, people are only interested in works which can be easily understood. Young people today ignore what they don’t understand.

Kokami

The abundance of information today may be why young people don’t argue or rebel as much. For example, when director Kinji Fukasaku filmed a movie about youth, I rebelled against him in my mind. I couldn’t understand why a man in his 50s would make a film about youth. However, I thought this way only because I didn’t have access to information about Kinji Fukasaku as an individual. Today, a quick search reveals information on directors as well as a list of their works. As a result, young people may respect for a director if they learn what kind of works that director made at what age, as well as the specialties of that director. Nowadays, many young people show unconditional acceptance for things which they like. I teach at classes at Toho Gakuen, and I can see affirmation for me in the eyes of students from the very first day. I guess they were influenced by an excess of such information.

On the contrary, that seems lonely to me.
Okamuro

Mr. Nagatsuka, you just described how you agonized with your imagination while alone in your house. Your story made me think about how young people today don’t spend much time alone. There are countless communication tools like LINE which provide immediate connection with people.

Nagatsuka

I wonder about that. It’s true that email and SNS make it easy to connect with other people using those services. However, on the contrary, that seems lonely to me. The ability to connect simply at any time may make people experience even more intense loneliness if they don’t receive messages from others. From my perspective, simultaneously sending messages to multiple recipients is not a disguise for loneliness.

Kokami

Yes, there is certainly a sense of loneliness—indeed, an intense sense of solitude. However, I think that the economic recession can also be blamed. When I was young, it was commonplace for students to leave their homes. Now, when I ask students why they are still living at home, they tell me it’s impossible to live independently in such economic conditions. Furthermore, it seems like they talk with their mothers about all aspects of their life—even about relationships with their boyfriends! I think that’s stupid.

Nagatsuka

I’m scheduled to serve as moderator at an event held by the Japan Playwrights Association CONGRESS. The event is named Special Round-Table Discussion: Modern Theater, Shingeki and Contemporary Theater and features the distinguished participants Yoshiyuki Fukuda, Asaya Fujita, and Mikio Komatsu. I’m quite nervous! In particular, Fukuda is an experienced writer and actor who has been active since long ago. When I tried to research about him on the Internet, I could only find very simple information. For example, lists of what performances he did in what years. Really, all I can do is read his books and marvel at his ability. But this lack of knowledge is a natural state. A lack of advance information is not necessarily a bad thing.

Kokami

You’re right; the condition you describe is quite natural. I often tell young people that they can’t understand everything through the Internet. I urge them to get out of the house and go watch plays. I want them to know that there is more to experience than what can be seen on a computer screen.

It may be the start of a new age in theater.
Okamuro

There is the practical question of how it is difficult to get today’s students to attend theatrical performances. All kinds of information can be obtained simply by sitting in front of a computer. To young people, theater seems antiquated. It’s troublesome for them to ride a train to the playhouse and to buy tickets in advance. How can we get young people to the theater?

Yoshida

Theater tickets are fairly expensive, aren’t they? I realized that when I directed my play last year. Even though student discounts are offered, normal seats are still priced very high. This may give students the impression that theater is intended only for adults. Due to Japan’s declining birthrate, the number of students will decrease rapidly in the future. For that reason, I understand why it isn’t possible to prioritize younger audiences.

Nagatsuka

Young theater groups with members in their 20s and 30s give fairly inexpensive performances. I sometimes go to see such performances and am surprised at the audience members. There are many stylish young people who look like they should go shopping to a general store. In the case of my performances, audience members are mainly from my generation. Depending on the performance, the audience may consist mainly of older men.

Yoshida

Is that so? When I went to see a play by a director around the same age as Mr. Nagatsuka, I noticed a lot of gray hair in the audience! However, I thought that theater circles don’t mind such an audience composition. After all, tickets cost 6,000 yen. Young people can’t pay such a price. Although student seating may be available for around 3,000 yen, there are a limited number of such tickets. It’s only natural for older people to gather in the best seats.

Nagatsuka

Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with gray hair! Some venues reserve priority seating for members up front. This means that the best seats will be totally occupied by gray-haired men. I once gave a children’s theater performance at such a venue. I told my sponsors that it was unreasonable to reserve priority seating for older audience members. I asked them to make all seats non-reserved or take some other action to cater to a younger audience.

Yoshida

For students today, going to see a theater performance is undoubtedly a very special occasion. Only students who are hungry for theater will be in the audience.

Okamuro

When observing students, there are many who go to see theater performances. However, a line seems to be drawn between them and students who don’t go. Now that a new theater will be built at Waseda University, I hope to wipe away this boundary. It seems that many students who don’t attend theater dislike the genre despite never having experienced it. That’s why it’s essential for our theater to provide high-quality performances. There are too many people who view theater as a form of culture unrelated to their daily lives.

Yoshida

Exactly. If I hadn’t seen Relayer when I was a university student, I’m sure that I would have thought the same thing.

Nagatsuka

The popularity of theater fluctuates with each generation. However, when viewed from a long-term perspective, it is a cultural form with an extremely long history. If someone actually goes to the theater, he is sure to feel a certain sense of genuineness and uniqueness. It’s impossible to experience the passion of theater through the Internet. In some respects, we live in a cold and impersonal society today. Therefore, people must desire genuine feeling. I hope to broaden this value of theater in the future.

Okamuro

You’re right. From reality to embodiment, there are some things which can only be experienced through theater performance.

Kokami
That’s why it’s essential to establish more quality venues like the Drama-kan. We must make it easy for students to experience high-quality theater. If such trends continue, it may be the start of a new age in theater.
Okamuro

Definitely. Starting with the opening of the Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan, I hope to reinvigorate Waseda theater. Thank you very much for participating in today’s discussion.

(End)

(Part 1Part 2)