• Interview with Taichi Yamagata

    • Interview : Mizue Hayashi
    • Translated by James Koetting

    —— The role of Yukio, the gentle-natured younger son who never neglects to visit his mother's grave, is played by chelfitsch veteran Taichi Yamagata.

    Taichi Yamagata
    We don't have a choreographer, and I dream up my movements by myself. I wanted the audience to feel the world below the ground through my physical expression. My basic image was the nebulous one of energy being transmitted to my body from beneath and then returning there. I try to really move my spine and tailbone while flaying my arms and legs about as well. I'm not sure who it is, but it is not me. I always have the sense of being a 'mediator.'

    —— The character calls to mind a shaman bridging us with the spirit world, and crawls over the ground like a wild animal. His behavior, which suggests that his very soul has become unanchored and cast adrift, is bound to agitate the hearts of the audience.

    Taichi Yamagata
    I am concentrating on the movement of my body when there are no words. I want to reach the audience with strong expression in interludes devoid of lines. In this piece, I would say (Yukiko) Sasaki is the bass, and I am the drums. We have to lay down a groove that will lend depth and width to the narrative.

    —— The setting of Ground and Floor is the post-3/11 Japan of the near future. Yamagata was one of those whose life was greatly changed by the disaster; he moved out of the affected area right after it with the help of a friend. Surprisingly, however, he says that he does not consider the work a "post-disaster play.

    Taichi Yamagata
    Theater does not have to draw lines and label works 'pre-disaster' or 'post-disaster.' chelfitsch has interwoven current events right from the start, and does not need any higher cause at this point. At any rate, our intention is to be in the vanguard of what contemporary Japanese theater is capable of doing today. Even if the script and theme are weighty, we want to make an impression that is not. I think we succeed at that with this piece.

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  • Interview with Makoto Yazawa

    • Interview : Mizue Hayashi
    • Translated by James Koetting

    —— The role of Yutaka, husband, eldest son, and soon-to-be father, is played by Makoto Yazawa. Yutaka is in a position prone to be influenced by the volitions of others. The swaying of his heart can even be sensed from a view of Yazawa's back; its very center of gravity looks unbalanced.

    Makoto Yazawa
    Direction has no relation (in acting). Wherever I may be facing when delivering my lines, all of the effect is even, both before and behind me. (Director Toshiki) Okada is probing ways of conveying things directly to the audience. That is also part of the unique interest of chelfitsch theater, and I believe this work is of the same nature.

    —— Yazawa said he was stunned by Five Days in May, one of chelfitsch's banner pieces. Ground and Floor is his third appearance with the troupe. He was born in Fukushima Prefecture, and this presumably makes the play of particular importance to him.

    Makoto Yazawa
    Personally as well, there are parts with which I can really relate. The misgivings about where Japan is headed are becoming steadily greater in my mind, too. There are some scathing comments in the play, but I am not put off by them at all. I also don't think they are going too far. When you really think about it, they are on the mark.

    —— Yazawa's family home is located in the town of Namie, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The graves of his ancestors are likewise there, but the family cannot make the customary visits to them because they are located within the zone barred to entry by all.

    Makoto Yazawa
    「I began to wonder what the spirits of my grandfather and grandmother thought about this. And yet this piece kindled something akin to a flame of hope inside me. What ultimately wells up in my heart as a result is a personal emotion that is positive rather than negative. In the final analysis, that's the direction I want to go.

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  • Interview with Yukiko Sasaki

    • Interview : Mizue Hayashi
    • Translated by James Koetting

    —— Appearing in Haruka's dream, Satomi is a friend from the past who lives like a recluse, cut off from society. She is played by Yukiko Sasaki, one of chelfitsch's stand-out performers.

    Yukiko Sasaki
    Generally, I have roles that are a bit zany or spice up the narrative. But I try not to think about my role. I am not particularly ingenious, and so can only do as told - perform to the script for starters. For this piece, the director told me to listen to the sounds.

    —— Sasaki's part includes a thrilling, "coming-at-you" session keyed by sound, rhythm, speech, and body movement. At center-stage is a cruciform surtitle screen that floats in the darkness like a grave marker. As a speaker of Japanese, a language on the road to extinction, Satomi becomes upset and complains when the Japanese caption on the screen fails to keep up with her own soliloquy.

    Yukiko Sasaki
    Ah, what does it matter? No one is going to understand what I say anyway,' Satomi laments in Japanese. That works fine in other countries, but in Japan, it is in conflict with the reality, and I can almost see question marks floating up from the audience seating (laughter). By the same token, if we on the stage do not adjust our frame of mind, the meaning is not going to get through. That's why I intend to play the role as if I were a gaijin (foreign national) when the piece is staged in Japan.

    —— One can only look forward to the gaijin-ized performance by Sasaki on the stage in Yokohama when Ground and Floor makes its triumphant return to Japan.

    Yukiko Sasaki
    People tend to think chelfitsch is a little hard to understand, and some critics concoct needlessly complicated interpretations. I want to point out that we have some dashing performers, and pretty ones too. Cute costumes as well. So don't think too much about it; just come and see the play, even if it is for such reasons!

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  • Interview with Mari Ando

    • Interview : Mizue Hayashi
    • Translated by James Koetting

    —— A grave shining brightly with a pale light sits at stage left. Within it sleeps Michiko, the mother, now a jumbled assemblage of bones. Actually, she cannot sleep; she continues to be anxious about the living and even now stands beside them. At times, she comes to herself and pleads for better care of the ground covering her. Mari Ando plays this ghostly mother who is softly draped in the aura of the dead and coolly confronts the living. It is a vital role through which the audience encounter a new idea: the "rights of the dead."

    Mari Ando
    I think that, like the previous piece Current Location, Ground and Floor was influenced by the Great East Japan Earthquake. But I am not interested in talking about the theme. The important thing is for the audience to come away with something from the experience. As one of the performers, I am more concerned about executing the scenes well.

    —— One of the key features of Ground and Floor is the dimension of "musical theater" espoused by producer Toshiki Okada. Originally, he planned to have a band perform live, right on stage with the actors, but he eventually decided to use recorded music instead.

    Mari Ando
    I heard some people in the audience think that the band is performing live behind the curtain anyway. This impression no doubt derives mainly from the power of music, but I think another factor is the way we on stage make sure to respond to the music as if it were live.

    —— The music is not mere accompaniment, but another solid presence on the stage, and on equal footing with the theatrical component. Ando is clearly approaching the vision of "musical theater" to which Okada aspires.

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  • Interview with Izumi Aoyagi

    • Interview : Mizue Hayashi
    • Translated by James Koetting

    —— She senses the presence of the dead soul, but closes her eyes to its existence and will not listen to its voice, in the belief that this way is best for the child in her womb. She even has no qualms about leaving her husband and forsaking Japan if necessary. She seems cold and unfeeling at times, this Haruka, the wife of the eldest son, played by Izumi Aoyagi. It could be regarded as the most thankless role in Ground and Floor.

    Izumi Aoyagi
    It's grueling. I don't especially have to physically exert myself, but the role tires me out. In scenes where I have my own say, I am facing forward, and can see the faces in the audience quite well. Some are wearing an expression of deep displeasure. I think the experience has made me stronger.

    —— What Aoyagi says was a crucial help to her in her performance is the music of the band Sangatsu, who are present more as a co-actor than as merely a source of musical accompaniment. The particles of sound shower down from the heavens and tenderly envelope her as she stands on the wasteland of the stage. A novel approach was ventured in rehearsals at the suggestion of Toshiki Okada, the playwright.

    Izumi Aoyagi
    Once a week, a specialist in rolfing (a type of bodywork acting on the frame) was invited to give us actors a lecture on anatomy. Instead of just thinking of a leg as a leg, for example, we learned that, beneath the skin, a leg is actually comprised of dozens of bones. I was surprised at how just the knowledge of this fact changed my awareness of my body.

    —— She said she is still constantly struggling to find ways of sublimating what she absorbed from the lectures in her acting. Drawing on the experiences gained through the shows in Europe and fully prepared for those in Yokohama, the venue of the troupe's victorious homecoming, a tougher and ever-evolving Aoyagi will undoubtedly be discovered on the stage by audiences there.

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