Translator-director Eriko Ogawa appointed next New National Theatre, Tokyo artistic director

Eriko Ogawa has been announced as the next theatre artistic director for the New National Theatre, Tokyo.

The announcement came on June 21st, with Ogawa being named alongside the next directors for the NNTT’s traditional dance and opera divisions.

Born in 1978, Ogawa will take over from Keiko Miyata from the 2018/19 season. Being one of the most prestigious positions in Japanese theatre, her relative youth represents something of a coup, bested perhaps only by Chiaki Soma’s appointment as the first program director of Festival/Tokyo in 2009 when in her early thirties.

eriko ogawa theatre translator director

Eriko Ogawa

The appointment of current director Miyata in 2010 was part of a worrying trend for public theatres in Japan to pick commercial directors, ostensibly for the name value and PR boost they brought with them. KAAT recruited Amon Miyamoto, best known for musicals, as its first artistic director in 2011, and then followed this with the actor and director Akira Shirai from April this year. Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre opted for Hideki Noda, who has since used the public theatre to stage his own plays with celebrity casts that would ordinarily go on at a venue like Parco or Bunkamura. Despite paying for this with their taxes, local audiences don’t even benefit from cheaper tickets, since the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre charges essentially what a commercial venue would do for the chance to see these stars.

As well as being a stage director, Ogawa is also a prolific and award-winning translator of English-language contemporary drama, usually directing her own translation of the script. Her credits including directing and translating Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog in 2012, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman in 2013, David Mamet’s The Cryptogram in 2013, and John Logan’s Red in 2015. Her range is quite impressive, jumping from comedy like The History Boys to absurdist drama like Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.

In 2010, she received the Yushi Odashima Drama Translation Prize, the most respected award of its kind in Japan.

She has previously directed many plays for the New National Theatre, Tokyo, and her revival of Chikao Tanaka’s The Head of Mary: Nagasaki as Theophany is scheduled for 2017.

NNTT has actually staged a lot of translated drama over recent years, to the consternation of some local critics. With Ogawa’s pedigree, this tendency in the programming is surely set to continue.

Prior to Miyata, the artistic director for theatre was Hitoshi Uyama, though his term lasted just three years. The government-appointed board of the NNTT announced the decision to replace Uyama in 2008, after he had been in the job for only a year. Uyama’s de facto sacking was publicly criticised by NNTT board member and playwright Ai Nagai, who spearheaded an ultimately unsuccessful campaign with other prominent theatre directors and writers to keep Uyama in his post.

Let’s hope that Ogawa doesn’t experience similar problems with the board.