Festival/Tokyo 2012: Beyond Words

Festival/Tokyo 2012 starts on October 27th.

This year’s program focuses on themes of the media. Following the March 11th earthquake, tsunami and subsequent Fukushima catastrophe in 2011, the inability of the mass media to report or investigate certain aspects of the crisis were apparent. On the other hand, many people praised Twitter and other forms of media for providing new avenues for communication.

In the wake of such a disaster — and one which has been insidiously brushed under the carpet so quickly by the central and metropolitan governments, and even the population — how can you respond with sincerity and eloquence? And are media like theatre or the performing arts adequate platforms today for such a response?

“Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel)”
© Arno Declair

Language and the arts are limited media; there are many things they cannot do, though conversely there are innumerable and immeasureable achievements that only they can reach as well. If language presents all kinds of semantic binds and problems, is there a realm beyond words?

The F/T12 Main Program explores these issues, with a trilogy of productions of Elfriede Jelinek forming its central work. Kein Licht. and its epilogue Kein Licht II were written by the Austrian Nobel Prize laureate after March 11th and ruminate on motifs of Antigone and the absurd. In the same way, Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel) looks at the absurdity of another catastrophe, the Holocaust and Nazism, and the complicity of ordinary and well-to-do citizens, and explores in its style the inability of language to voice this articulately: you are forced to adopt the vernacular of the absurd, since any logical response (e.g. a straight drama) would be inappropriate to the complexities of the tragedy.

Takuya Murakawa, the documentary theatre and film director, continues his own explorations of communication media in words, looking at sign language and other forms of dialogue. Likewise, crossing categories and genres is a key signature of the festival; there are many other dance, art installations and tour performances, with participants from Iran, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Germany and more.

“Le Préau d’un Seul”

A wordless play like Daisuke Miura’s Castle of Dreams, revived at F/T12, may be as powerful as the most language-heavy text on Broadway. In the same way, a universal, essentially dialogue-free installation like Jean Michel Bruyère / LFKs’s Le Préau d’un Seul draws the audience into the sphere of an immigrant camp, rather than lecturing or merely presenting ideas. (Sir David Hare, take note, please.)

Since its inception, F/T has attempted to break out of the molds of regular performance venues, with promenade theatre events, tours, outdoor shows and even one performance in a moving vehicle. This year sees a series of flash mob events in Ikebukuro each weekend that will attempt to involve passers-by in spontaneous happenings that break them out of the molds of ordinary Tokyo life.

Daisuke Miura / potudo-ru, “Castle of Dreams”
© Bruno De Tollenaere

And with the theme of media as its central focus, F/T has launched a new freepaper, Tokyo/Scene, offering essays and interviews on this year’s program and published in four issues before, during and after the festival period. Critique and mainstream in-depth media is seriously lacking in Japan and the mini journal is an experiment in broadening public consciousness of the role of written language in such discussions.

In the same way, there is another critics-in-residence program this year, F/T Dialogue, with 2012′s participants each holding their own independent events. One of the projects is by arts journalist Kyoko Iwaki, a blogger training camp to encourage critical writing by young Japanese. Penning reviews is completely natural for Europeans and people from other cultures, but the Japanese education system makes no attempt to promote this kind of faculty amongst its youthful wards. As a result, most lack the ability or motiviation to do so, even when they have opinions to express.

There are also a host of performances with either English surtitles or that would otherwise be comprehensible for international audiences regardless of Japanese language ability. The F/T website has more information on the best productions to see.

One response to “Festival/Tokyo 2012: Beyond Words

  1. Pingback: 2012: The Year in Japanese Contemporary Theatre | Tokyo Stages

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