Cosplay and manga take the stage as young Japanese push at theatre's edges.
Not all the plays presented by emerging artists at Festival/Tokyo in November were about last spring's triple catastrophe in
Touko Nikaidou, who was an "underground idol" in her college years, was choreographer and director of "Banagaku: Super Spunky Sports Autumn Grand Tournament!"
The production by Pure Banana Girls Class involved 50 young performers dressed for cosplay and divided into two colour-coded groups to compete at singing and dancing.
The audience was very much involved. Everyone got a raincoat on arrival to shield against flying powder and water.
The performance was a commentary about teenagers searching for their identity, influenced by their peers and sometimes ready to join cults they know little about.
I wish I were 20 years younger so I could have enjoyed it more. At the end of the show we were all invited to join them onstage, but as I walked down the aisle to do just that, I veered instead for the exit.
In Lolo's "Endless Summmer", playwright and director Naoyuki Miura delved into the anime and manga subcultures while evoking nostalgia about a "fictional summer".
Four different story lines were filled with colourful characters and situations, and we switched back and forth with the aid of simple yet effective props. In one particularly poignant tale, a young couple in search of love splits up, one of the lovebirds "returning to outer space"—gone forever.
Both "Banagaku" and "Endless Summer" were packed with roof-raising energy courtesy of tightly knit ensembles that really enjoyed what they were doing.
However, there's a problem for foreigners trying to comprehend Japanese subculture, and certainly when English surtitles--which have become a standard practice now--are not provided.
That said, it was great to see a world-class festival give local groups the opportunity to share their passion. At the same time, Festival/Tokyo was broadening the general theatre audience by appealing to fans of these subcultures.
I've been teaching at university for almost two decades, so I'm never surprised by the power that youth carries. When students create any form of "performance" outside the classroom, it can be quite electrifying. But once back in the classroom, it's mostly by the book, restricted to the usual professor's instructions.
Even after graduating, they still shy away from artistic risk. By contrast, Thai artists who didn't major in theatre—instead learning from professionals—take the risks and create more stirring work.
The writer's trip to
written by Pawit Mahasarinand
published in THE NATION on Friday 6th January, 2012
photos courtesy of Festival/Tokyo
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