gThe revival of Yaji and Kitah

This essay was written by Momiichi Unita, a theater essayist, and handed out to the audience at the gYaji and Kitah performance in Osaka and Nagoya.

Andre Breton once declared gReorganize unknown facts to known facts.h Before him, gunknown factsh were forced to put out of the rational common sense. People called gunknownh as gcrazyh. Kunio Iwaya, a Japanese critic, described what the principle of surrealism movement is. It is to put irrational things, such as madness, dreams and unconscious, into the frame of the gknownh. Furthermore, he said gseek the eunknownf in the eknownf and light the eknownf with strong brightness of the eunknownfh. This is the way to change and reread of the world with art. Some of the surrealists tried to find the method within manipulating dreams and the unconscious. Max Ernst (1891-1976), A German surrealist, found his method in collage. His collages rouse fresh imagination by making relationships between different and seemingly unrelated objects.

In the footsteps of these great artists, walks the script writer and director, Tengai Amano, Amano is also an artist who, like the surrealists, has tried to change and reread the world with theatrical expression. Both use the method of looking to their dreams and their unconscious for inspiration. Furthermore, Amano, like Max Ernst, is considered by many to be an expert in the medium of collage.

It is interesting to note that Amano creates all his productions posters and fliers. For him, creating theater (and sometimes cinema) promotional materials is merely a natural extension of the whole creative process. First, he cuts the whole of the original creation and language into small pieces which he handles each equally like the piece of an immense jigsaw puzzle. Then, allowing himself to feel the influence of his dreams and sub consciousness, he pastes them together in his own amazing and unpredictable way. The assembled peaces of the jigsaw form a face, completely different from the original, yet the face makes obvious the essence which was dormant in the original creation. This transformed face astonishes the audience. This is the Amanofs special ability.

Amano says gmy method or theory is the same as the use of collage in surrealistic art. Amano continues, gIt is my goal to share with the audience the pleasure of glimpsing the essence or chemistry when two obviously different objects meet and mingle. (gGki No Uchuh, a theater magazine). When we see Amanofs collage, we see something beyond his artisan spirit, perhaps even paranoia. His collages are so detailed, as if it is genetic recombination. I sometimes think of him as a paranoid collagist. After he shot the film gTwilightsh, his tendency to paranoia became stronger.

The KUDAN Project is the theatrical company for whom Tengai Amano writes and directs. There are only two actors, Hideji Oguma and Satoru Jitsunashi. Originally, The KUDAN Project was organized for performing the play Kudan No Ken when the group went by the name Kirkori No Kai back in 1995. After 1998, the company changed their name to The KUDAN Project and started performing in Asian cities such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and so on. Of course, they have performed in Japanese cities, too. The word, kudan is the name of legendary Japanese monster that has the head of human and the body of a cow. The kudan, sometimes shows up in human habitations and tells the people prophecies of a dire future. In Kudan No Ken, Amano arranged the legend into a funny but ominous fantasy story employing his unique style of collage. The characters who show up are two men, Hitoshi and Taro. Are they sleeping or awake? Are they live or dead? They are lost and unsure. We can not even define where they are or if their world is real or just a dream. Their world flickers like an oil lamp, creating an atmosphere that defies definition until it finally fades out.

At almost the same time as the fantastic vision of Kudan No Ken was being staged, a similar project was born in the world of manga (Japanese comic books).

Midnight Yaji and Kita appeared serially in the magazine, gComic Are!h from 1996 to 1997. This comic was based on the Japanese classical novel, Tokaido Chu Hizakurige written by Juppnesya Ikku about 200 years ago. It was also inspired by John Schlesingerfs classic American road film, Midnight Cowboy. Some may want to see Midnight Yaji and Kita as a groad comich. Midnight Yaji and Kita was published in just two volumes, but the sequel to the comic, Yaji and Kita in Deep was published until 2002, receiving the Teduka Osamu cultural prize in 2001. When you watch this play, you may notice something interesting, the image of Teduka Osamu!

In Yaji and Kita in Deep, Kita has drug problem. To quit his drug habit, Yaji and Kita decide to visit Ise, one of the holy places in Japan. Their magnificent travels bring them face to face with all kinds of binomial facts such as death and life, reality and dreams and so on. A Japanese philosopher, Nakazawa Shinichi, described Yaji and Kita in Deep in his book, Tamashi No Manga. He writes, gThe dreadful concept hidden in the classical Edo novel was revealed to modern society by Kotobuki Shiriagari because of his insightful adaptation.h The dread he speaks of was included in the original novel in first place, but the veil of the era in which it was written had covered the essence of this dread. Adapting the story to the comic from had removed that veil. After Kudan No Ken, The KUDAN Project was looking for a new story to perform. Yaji and Kita is a two man story, taking up the theme of reality vs. dreams, life vs. death. This was perfect match for the KUDAN Project and their mission and philosophy. Furthermore, Yaji and Kita happen to resemble to the actors, Hideji Oguma and Satoru Jitsunashi. It was a fated meeting and they knew that they had to make gYaji and Kitah for the stage.

Of course, translating from manga to stage is not an easy job. In manga, drawing unrealistic travel is not so difficult, but on stage this is a very tall order. They had to rely on inspiration and invention. Amano had to direct effectually with using actual stage sets and real, flesh and blood actors. Even if it was possible to perfectly reproduce the manga version, it would be meaningless to make the stage version exactly the same as the manga. For the stage version, he would need to adapt at a structural level with regards to the differences between manga and the stage. It is only by breaking it down to its raw levels that the essence of the story can be brought to the stage.

In actuality, Amanofs task was much more difficult. We should not forget, Yaji and Kita in Deep was translated from the classical novel by Kotobuki Shiriagari, and if Amano was to find any satisfaction in his production he would have capture the essences of both the comic adaptation and the original.

Before this play, Tengai Amano had written and directed The Logbook of Takaoka Prince, a novel written by Tatsuhiko Shibuzawa, and The Story about a Match a comic written by Oji Suzuki. Both stories are about travels and dreams. He adapted them for the stage, employing his unique collage style, successfully and without losing the essence and flavor of each story. Because of these experiences, it is not difficult for him to find the structural commonalities in Kudan No Ken and Midnight Yaji and Kita. In short, Tengai Amano had found his elementcor should I say gPopeyeh had found his patch of spinach? It is at these moments we find ourselves able to do our greatest work; making creations whose wholes are much greater than the sum of their parts.

First, as usual, he took the original story and broke it into pieces. After that he collaged Yaji and Kita just as he did with Kudan No Ken. The only difference is Yaji and Kita is a groad playh, performed in limited space at mini-theater. How was he to accomplish this?

Amano boldly decided not to have Yaji and Kita physically travel across the stage from scene to scene. As you will see, Amano used condensed video images along with repeating scenes which suggested movement and travel. Time and space are squeezed into a dramatic loop. (The looping story is also an Amano technique.) In the original manga version, there is the gHuridashi No Tatamih episode. This particular story line is perfect for Amanofs style, as if the episode was written with him in mind. In an inn, there are some Huridashi no Tatami. Tatami are Japanese straw mats, but these tatami are special. gHuridashih means a starting point, and if you step these tatamis, you are transported back to when and where you started. The Japanese word, gHuridashih, has two meanings. The other meaning is gstarting to rainh. Due to Amanofs fondness of the play on words, when Yaji and Kita step on the gHuridashi no Tatamih, they not only have to restart form the beginning, it starts to rain. The rain, in turn, raises the river, which bars their way. But Kita has the awful idea to continue, which takes him on a journey into the world after death. Kita commits suicide with biting off his own tongue. But if Yaji steps the gHuridashi no Tatamish, Kita is transported back from the after life. Unfortunately, Kita has come back in time as well, so he canft remember what he saw after his death and he committed suicide repeatedly. This looping story reminded us a long udon (wheat-flour noodle). It also reminds us of the portraits by modern painter, Francis Bacon. His eerie style suggests faces layered upon faces, faces with two meanings or emotions. It is like ‰–”~ (Anbai). g‰–”~ghas the double meaning of gfortunatelyh and gsalty plumh. When we use these Japanese characters to mean gsalty plumh, we change the pronunciation to gShio Umeh. gShio Umeh when written using these characters gŽ€‚𖄂߁h, is pronounced the same, but has the meaning of burial or grave. (Such is the nature of the Japanese language and Amanofs love of puns.) Secret messages make their appearance, adding meaning upon meaning, layer upon layer.

This production is a transition between realities and ideas. The characters come and go on the border of life and death. Amano has brought Yaji and Kita and the essence of the classical novel to life. Amano has not only tackled life and death, but also reality and illusion. He boldly crashes the fourth wall by having food delivered on stage by a real and unsuspecting delivery person. It that scene, the fiction world encounters the real world and the viewer is forced to ask not only what is real for Yaji and Kita, but also what is real for themselves. It is this imagination; connecting two facts, two realities that can reconfirm the world. Letfs think about universe without borders. In that universe, dreams and reality combine. Furthermore, every thing connects to each other like noodles, Yaji and Kita, comic and stage, known and unknown, human and cow. Finally, the actors and the audience harmonize in a moment of dancing tangos. What is the origin of this imagination? Should we call it gcrazyh Should we call it gloveh? It is possible to call it gcrazy loveh.

The manga Midnight Yaji and Kita by Kotobuki Shiriagari was made into a movie by Kankuro Kudo. It would be interesting to compare the movie with the stage adaptation. In addition, the leader of the theater company to which Kankuro Kudo belongs also made a movie. That movie is based on a comic story as well.

¨šƒgƒbƒvƒy[ƒW‚Ö

Copyright(c), 2004- KUDAN Project

k-doc script by Office K.