In the male-centric Japanese society, it is natural that women can’t help but experience a sense of anger just from the fact that they are women. However, when I started making theater, there was no plan to write about women. And when I started writing about my physiological perceptions, the focus naturally became feminine, because I have a woman’s body. When I started to be called a “female writer” instead of just a writer, it made me more conscious of the female aspect. I also came to be invited to more female-themed festivals and projects.
The social framework of Japan’s theater world is also a male-centric society. Although there are a growing number of female theater-makers recently, the majority are still male and it is the males who are mostly in the positions of authority. Since in the end I am writing works that focus on women, to some degree I am also seen as a writer who uses the theme of women that is “recognized” by the male-centric establishment. The act of being “recognized” is of itself a male-oriented process, and the society that recognizes me functions on a male-centric model. I do have a desire to be recognized, but at the same time I have the resentment that comes with being a woman. While there are no easy answers, focusing on women is something that I have been doing with awareness for a long time.
I would like to ask you about the last scene of the play. The housewife, who is the equivalent of Pentheus, fights with the half-beast(=Dionysus) and finally cuts out its sex organ.
Yes, and then takes it home and eats it as Korean-style grilled meat. This is related in part to the festival’s Taming Y/Our Passion theme, and what I wanted to say was that although the world wants a clear black or white conclusion, it is not easy to divide things so clearly. So, it is a final scene that can be interpreted in various ways.
As an ending it definitely had the feeling of being neither definite or indefinite, and a sense that there might still be yet another surprise reversal of fortunes. The way it refrained from giving us a definitive ending gave the feeling that there could be one reversal in the plot after another due to the extreme simplicity of the interrelationships between the characters.
I didn’t want it to be received with the kind of value system that enables a clear division between winners and losers. It may seem at one level that the one that got eaten was the loser, but since the half-beast wanted all along to become one with its mother (the housewife), it can also be said that its dream finally came true. It also may be that having its genitalia removed freed it from the struggle for reproduction. On the other hand, being able to eat the meat can be seen as a victory for the human being, but nothing changes for the housewife and she must still go on and on leading the same life. From the standpoint of people who have no house and no money, that may look like happiness. However, in the context of the society’s fraternal family system and consumer lifestyle, it can also be seen as a curse to grow old and die that way that the housewife is unconsciously burdened with due to a lifestyle where she has always put herself first.
Having heard this, I get the feeling that this play represents a culmination of all the thing you have experienced until now. Are there any things you can tell us about now that you think you would like to do in the future?
It may sound a bit hypocritical, but I would like to be able to do for others now some of the kinds of things that I have been fortunate enough to have others do for me until now. I have already been asked to serve as a judge on the juries of contests for works of performances and I want to become someone who is able to make well-based judgments of talented artists in those opportunities. I also want to actively pursue creative work overseas. Last year, there were several occasions that gave me renewed consciousness of myself as an Asian. And although there were cases where I had misgivings, I hope that this realization will motivate me toward new creative activities. In addition to my experiences in Europe, there have been chances for me to participate in talk events and the like held in Southeast Asia in recent years and I have been able to meet people there involved in theater. I have been inspired by their efforts to create places and connections in the Asian region.
Do you have any images in mind for your next works?
Right now I am taking Madame Butterfly as a point of departure to think about Orientalism with regard to Japanese and Asian women and, conversely, Occidentalism as well. Madame Butterfly was written about 100 years ago as a melodrama full of preconceptions and prejudices, but I think that on a fundamental level, those preconceptions have not changed much in the meantime. It is a story that looks at the Japanese woman from the perspective of a Western man, but I want to reverse that and rewrite it as a story told about the Western man through the eyes of a Japanese woman.
That means that you want to use the story of
express the discomfort that Asian women feel, right?
Once when I was drinking in the Roppongi district of Tokyo frequented by foreigners, I saw lots of girls with long black hair who obviously liked foreigners. In Asia there are lots of districts like Roppongi. These women that we can see as modern-day Madame Butterflies don’t look like they are really seeing the actual individual faces of these Caucasian males but just see them all as the “whites” that they indiscriminately long for. In other words the women and the men are seeing each other with discriminatory eyes. And by pursuing each other without denying their own discriminatory preconceptions, they are suffering and enjoying the mutual pursuit. This is perhaps something that can be said about all human relationships to some degree.
When will we be able to see this newest work?
We did a reading-performance of Madame Butterfly at Theater Commons ’20. https://theatercommons.tokyo/) I see this a work-in-progress that I want to continue working on. In 2021, I am going to be doing a collaborative project with a theater in Zurich and it is there that I want to present it as a new work.
＊1 The Jenny doll series with changeable costumes was released by Takara Tomy (formerly Takara) in 1986 (as an older sister to the Licca-chan series for younger girls). The Timotei dolls were launched as a friend of Jenny’s with the characterization of a flight attendant with long blond hair.
＊2 Kyoko Okazaki was born in 1963 and is a charismatic female manga artist. Her works captured the atmosphere of the era from the 1980s into the ’90s and reflected the discomfort in living in that era in earnest lines of conversation. Her works like Tokyo Girls Bravo,pink,The River's Edge and Helter Skelter became bibles for young women seeking to break out of the constraints of society.
＊3 Garakei An abbreviated form of “Galapagos keitai,” with keitai being the Japanese name used the old fold-out type cellphones before the evolution to today’s smartphones.
*4 The Multiple Stabbing Incident at a facility for the disabled in Sagamihara The case of multiple stabbings and murders of patients at the Tsukui-Yamayuri-en facility for the disabled in Sagamihara, Japan on July 26, 2016. A former male employee of the facility entered the facility undetected and, claiming that the disabled are better off dead, proceeded to stab to death 19 of the disabled patients and cause various degrees of injury to 26 other patients and staff members. The words and actions of the perpetrator claiming it was a crime of conscience shook the entire nation.
*5 #KuToo Movement
This was a movement protesting the fact that many Japanese workplaces required their female employees to wear high-heeled shoes or medium-heeled pump shoes. The #KuToo hashtag that spread with the movement was derived from the #MeToo movement’s and played on the two meanings of the Japanese words kutsu (shoes) and kutsuu (a pain).
*6 Masashi Nukata Born 1992, Nukata is a composer and director. While a student at Tokyo University of the Arts, he formed an eight-member band named TOKYO SHIOKOUJI that specialized in breakbeat and minimal music. He also established the theater company Nuthmique in 2016 and won the Grand Prix of the 16th Aichi Arts Foundation Drama Award (AAF Drama Award) for the play The Town Thereafter. He has also composed many music pieces for the stage.
The Bacchae – Holstein Milk Cows
Despite the domination her husband subjects her to, the Woman in the lead role relinquishes herself to the security of life as a housewife. Before marriage she had worked as a domesticated animal inseminator and now she decides to buy some semen from a donor over the internet and half in fun she injects it into a cow. It results in the birth of a half-human, half cow Holstein beast with a large clitoris that can ejaculate semen and becomes its mother. She abandons the child beast when it is three years old and it is left to support itself as half-human, half cow selling her favors to perverted men.
(Aug 11-14, 2019 at Aichi Prefectural Art Theater-Mini theater)
©Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee
Photo: Shun Sato