Suguru Yamamoto (Playwright/Director) leads Theater Collective Hanchu-Yuei and Docu(nt)ment, creating dramatic expression that vividly reflects the reality of contemporary society and shifting ethics, and draws inspiration from various art forms. He has recently toured and collaborated in Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, the U.S., and Singapore, and received the Bangkok Theatre Festival's Best Play and Best Original Script awards for Girl X in 2014. He has also been a resident artist of Steep Slope Studio since 2016. In addition to his own work, he has appeared in productions with Theatre Tram and Haiyu-za Theatre. His recent projects have included 『バナナの花』＃1（2020）and 『バナナの花』＃2（2020) (“Banana Flower” #1 and #2), with #3 to be released in early August. Viewers can also support or watch Hanchu-Yuei’s plays for free online.
Yamamoto received an ACC Fellowship in 2018 to conduct research on theater narratives that transcend racial and generational boundaries in New York from September 2019 through February 2020. During his fellowship, ACC arranged for Catherine Filloux (ACC 2000), New York-based playwright who explores subjects around human rights, to mentor and assist in his research. Read more of his reflections below...
It's turned out to be a great six months, and it was my interaction with playwright Catherine Filloux (ACC 2000, pictured left) that made this stay so. The communication with the people she brought together, the theater she recommended, being in New York and in America helped me a lot in my research. Initially, I started this fellowship with the intention of exploring how narratives can transcend race and generations.
After interviewing mainly African Americans and Asian Americans, I have come to the conclusion that the answer to my research lies in "laughter" or "humor." In other words, I am convinced that laughter and humor can transcend all divides. The American audience laughs heartily. In comparison, the Japanese audience doesn't laugh as much. But that doesn't mean that the Japanese don't want to laugh. From rakugo, kyogen, manzai, Yoshimoto Shinkigeki, and even Takeshi Kitano, Japan's unique form of laughter has been well-loved and evolved over time.
The history of laughter was closely linked to the theater during the economic boom of the bubble economy of the 1980s. The theater of that time actively incorporated laughter and produced many excellent comedy creators such as Hideki Noda, Shoji Kokami, Suzuki Matsuo, and Minoru Betsuyaku. However, as the bubble economy burst in the 1990s and the economy went into recession, the appearance of Oriza Hirata and others, who represented the quiet theatrical world, transformed the theater atmosphere to one of seriousness. During the following 20 year recession, as more and more young people earned their living through part-time jobs, Toshiki Okada of Chelfitsch and Daisuke Miura of Potudo-ru, skilled in the art of self-ridicule, emerged. The laughter of the Japanese theater, widespread in the 1980s, briefly extinguished, then revived in the 1990s and beyond, continues to this day in that same form of self-mockery.
I had been living without a smile in my heart for a long time due to my own mental health issues. When I came to New York, I found myself looking at Japan from a distance and looking at myself objectively. The pain I had suffered in Japan became a thing of the past, and I somehow felt better. Yes, I mean, I was able to laugh at myself. And this was not a laugh of self-mockery, but a laugh of self-forgiveness. From the moment I realized this, I began writing my new screenplay. This is something I could not have discovered without coming to New York and experiencing so many things.
Suguru Yamamoto and other ACC Fellows
There were great moments. I was able to get along well with other ACC members. The more I interacted with them, the more I felt like they were my family and I grew to love them. I was fortunate that all the people I came in contact with were kind to me. I realized that cooking is a creative process (I didn't cook for myself much when I was in Japan). And while I realized that I have a Japanese stomach after all; mentally, I found New York to be a great fit for me.
Of course, there were some harsh realities in New York as well. I thought the number of homeless people in the city was still unusual. There were forms of discrimination that are different from those in Japan. Unmotivated clerks. Indifference to each other. There were a variety of issues. But even with these negative aspects, I found it to be far more human. They were are all living honestly.
In Japan, issues are more invisible. The homeless hunker down out of sight. You are always unsure of the store clerk's emotions—only the manual smile, the symbolic greeting is there. I want to live more honestly. However, we also have to take a hard look at the fact, and consider why, Japan, or rather Tokyo, is a place where an honest person has to deal with mental problems.
However, I feel I want to forgive Tokyo and Japan. I want to laugh. It's great to be funny.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for giving me this experience and supporting me. I will lead the future of Japanese theater. I will conclude with such ambitious words.
*Honorific titles are omitted in the text
Grantee Reflections is a platform for ACC alumni to share their collective voice as an international community of artists, scholars, and cultural ambassadors. This is a cultural exchange of words, image, video, and sound from around the world. While our bodies cannot travel, our minds can still meet.