danger: transcendental theatre

tony reck flies with matasaburo—angel of the wind

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/2/283_reck_matasaburo.jpg" alt="Yusuke Mori, Yoshinao Kobayashi,
Masayuki Sato, Hidekatsu Yamamura,
Chiaki Kato, Matasaburo”>

Yusuke Mori, Yoshinao Kobayashi,
Masayuki Sato, Hidekatsu Yamamura,
Chiaki Kato, Matasaburo

Yusuke Mori, Yoshinao Kobayashi,
Masayuki Sato, Hidekatsu Yamamura,
Chiaki Kato, Matasaburo

THE FIRST SIGNS OF A DANGEROUS DRAMATURGY IN SHINJUKU RYOZANPAKU’S MATASABURO—ANGEL OF THE WIND EMERGE WITH THE APPEARANCE OF SEVERAL KAMIKAZE PILOTS SITTING IN A CLASSROOM AT A FLIGHT INSTRUCTION SCHOOL. THIS SILENT MILITARY PRESENCE AND THE SUGGESTED FUSION OF CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE SOCIETY WITH THE WARTIME RUPTURES OF ITS RECENT PAST IS REMINISCENT OF THE PLATOON IN POLISH AUTEUR TADEUSZ KANTOR’S WIELOPOLE WIELOPOLE. BUT PLAYWRIGHT KARA JURO (CREATOR OF JAPAN’S RADICAL RED TENT THEATRE) AND DIRECTOR KIM SUJIN ARE LESS INTERESTED IN THE INTIMACY OF THE PERSONAL-POLITICAL AND MORE INCLINED TOWARDS CONVEYING THE KALEIDOSCOPIC PATHOS OF CONTEMPORARY JAPAN’S EAST-WEST SCHIZOPHRENIA. EXPRESSED VIA A COMPLICATED NARRATIVE It THREATENS TO BRING THE PERFORMANCE CRASHING TO THE GROUND.

The Shinjuku Ryozanpaku ensemble embodies ‘Angura Engeki’ (underground theatre). Its twin characteristics of ‘kerenmi’ and ‘kabuku’ (adventurous directing and acting designed to attract attention) propel the action forward through a vertiginous array of vaudevillian scenes. A character named the Night Man ritually slaughters others with a chicken and three performers dressed as vultures (their anuses decorated with plastic daisies) brown-eye the audience before sequentially taking symbolic ‘dumps’ centre stage.

Matasaburo is scatological, scatterbrained and spatially dispersed, using the entire stage and the space behind the audience in its purple tent. But it is also a serious and disciplined performance, all the more beguiling because it is directed and performed in such a manner that makes it appear a sham, if not shambolic. But always lurking beneath the apparent madness on stage is a clear directorial hand fully aware of the subtle meanings embedded within Kara’s text: post-World War 2 Japan, a dynastic society haunted by the memory of atomic obliteration; a society defeated and colonised, only to emerge as an East-West economic ‘wonder child’ until recent more anxious times. In Japan, like so much of the West, all seems lost once again.

This tragedy is revealed via a tale of a former mental patient, minus an ear, and a cross-dressing woman descending into an Orphean underworld in search of a trainee pilot who has stolen an aeroplane and subsequently disappeared. The plot suggests a question essential to Japanese and Australian culture: do we feel inexplicably guilty because we lack a clear sense of identity as the consequence of a befuddled and secretive history?

But playwrighting is only part of what is realised as a visual tour de force. The performers propel Matasaburo—Angel of the Wind onto a transcendental plane. They sweat, scream, dance and sing. They hurl their bodies through the space, wearing heavy costumes in 35 degree heat. They slash throats and spurt blood in a 360 degree arch, and do this with a lack of inhibition made compelling because it is disguised as raw and chaotic. The visual language of Matasaburo inundates and disassembles the senses, but at the show’s end reconstitutes them in a powerful image. The rear wall of the tent collapses, revealing a full-scale Japanese war plane and the Rising Sun, suggested by stunning lighting, with the entire spectacle backdropped by evening traffic on Melbourne’s Exhibition Street. You are witnessing an event that will linger in the mind for an eternity.

Finally, its propeller spinning, the turbocharged engine humming thunderously, the warplane is hoisted out of frame by an unseen mobile crane. Yes, it actually appears to fly away into the distance! The performers, composed, beaming, choosing not to bow, re-enter the space receiving adulation from the audience. In the end it is we who are humbled by the utter virtuosity of this astonishing ensemble.

Matasuburo—Angel of the Wind, writer Kara Juro, director Kim Sujin, performers Shijuku Ryozanpaku Ensemble, lighting designer Tsugo Izumi, choreographer Taeko Okawa, composers Yoshio Anbo, Takashi Onuki, costumes Yuka Kondo, set design Satoshi Otsuka, Melbourne producer Matt Crosby, Soupad; 2006 Australia-Japan Year of Exchange; Birrarung Marr, Melbourne Dec 21 – 23, 2006 www.soupad.com/ryozanpaku.html

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 42

1 February 2007