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Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006
Moving beyond nonsense
Special to The Japan Times
Born Kazumi Kobayashi in Tokyo, 43-year-old Keralino Sandroviich -- or Kera, as he is best known -- started his career with the techno band Uchoten (Rapture) which he formed in 1982 when he was a student at the Japan Academy of the Moving Image. Although he had planned to be a film director, when Uchoten became one of the biggest names in Japan's '80s indie-music scene, Sandroviich became an icon of Japanese youth culture. He established his own record label, before going into music production and working for theater, TV and film as a writer, director and actor.
Since 1985, when he formed the Gekidan Kenkyo [Theater Health] company -- since renamed Nylon 100 C -- Sandroviich has increasingly devoted himself to theater work. Nylon 100 C is currently rehearsing for "Nice Age," which he wrote and first staged in 2000. The play focuses on the Meguris, a family about to disintegrate due to the death of a daughter in a airline crash. Their family life may -- or may not -- be saved after their bathroom turns out to be a time machine through which they return to just before the end of World War II, to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and to the date of the plane crash in 1985 -- as well as, briefly, traveling to 2014. Sandroviich spoke to The Japan Times about "Nice Age," the freedom of theater and nonsense comedy.
How did you first get the idea for "Nice Age"?
It was our last play in the 20th century. Almost nobody can experience a millennium twice, so it was my one chance to do a play during that time and to reflect on the 20th century. I wasn't interested in doing a realistic chronicle or a nostalgic, good-old-days play. I think society inevitably changes and there is no meaning in comparing different periods. Sure, there were horrible wars in the 20th century, etc., etc., but I'd rather be positive about it and, moreover, I wanted to say "Nice Age" for any period with this play.
Why have you decided to restage "Nice Age" now?
Recently, people have tended to do serious, dark plays. However, 10 years ago, comedies, and plays that made audiences laugh were mainstream in the Japanese contemporary theater world. So, I chose this play to counter today's trend, because I thought it might be effective to use a satirical comedy to shake the audiences out of their seriousness a bit.
When "Nice Age" was published, you said you were still uncomfortable in the theater world. Why do you continue to make plays?
The main attraction is undoubtedly the degree of freedom and latitude it gives me compared with TV or film. Especially in TV, so many things are restricted, and there are many different demands from people like sponsors, directors and producers. However, I can write whatever I want for the stage -- and I am the manager of my theater company's production company, too.
On the other hand, I feel uncomfortable with the small community of the Japanese theater world. It's quite a closed society, and only hardcore fans come along repeatedly under the present conditions. I think theater has to reach out and expand more in a "macro" way to make itself interesting to more people than its present "micro" view of its world.
Why are you so keen on nonsense comedy?
I love Franz Kafka's world so much. For me the world is so absurd. But to express such an absurd world on stage for Japanese audiences, I don't think great absurdist playwrights like Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett would really be understood here.
So, for example, I wrote my absurdist play "Uchi wa sobaya jya nai (My House is not a Soba Restaurant)" in 1992. The story is very Kafkaesque, and I thought I could show the absurdity of the world better by doing it in a Kafkaesque, nonsense comedy. Of course, primarily I love comedy, but I am not interested in straight laugh-out-loud plays at all. I love Monty Python, and basically I prefer that European-style of comedy to American comedy.
Nowadays, though, I've been finding that as I've gradually got a certain technique it has become routine. Now I'm not sticking to nonsense comedy like before.
I heard that you went to London and back in three days to see a play. Why are you so busy?
Because I have no time left, I feel. I come from a short-life family line. My father died at 59, and my grandfather at about the same age, too. So, I only have another 12 years, and I feel I am living in the evening of my life. I would like to be satisfied with my life, and so I am working so hard. I've also started to make films in recent years, and I would like to make another 10 at least.
"Nice Age" runs Dec. 9-24 at Setagaya Public Theatre, a 2-min. walk from Sangenjaya Station on the Denen Toshi or Setagaya lines. For more details, call (03) 5458-9261 or visit www.sillywalk.com