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Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 11:12 am
Toshiki Okada and Japan's "lost generation"

I don't think we've ever had a Click Opera item about a Japanese theatre director, so here's one on someone I think might be one of the most interesting new directors working anywhere. 35 year-old Toshiki Okada runs a theatre group called chelfitsch (always spelled in lower case, the word comes from the English "selfish"), founded in Yokohama in 1997. Okada began as a business student at Tokyo's Keio University, but became a lighting engineer at ST Spot theatre in Yokohama, mainly because he had an idea to make films and wanted to pick up lighting technique. A decade later, Okada is one of Japan's most feted experimental directors, hailed for giving a voice to the "lost generation" of Japan's 25-35 year-olds. I think the thing to do here is look at a scene from his play Five Days in March, staged earlier this year at the Japan Society in New York:



What you see there is something very interesting: a combination of super-naturalistic slang Japanese conversation (Okada calls it "super real") with body language based on real life, but heightened and exaggerated and alienated. Okada's main influences are Brecht (inventor, of course, of the Alienation Effect) and Japanese director Oriza Hirata, who believes that actors shouldn't ever look self-conscious. Okada puts together theatre and choreography in an unusual way; banal and trivial dialogue gets a new dimension when it's juxtaposed with observed, heightened "quotable gesture".

When I showed this scene to Hisae (who's bang in the middle of this "lost generation" demographically) she surprised me by saying she found the gestures quite natural. "But if you saw people on the street doing that you'd think they were mentally retarded!" I exclaimed. "Yes, but there are a lot of people like that," said Hisae.

It's also interesting to watch the lighting in that clip. It dims through the scene in a completely anti-naturalistic way, as if to put us on our guard against being seduced by the realism of the banter, and take us into more self-consciously formal areas. Okada may have got his first taste of this power when he was a lighting engineer (it's something I learned when I was scoring a film called The Lowdown back in 1999: music, like lighting, has an incredible power to change the meaning of a scene, especially when it's used against the grain of expectation).



Okada's play titles have a slacker feel: On the Dangers of Marijuana, Cooler, Tissue, Mansion (those last three are dance pieces), Destination, Five Days in March (about the Iraq war), Enjoy, Freetime. Blurb about Okada's work says it focuses on "the insubstantiality of present conditions in Japan". That means -- in his new play Freetime, for instance -- a focus on phenomena like the "freeter" (furita), the kid who works a precarious, low-paid temp job in order to have free time to do things that matter (as long, obviously, as they don't cost much money).

Readers of Neojaponisme may have heard Marxy deploring the uncreative passivity and lack of spending power of this generation in a recent podcast, and mentioning that the only clothing company profiting in the current climate is cheapo basics store Uniqlo. "Kids have less money and if the whole culture game was about spending money, they can't do culture", Marxy says. What Okada's theatre shows is that the "lost generation" can certainly become culture, and very interesting culture at that.

Okada gave a talk at the Yokohama Triennale's Red Brick Warehouse venue on Saturday. He's showing his work soon in Paris at the new cultural centre Le Cent Quatre. I'll get a chance to see his work when it comes in December to Kreuzberg theatre HAU, and there's an American tour planned for 2009. You can read an interview with Okada here.

22CommentReply

cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 10:26 am (UTC)

Why do kids have to have a need for shopping? What if some do have money that they just don't happen to spend on trivial things. Maybe a visit to the café with a friend or two is more important.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)

Oh, I certainly don't think things are only culturally significant if they involve big outlays of money and score big in the mainstream. I leave that philosophy to the disillusioned!


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 10:37 am (UTC)

In the interview I link, Okada says:

"There are realities that I want to change, and this may be a contradiction, but on the other hand I feel that there are people who are trying to make us feel that, “You guys are living an impoverished reality. There is a richer way of life.” I don’t want to become trapped in that kind of mentality. I am not saying the reality is happy or that life is rich, what I want to show through my plays when seen as theater is the rich potential of the individual people who are moving in the presence of complex factors and mechanisms surrounding them."


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 10:41 am (UTC)

Yeah, there are many who have potential but somewhat never really sees that in themseves. Maybe because they are busy with the "complex factors and mechanisms" out there.


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junkietrash
1
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)

for anyone interested
Five days in march performence is on eMule with detailed scene-by-scene English description.
and i have uploaded it to the http://karagarga.net/
with a lot of Terayama plays without english subs


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)

Ah, you're heavensent!

Vuze tells me I should have the whole file in just over an hour.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC)

What do you think about private, invite-only torrent sites and the like, Momus? Necessary quality control amongst the dregs of the masses, or antiquated elitism? Or perhaps you've written about it before...


ReplyThread Parent
robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)

eek the first rule of fight club...


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desant012
||||||||||
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)

Completely useless. Why not upload it to a public torrent site? That Karanga site does more harm to culture than good by providing an inaccessible forum for culture, whereas without it, people would be uploading this material to places people could actually access.

I've found so much great stuff, only to have it be out of reach by that damn invite only torrent site. /rant over.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)

It'll either stagnate in artificial scarcity or show up elsewhere eventually, it always does. I'll have to come back and read this post then. I'm also boycotting PG Tips till Momus tells me whether he adds milk and what sweetener or sugar he uses.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)

Milk, no sweetener.

Seja marginal!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)

I now have the courage to try my tea with milk, thanks.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)

Well, I was a little more impressed than you seem to have been; Marxy has often been accused of leaving the economically (if not culturally) vibrant sector of anime, manga and computer games out of his accounts of Japan's stagnation, skewing the whole picture. Getting together with Macias allows them to cover fashion, marketing, "the cool Japan brand" (yuk!), pop music, and otaku stuff.

And there's a priceless moment when Macias interrupts Marxy's tirade about how little Japanese youth have achieved culturally by saying "And what exactly have you achieved, Mr Marxy? You're working in marketing, at the heart of the Death Star!"

That said, the dialectic needs to be a trialectic -- there needs to be coverage of out-there indie unpop, Japanese creators overseas, the fine art scene, theatre and film. And that's where I (and others, of course, including you, Kuma) come in. We all have a little corner of the truth, nobody has a monopoly.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
nobody has a monopoly.

"Eye On Tokyo" definitely needs one of those floral fifties background theme songs. Dreaming of Maid cafes and Sapion cakes with tea. MMMmmm...


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 1st, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)

I thought the particularly priceless moment came when Marxy started espousing the rather momusarian line of it being a western concept to judge the intentions of another's actions. He didn't sound too confident trying on this new philosphical hat...


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 01:11 pm (UTC)
Before I make comment

Nic, how do I get your new CD autographed with a quaint Scot colloquialism?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Before I make comment

Hum, there are various ways. Drop me a line at momasu at gmail when you have your copy!


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)

A few observations now I'm actually watching the Five Days in March torrent.

First, although Okada is very modest in the interview and says that people may be bored during his plays, in fact the audience at SuperDeluxe for this production are laughing quite a lot at the exaggerated gestures the characters are making as they prattle on. Everyone comes across as a neurotic, sort of like Annie Hall or something, and it's hilarious.

Secondly, it all rings very true for a non-Japanese speaker, because what you do when you're around Japanese speaking a language you haven't mastered is pay attention to their non-verbal cues, their tone of voice, their body posture. And that's exactly what Okada's work pays attention to as well. He forces everyone to react to his characters as a non-Japanese speaker would.


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mcfnord
mcfnord
shoop
Wed, Oct. 29th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)

yeah id movement is something retarded people never learned to shame or something. i loved this theater video.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 30th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)

Umm... You've greatly confused things by making the "lost generation" everyone from 18-35. I don't think anyone has ever claimed that those in their mid-to-late 30s are uncreative. In fact, in the past I was accused of being too praising of this generation. Okada is classic Gen X age, born in the late '60s to early '70s, just like Cornelius, Nigo, Jun Takahashi, and the people who made up the bulk of the Relax culture that impressed the world. Hats off to Okada, but he's not exactly an exception to the rule.

My point has been that those in their 20s — whom I shorthand as "Gen Y" — are a totally different "breed," with very little interest in spending money or participating in cutting-edge global culture. The best part of this can be that it's a total anti-commercial "slow life" where no one consumes anything, but so far they have not wrapped this behavior in the upper middle-class Kunel aesthetic that you love. They just don't consume — not as an aesthetic action, but an economic reality — and when they do buy things, they go very much for mass market tastes: J-Pop, J-rock, fashion brands that very much reinforce ideas of "docile" dolled up femininity and "strong" bad-boy masculinity. The anti-progressive, hostile tone on 2-Ch isn't a good sign either.

Not to say that no artists in their 20s are interesting, I definitely like some, but the mass consumer response to them has been extremely tepid and this changes the dynamic you saw (and most celebrated and got paid from) in the 1990s

I have to wonder why someone like Patrick Macias was chosen to comment on Japanese youth culture.

Why not? In my professional judgment, I think he was qualified to talk about the topic at hand. Please provide other alternatives and perhaps I will consider them next time.

"And what exactly have you achieved, Mr Marxy? You're working in marketing, at the heart of the Death Star!"

Oh, come on. I thought we cleared this up earlier. The title on my official business card is "Chief Editor." I guess that means, "hedge fund manager while selling cigarettes to kids on the weekend." If only I wrote for Conde Nast, that would liberate me from evil corporate interests!

Marxy


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 30th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)

Mascias is an OK japan writer for a tourist


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 30th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)

Thanks for the clarification, Mr Marxy! By the way, it was Macias who said you were working at the heart of the Death Star, I was only quoting him! And it's Jean Snow who works for Conde Nast (though I used to). The New York Times is its own thing. Anyway, yes, we all have salt on our fingers from the glamor gulag.

I've watched the 5 Days in March play twice now, and it kind of reminds me of the slacker meme that, in early 90s American culture, produced Beck and the Clerks movie. Except that Okada is much more formalist. One of the points I was making in the piece was that even unambitious and uninteresting recessionary youth can be the subject of ambitious and interesting culture. I don't know if that makes it the creator of such culture, but I don't think there's quite such a hard-and-fast line between the 35 year-olds and the 25 year-olds as you and Patrick seem to.

For a start, people generally haven't quite got their act together in their 20s. It takes some of them a while to develop a distinctive and original voice. Secondly, are you sure that Cornelius wasn't a bit of a slacker in his time? He definitely did his fair share of pakuri, knocking off Primal Scream and Beastie Boys riffs. As for the contribution of Hiroshi Fujiwara, the less said the better. I think you've put that 90s generation too high, and the 00s generation too low. Where's the 90s Chim↑Pom? Is the 90s castrated because they don't have a Chim↑Pom?


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