February 12, 2003

Theater for 8

A few nights ago, there was a one-man theater show at my favorite bar Gekko. I had met the actor, Takayama Hiroshi, at Gekko before and Master said that his acts were based on becoming 'things' and were funny. So I thought it'd be a simple cute sort of show. But by the end, this guy had us all in tears and even HE had watery eyes as he was acting. He played totally different characters that were very Japanese, but deeply human at the same time. And because the space was so intimate, at the end, we all felt like we had just experienced something very unique. It took a while for us to digest it and begin talking.

One character was of a macho guy who ran 'How to be Manly' workshops (男塾) and the act was about his last show of the season. He summarized the topics they had covered, such as how to have a manly posture, how to behave in certain situations, or what especially manly words should be used (all mocking the Japanese macho stereotype). He was dressed as a low level yakuza dude (チンピラ, chinpira) with a loud shirt and 70s style sunglasses. He read letters from his participants that included real issues you hear about in society nowadays - husband who doesn't feel he has a place at home, girlfriend who might leave although boyfriend spends tons of money on her, children not respecting father - and this macho character went on to scold them that such problems are actually not serious at all...because it turns out this macho man is actually a woman. S/he goes on to explain that he is a man, but by birth was female. Thus his/her problems are significantly larger: he legally can't marry his current girlfriend, can't physically have children, etc. His point being, at least those who ‘think’ they have problems are at least a man! The act was done is such a humorous way, but gave you goose bumps when you understood the character's truth, and how limiting/damaging gender roles can be.

Another act was of a whacked out taxi driver who drove his taxi like those train conductors...the ones who yell out every single movement they do ("green light OK, 10 mph, 20 mph, stopping soon"...etc.). In addition, it was a special service taxi so he served beer to his customer and read haikus. The act was basically mocking some of the weird habits of the Japanese service industry.

The 'things' that this actor became was in one act, an old copy machine that was being replaced by a high tech new one. The 'moral' was that new is not necessarily good...that doing your job correctly and with pride was just as important as being the new gadget (that would be replaced soon with the next new gadget). The last act was of a pachinko ball (whose name was Tamao, 玉男)...who rebelled against being 'just a ball' among thousands aimlessly being played around. He escapes and meets various characters (a lost ACE from a card deck and a lost puzzle piece) and the ending was about how even if we feel unimportant, we all have a unique space to fill. This last act in particular had us all sniffling, hoping the lost pachinko ball would find his way home to his worried mom and dad, a seemingly resigned and bored pachinko ball himself, but one who loves his son and fulfills his proper role.

For each act, Mr. Takayama wrote the title on a paper...since he wasn’t sure which acts he was going to do until he got a feel for us 8 customers at Gekko. I was so touched by the pachinko ball story that I got him to sign the title paper and I have it up at home...By the way, he has a website, although it’s only in Japanese.

Posted by Mie at February 12, 2003 06:45 PM

hey cute girl, any chance of more pics of you???

Posted by: Jim Bicky at February 15, 2003 04:01 AM

it's a shame i can't catch Takayama's show over here in Toronto! it sounds all very emotional, but i'm sure i'd enjoy seeing it too! thanx for the link, Mie! hope i can at least catch a few Jap words here and there... haha :)

cheers, April

Posted by: April at February 16, 2003 06:14 AM

Hi Jim,
I go through cycles...if there's not much going on in my day-to-day, I end up snapping myself...but I'm rather shy about that so if there are events (like the Anti-war protests which I will post in a second here), I tend to focus on what I observe. I am working on my About section and hope to get pics of me me and me up there though. : )

Posted by: Mie at February 17, 2003 09:50 AM

April, yeah, the guy was quite amazing. I think he has performed abroad though. I asked if audiences who don't understand Japanese can get what he's doing and he said they do - he uses a lot more body movement and facial expressions, and he pays a lot of attention to the audience to see if a connection is being made. If I hear he's going to Toronto, I'll post it!

Posted by: Mie at February 17, 2003 09:53 AM

In the small world category... I know Takayama-san from kindergarten. Not ours, our kids' ;) His daughters go to the same kindergarten as my son. I always wondered what kind of performances he did outside of the kiddiegarten plays we always get railroaded into doing...

Posted by: SpacePotato at February 26, 2003 08:02 PM

Hi SpacePotato,

Tokyo amazes me in how big it is yet how frequently there are these sort of connections.

If you're interested in seeing his performance, he'll be performing at the tiny bar again in mid-March. But I hear his performances on stage are even better...his schedule is on his link. I'm trying to find time to go myself.

Posted by: Mie at February 27, 2003 10:35 AM

Yeah, the world's smallest village it is.

It would be fun to drop in on one of his shows... I could even bring my little devil child to pelt him with gummy bears or something. Now that's entertainment!

His wife is buddies with mine, and I hear she's always worried that he'll get drunk and act like a nut at one of the dads' events -- apparently she knows what she's talking about. I can just see him transforming into a broken copier right there in the midst of 20 drunken uptight salarymen lol.

Posted by: SpacePotato at February 27, 2003 07:06 PM
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