One of the first performances I saw in Japan was Genzaichi ”Current Location”, written and directed by Okada Toshiki, founder of the theatrical unit Chelfitsch.
Chelfitsch has been active since 1997 and is known for its original performance style, which makes use of colloquial language and “noisy” physical movement. Separating the discourse and the gestures on purpose results in a bizarre choreography that distracts the attention of the audience from what the characters are saying and directs it to the image that lies beyond the words and the gestures. You can get a glimpse of their style by watching the presentation video of “Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech”:
I remember that, when seeing a video of “Air conditioner” for the first time, I thought: But of course! Why should a character’s words and gestures tell the same story? When realizing that what the characters are talking about is not what the play is about, I found myself experiencing the same kind of surprise as when I saw Magritte’s This is not a pipe for the first time. The method employed by Chelfitsch hints at the potentiality of theatre to question the very basic things that are usually taken for granted.
The language that Okada Toshiki uses in his plays faithfully mimics the everyday speech of Japanese youth and one of its interesting traits is that the characters are often talking about things without naming them. This kind of verbal expression is nonetheless a characteristic of Japanese language, in which the subject of a sentence can be easily elided, with the communicative act still making sense.
After “Hot Pepper, Air conditioner and The Farewell Speech”, plays like Sangatsu no itsukakan ”Five days in March” and Zôgame no sonikku raifu “The sonic life of a giant tortoise” have gained high acclaim even outside Japan for exploring social and individual issues through theatre, in a bold and unconventional attempt to find new meanings for theatrical expression. In Okada Toshiki’s own words (from the pamphlet of Genzaichi), he conceives theatre as a mirror. According to him, what theatre can do is to raise a mirror to society and to show an image of reality, in the hope that a change for the better would occur if there’s a need for it.
Before turning to their latest work, Genzaichi, here’s a short video of Sangatsu no itsukakan “Five Days in March”, in order to get you acquainted with the performing style of Chelfitsch: