【Essay】Matsui Shū: The Innovator of Japanese Post-Human Theatre

A logical explanation of Shū Matui is already an oxymoron. This is because, Matsui has always been doubtful of those concepts such as coherent reason, single subjectivity and autonomous criticality: the basic principles of western humanism. He was always sarcastic about those humanistic ideals, which, for instance, Germans might lean through perusing the pages of Goethe. What is important to note, however, is that he is only dubious about humanism, and not altogether rejecting it. Yet, when his plays are observed through the culturally hegemonic ideals of the west, they are often mistaken, or even denounced, as anti-humanistic as he often questions the usefulness of those ideals, such as human rationality, which, I guess, should never be questioned.

For example, when one British theatre scholar learnt about Matsui’s works through my description, she instantly decried that ‘it is a horrible degradation of humanity.’ Since the comment was so decisive, regretfully, I was not able to defend Matsui’s plays against her claim. Taking that remorse as a springboard, I would like to use this opportunity to provide some counterargument on those often hasty and groundless reactions towards Matsui.

If Betsuyaku Minoru could be described as one of the pioneers of Japanese post-humanist theatre, Matsui is the innovator of Japanese post-human theatre. And, his post-human theatre generated many young successors such as Ichihara Sachiko and Nishio Kaori. Whereas Betsuyaku’s plays were free of qualms about transcending the boundary between the self and the other, Matsui had no hesitance even in crossing the border between the human and the non-human: such as, animals (Shift, 2007), insects (Forgetting the Future, written for Bungaku-za, 2013) and cyborgs (Farm, 2015). And, in my view, this tendency to question the anthropocentric perspectives was consolidated after the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster on 11 March 2011. Together with the government’s duplicitous announcements, one’s trust towards humans (especially towards those in power) was undermined.

In April, around a month after the Fukushima catastrophe, a party was held as Matsui won the Kishida Kunio Drama Award with My Son, My Pride (2010). He recalls that everyone was ‘bizarrely excited’ of being able to meet their friends and colleagues:

‘The thing is, we never talked or discussed the catastrophe. Because we knew that, if we verbalised our opinions, they would differ from others. We knew that [there were latent conflicts], but we still wanted to be together and feel together. And, I thought, at that time, that this basic desire to connect is more human, or even essentially theatrical [considering that gathering with others is the essence of theatre].’

Matsui names this non-linguistic and non-logical form of unity as the status of ‘environmental symbiosis’. It is merely a physical cohabitation, and not an agreement that is reached after a dialectical discussion. For this reason, some may dismiss him as conformist. However, when trying to live through this drastically fragmented society after Fukushima, people felt that odds for survival might increase if they excessively adapted to the constantly shifting world, rather than adamantly holding on to a single subjectivity.

In fact, this concept of excessive adaptation is analogous to the concept of post-human, which theorists such as Jack Halberstam, Cary Wolfe and Rossi Braidotti advocated from the mid-1990s. In contrast to those doomed scenarios, which proclaimed that machines would control human consciousness in the future, these theorists defined post-human as an action that moves towards human evolution and not devolution.

In order to challenge and dismantle the extremely monolithic life course that many Japanese are deemed to follow as a commendable social norm, Matsui, with his company Sample, deliberately represents extreme anomalies on the stage. His stage, in a word, is a ‘socio-theatrical laboratory of humans’, through which the possibilities of Japanese theatre as well as its wider society, were, boldly, tried and tested.

<The essay first published on Zasshi Sample Vol. 2, June 2017>

Posted on by K.Iwaki in ARTICLES / 記事
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