features

Matsui bares prejudices of contemporary Japan before int'l audience

3 Comments
By Dan Grunebaum

Lacking the time to finish an original work before the inaugural Festival/Tokyo performing arts omnibus this spring, young playwright Shu Matsui decided to light things up instead. Matsui’s production of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s Fireface portrays a dysfunctional family whose pyromaniac son sets fire to the house and kills his parents. This attack occurs after his sister, with whom he’s having an incestuous relationship, finds a new boyfriend.

In an interview at Festival/Tokyo’s headquarters at a disused high school in Nishi-Sugamo, now re-christened Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory, Matsui says that while the subject matter was dark, he didn’t want it to overwhelm the performance.

“I chose it because it portrays a family that is breaking apart, and the Japanese family is also under pressure,” he explains. “But as I directed the production, I began to feel that even though it’s dark, there are times when the characters experience happiness. I wanted the actors to express this, because human beings are, after all, complex, and they experience varied emotions.”

A keen sense of ambiguity lurks behind Matsui’s acclaimed productions, and also provides the context for the name of his theater company, Sample. “In the way that people may enjoy cosplay, actors create tension by donning costumes, by ‘sampling’ different aspects of themselves,” he says.

Born in Tokyo in 1972, Matsui entered the influential Seinendan company as an actor in 1996. He continues to appear onstage, but in recent years has achieved growing renown as a playwright for his explorations of the mental landscape of contemporary Japan. His 2008 play "Kazoku no Shouzou" (Portrait of a Family) was nominated for the Kunio Kishida Drama Award.

For his first-ever piece to be shown with English subtitles—a rarity for any Japanese director—Matsui presents "Ano Hito no Sekai" (That Man’s World) at the fall segment of Festival/Tokyo. The play follows the story of a directionless loner in rural Japan who searches for meaning in surrealistic ceremonies, and a woman with whom he has a failed relationship.

“The story is about people whose prejudices prevent them from being able to interact,” Matsui says, measuring every word. “For this reason, I really want foreigners to see the play, because part of it deals with racial prejudices. Living in Japan, there aren’t many chances to confront one’s prejudices, so they remain taboo and hidden. Most Japanese—and this character—can’t express or understand their prejudices. So he doesn’t meet his prejudices head on, but has strange experiences—such as of a cult religion, or self-realization seminars—that bring them to the fore.

“The larger theme is coexistence,” Matsui continues. “There are misunderstandings, difficulties in human relations. But I believe in the possibility of coexistence. And in order to overcome our prejudices it’s necessary for people to meet. Amid our information society, the strong point of theater is that it provides a place for people to actually meet face-to-face.”

Despite his growing acclaim, Matsui prefers the immediacy of theater to the mass media of television and film. “The good point of the contemporary Japanese theater scene is that young people are performing in various contexts and are not limiting themselves to traditional theaters. People are overturning established conventions,” he says. “The bad point—myself included—is that we are not good at promoting and sustaining careers. Compared to music or art, theater is not very popular. It’s not part of education—it’s not considered an essential part of culture. So we creators have to try to make it more widely understood, and to make something relevant.”

Matsui’s "That Man’s World" will be one of 20 Festival/Tokyo performances centered around Ikebukuro’s Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, Owlspot Theater and nearby Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory. Ranging from Chris Kondek’s topical examination of the financial crisis, "Dead Cat Bounce," to a restaging of butoh company Sankai Juku’s classic "Unetsu," the festival also shows its ambitions to reach an international audience by presenting Japanese productions with English subtitles.

The chance to see a work from Japan’s small theater ("shogekijo") scene in English is a rare one indeed, and by choosing a play that deals with prejudice, the unassuming Matsui has grasped the bull by its horns. Let’s hope he isn’t gored.

"That Man’s World," with English subtitles. Nov 6-15, various times, 3,000 yen (students)/3,500 yen. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, Ikebukuro. Tel: 03-5391-2111.

The story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


3 Comments
Login to comment

“The story is about people whose prejudices prevent them from being able to interact,” Matsui says, measuring every word. “For this reason, I really want foreigners to see the play, because part of it deals with racial prejudices. Living in Japan, there aren’t many chances to confront one’s prejudices, so they remain taboo and hidden. Most Japanese—and this character—can’t express or understand their prejudices. So he doesn’t meet his prejudices head on, but has strange experiences—such as of a cult religion, or self-realization seminars—that bring them to the fore.

wow! nail to head! seems this guy is pretty darn switched on

0 ( +0 / -0 )

wow no! So maybe not so worldy wise?

" I really want foreigners to see the play, because part of it deals with racial prejudices. "

why not?

All countries I know have racial or prejudices against foreigners and its not hidden, in the news every day, with news sources propergating stereotypes and not increasing misunderstandings. Many people are very vocal about their dislike(fear) of foreigners. In politics in many g8 countries it has become more and more of an issue in recent years and has resulted in tougher migration and costly migration rules. ( Japan is quite cheap in that respect)

So maybe he is not so wise to the outside world to realise that he does not need to hide this kind of this from the foreigner... "foreigners"(and "locals") have to deal with this the world over.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@888naff:

Please read more carefully.

He didn't say he was trying to hide it from foreigners. In fact, the opposite -- he WANTS foreigners to see it to understand how racial prejudices manifest themselves in the Japanese psyche.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites