Theatre artist Noriyuki Kiguchi dies, aged 42

The Japanese theatre artist Noriyuki Kiguchi of the group Akumanoshirushi has died of lung cancer. He was 42 years old.

News that Kiguchi was battling stage-four cancer had already circulated widely in the theatre community in Japan. He passed away on March 17th.

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The theatre artist Noriyuki Kiguchi (1975-2017). Photo: Daisuke Sugita

Deriving its name from a Black Sabbath song, Akumanoshirushi (literally, “Sign of the Devil”) was founded in 2008. In recent years Kiguchi had established a clear trajectory for the group and taken it around Europe with a series of “carry-in” projects. This site-specific piece sees the company work with locals to create and then transport an oversized object into a certain space. It is an act that operates simultaneously as absurd, impossible and heart-warming. In the same way as Kōki Tanaka has attracted acclaim for his work themed around co-operation in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Carry-in Project poignantly emphasises collaboration and mutual understanding. It is also influenced by Japanese folk practices, referencing Shintō festivals and the custom of transporting a portable shrine (mikoshi) around a neighbourhood.

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The third iteration of the Carry-in Project in 2010 on Teshima island, Kagawa Prefecture

Kiguchi, who was born in 1975 and worked as a construction worker or carpenter between theatre gigs, was also something of a wag with a taste for satire, as he showed a couple of years ago with a caustic take on the performative nature of apologies in Japan.

His untimely death comes just as his reputation and output was picking up pace, including several iterations of the Carry-in Project in Europe and Japan, such as one to mark the opening of ROHM Theatre Kyoto last year, as well as an acclaimed piece of meta-theatre, Mon Père, Giacometti, at Kyoto Experiment 2014. He also provided the memorable stage design for Tarō Yasuno’s “zombie opera” Danse Macabre at Festival/Tokyo 2015. Arguably his set was the most impressive aspect of that ambitious yet flawed work. In October last year Akumanoshirushi performed 100 massacre in Kabukichō [sic] as part of the popular So see you again tomorrow, too? exhibition by Chim Pom at a soon-to-be-demolished building in Kabukichō.

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Zombie Opera “Danse Macabre” at Festival/Tokyo 2015 with a stage design by Noriyuki Kiguchi. Photo: Kazuyuki Matsumoto

Despite the loss of its main driving force, Akumanoshirushi is currently continuing to perform. Announced in December shortly after Kiguchi was diagnosed with pulmonary adenocarcinoma, Walking with Cancers will be presented at Kurashiki City Art Museum on March 25th and March 26th, though Kiguchi had to abandon plans to direct the piece due to the advance of his illness. The extent of his involvement with the final performance is unclear but it will surely function de facto as his swan song.