Toshiki Okada Ground and Floor Interview (1/2)
- Kyoko Iwaki
Yesterday [22 May, 2013], I attended the world premier performance of Ground and Floor at Théâtre Varia, Bruxelles. The emotion that emerged right after the performance was eerily contradictory. That is, I felt both sympathetic towards and remote to the concept of ‘kokyo [home, hometown]’ that you have described in the piece. Interestingly, you have attached this notion not to the Japanese soil but rather to the Japanese language.
If I say something that might provide an answer to that comment, it will be..., well, for example, if I were asked ‘do you like the country of Japan?’ it is very difficult for me to answer. Perhaps, I might not like the country. However, I can absolutely say that I absolutely like maneuvering and using the Japanese language in an interesting way.
Do you more or less feel after the disaster [The Great East Japan Earthquake on March 2011], that the Japanese language may vanish in the future?
Several years before the disaster, I read Mizumura Minae’s book Nihongo ga Horobiru toki: Eigo no Seiki no Naka de [The Fall of the Japanese Language in the Age of English] (2008). It was an interesting read, but at that time the critical feeling that Mizumura-san was conveying didn’t quite strike a chord. However after the disaster, what was written in the book gained more sense of reality within me. That is because, all in all, if like the government is not doing their job properly, a country can come down quite easily. And so frankly, I think that the population of Japanese speakers will decrease from now on. At the moment, maybe most of the people will refuse this thought flatly by saying, ‘common, that’s impossible.’ Nevertheless, I cannot help myself from harboring this critical feeling. To be honest, I am a bit worried about how these kinds of thoughts are going to be perceived by the audience when I present the piece in Japan.
Your previous piece Current Location (2012) was a story about outer space; this time it’s about another world. If we take into consideration of what happened during and after the disaster, I could infer plenty of reasons why your thought extended to the otherwordly place. But could you elaborate in your own words, how and why you started reflecting about the spirits and the dead?
One simple thing I can say is that it partially came out of aesthetic curiosity. After all these years of commitment in theatre, spontaneously, an interest in spirits emerged. That is because, in my thought, spirits and actors are alike. For instance, we living humans obviously exist even when we are alone in the room, right? However, actors and spirits are possible to exist, only if someone observes them. As a theater maker, I simply got interested in this aspect. Having said that, however, there were the effects of the aftermath, which inevitably forced me to think about the dead. Also personally, apart from the disaster, the death of my own father had a certain impact on me. Gradually along the way, I started to think about not the victims of the disaster, but about all the dead people who have passed away long ago. More precisely, I started to reflect on the rights of all the dead people.
On the hand out of Kunstenfestivaldesarts, you have written that ‘bigger “diplomatic effort” ought to be made to reconcile the interest of the two sides [the living and the dead].’ On the face of it, this suggestion sounds bizarre. Simply, how can you carry a diplomatic dialogue with the dead and negotiate the mutual interests? Moreover, to being with, are not the dead excluded from the economical system of the living? Since the suggestion sounds a bit abstract, can you explicate this concept?
Well, for instance, after the disaster, despite their villages being enormously close to the epicenter of the nuclear accident, there were people who decided not to leave their land just because their ancestors’ graves were there. And my initial reaction to these people was, basically, as follows: you are alive, and in contrast, your ancestors are already dead. Therefore, isn’t it better as a living human being to evacuate to a secure place? However, after a while, I start having second thoughts and become doubtful about my own opinion by questioning, ‘is that really right?’
For me, thinking about the people who decided to stay in the radioactively contaminated land to guard the graves of the ancestors is a relatively important proposition. Frankly, it is impossible for me to act in the same way. However, we should absolutely not impeach them by stating that it is sheer nonsense. I kind of feel that our disposition to consider such things as nonsense is, probably, more or less related to the fundamental causations which forged the overall issue that we are confronting at the moment. The problem is still there, precisely because we are disregarding or neglecting the interests of the dead.
Things like science and rationality have isolated us from the wisdom of respecting the dead. And even though we already know, by not restoring this veneration, we are suffering from the detriments that it has naturally generated. Not in terms of haunting or voodoo, but rather in a very practical way, I think that if we do not count in the interests of the dead, it will turn against the benefits of the living. Somewhere in my mind, I think that if we respect the ancestors, the nuclear plants will be gone. Well, yes, even if I say so myself, I know that it sounds like an outlandish logic, maybe more so than that old Japanese proverb: ‘When the wind blows, pale makers prosper.’ (A similar English proverb will be ‘For a wants of a nail, the kingdom is lost.’ The phrase suggests the law of unintended consequences.)
Did the application of Noh theatre-like scenography derive from the idea of wanting to write about spirits?
The idea of Noh theatre setting emerged organically, synchronically, and also intertwined with all other various ideas. Two years ago, in the kick-off meeting of the co-production process with the Kunsten Festival, I was talking to the director of the festival Christroph (Slagmuylder). At that time he has suggested me on the possibility of working together with musicians. The idea seemed interesting to me also. And so, when I started cultivating my thoughts in collaborating with musicians, the idea of Noh theatre spontaneously emerged. Once I even thought of a concept like ‘contemporary Noh theatre.’ Anyway, to sum up, I could say that because of the idea of creating a Noh-like musical theatre a storyline like this developed, or, I could equally say that the bud of the narration was already there and the idea of Noh theatre followed.