Tokyo orphans: Shiro Maeda premiere at Festival Tokyo

In case you hadn’t noticed, Japan’s top performing arts festival F/T is underway.

One of the first works on the program includes a premiere by Shiro Maeda and his Gotanndadan troupe.

Going on the Way to Get Lost is performed with English surtitles and concerns urban refugees. However, don’t go expecting a direct, social critique of internet cafe residents, Japan’s growing working poor or Tokyo’s rejected legions of temps. Maeda approaches the theme through the story of a young female protagonist, Michiru, who has lost her grip on her life, the world around her and even reality itself.

Maeda, much like Toshiki Okada and Shu Matsui, can be said to have claimed the voice of the Lost Decade’s under-forties. In his writing, as in real life, Maeda is a funny, gentle personality, but that does not mean he avoids the bleak for the sake of laughs. Famously Isn’t anyone alive? featured a large cast of interrelated characters who all died one-by-one. The comedy of the death throes was tempered by the sad and utter inexplicableness of it all.

Likewise Going on the Way to Get Lost is a funny but chilling play. It recalls something like Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence in its blending of past and present, internal psychology and real scenes. Maeda achieves something of a coup de theatre in the opening exchange between Michiru and who we think is her sister; after ten minutes of discussion of what food to order and Michiru’s past love life it suddenly switches to the hostile when we realize that the sister apparently does not exist.

As you would expect from a play that investigates ennui and the aimless young, the narrative is also essentially aimless, meandering along from scene to scene without pause. The pace is mostly flat, though the exchanges are always entertaining, since Maeda has a talent for turning even the banal and trite into comedy. There are the trademark flashes of the vividly surreal too, most strikingly when a doctor (played with panache by Maeda himself) and nurse enter the protagonist’s body through her vagina. The humour of the absurd can also be chilling, such as the ‘OFF’ buttons tattooed onto characters’ chests, pressing which means the end of your existence.

Coming in 2011, Maeda’s next play will be in celebration of his thirty-third birthday and is imaginatively titled Ore no oshiri kara yasashii ongaku (literally, The Friendly Music From My Arse).

Going on the Way to Get Lost, written and directed by Shiro Maeda
November 5 to 14, at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space

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