Less than ten years ago, if you wanted to enjoy a theatrical performance without the pesky annoyance of learning the local language, you had one choice: The Nagoya Players.
Today, your choices are much more varied. Whether you want to enjoy some Shakespeare, take in a musical or catch some original fringe theatre, you’re covered. Still, there’s one niche that local companies haven’t tackled full-on, shows in complete Japanese. Sure, there have been subtitles, and shows done partially in Japanese, but for the most part, no.
But now a new group has hit the town, and their approach to drama is a bit against the grain: theatre in Japan in Japanese. I managed to finagle a sit-down with the very busy creative director of Tusk International Theatre Company, Ms. Ellis van Maarseveen, as well as one of the actors from their new upcoming show, Sei-shun.
Daniel Ostrander: Tell me a little about the history of Tusk.
Ellis van Maarseveen: Tusk was set up in 2006 in Holland because I was living in The Hague at the time which is a city full of expats. I had just come back from living in London for 16 years so I was really keen about bringing more English language plays to Holland and that’s actually how it started; a small company doing only 1 or 2 shows a year. And when I left to come to work in Japan, I wanted to do a play here. I started writing and came to the point wondering under which banner to do it. And thought, well, I’ve got Tusk lying around so I’ll just put that on there.
DO: Why Japan?
EvM: For every actor, Japan is a must. You must go and see Kabuki, and also the modern theatre here in Japan which is unique. In the west we only get a filtered version of what is being done here. I’m always hungry for theatre so I go see all these plays that I don’t understand what the hell is going on. And sometimes you walk out thinking this is bad, I know that was really bad, and sometimes there are occasions where it’s just unbelievably good. And that’s a privilege.
DO: You give the impression that is Tusk a transient theatre. Are you eager to move on from Nagoya?
EvM: No, the funny thing is you sometimes go through Nagoya and think, oh, I hate this. Can’t we go to Tokyo or Osaka? But no, Nagoya has so many good things besides being close to all those other beautiful places. There is a buzz in Nagoya, and when I go to the theater I am often disappointed being one of the only foreigners in the audience. The dance and music scenes are especially enjoyable because there are no language barriers.. Things are happening in Nagoya. Go outside and the bands are playing. There’s a lot of good stuff to see.
DO: You wrote and and are directing the current show, Sei-shun. Can you tell me about that?
EvM: It’s based on the problem of Hikikamori, all these kids locking themselves in their rooms. And the reasons these kids have for shutting themselves in is the enormous pressure that they have at school. The fact that there is no future the way there was for their parents. There aren’t so many jobs. They’re expected to work very hard and got to university, and lose their whole childhood. But at the end of University, there’s nothing waiting for them.
DO: In Japan it seems that this subject, and in fact all mental illnesses, is very taboo. Have you had any trouble with that?
EvM: I’ve done my research with a professor at Nagoya University who’s an expert on the Hikkikomori. And what I got from his work is that the subject is still not talked about in Japan. When we talk about the show, people say “that sounds interesting”, but you don’t really know. The proof in the pudding will be the ticket sales.
DO: How did you come to the decision to do the show in Japanese?
EvM: Japanese actually wasn’t my first choice. I was going to do it in English, but this show is actually for the Japanese. I want it to be accessible to that community. We thought about doing subtitles, but there’s so much happening it would take away from the visuals. So, we decided to give out pamphlets explaining in English what is happening in each scene.
DO: The entire show is performed by three actors?
EvM: Yes. Junro Shibata, Yukiko Takayanagi, Kai Hoshino Sandy; that’s the whole cast, and they play all these different characters.
DO: Kai, you’re a high school student at NIS. How did you get involved in the theatre?
Kai Hoshino Sandy: I wasn’t very in touch with theatre as a middle schooler. I’ve been in Japan my whole life, and I never had people taking me to the theatre. But the past 3 years at NIS has been a turning point. Ms. Ellis became my teacher, and has been a big influence. This is what I want to do. I’m applying to a school in the United States as a theatre major.
DO: As a young cast, do you feel there is any sensitive subject matter in the play?
KHS: The whole topic is quite sensitive, but I think all ages can learn something from this.
EvM: These are recognizable problems being put in front of them. Sometimes sugar-coating is fine, but sometimes a slap in the face is needed.
DO: How many chances do we have to see this show?
EvM: We only have three performances. The first is at Nagakute Culture Hall on January 23. On the 29th we’re at the Aichi Prefectural Art Theater, and we’re back there on February 7th. One show each day.
Tickets are available now for reservations at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nagakute Culture Center
Adults ¥2000 / Students ¥1500
Aichi Prefectural Art Theater
Adults ¥3000 / Students ¥2000