Matsuda Masataka’s play Tsuki no misaki “Cape Moon” has been staged twice this year – once by Seinendan in June, and a second time by P Company in July. I was able to see the latter and it left a powerful impression on me.
Matsuda Masataka, presently active as director of Kyoto based theatre company Marebito no kai, is one of the prominent playwrights of contemporary Japanese theatre and a proponent of shizukana engeki – silent theatre .
Focusing on scenes of real life and using everyday speech, silent theatre seeks to direct attention to the drama within the seemingly uneventful daily life. The depths, the tensions and the crises it unveils lead to a reassessment of human connections and of what it means to belong to a community.
As you might guess, silent theatre appeared as a reaction to the abundance of spectacular theatre, which is most of the times very entertaining, yet thought provoking – sometimes bordering the surreal, other times challenging the spectator’s power to believe that such stunts are even possible. Researchers of contemporary theatre in Japan go as far as stating that the spectacular theatre had its peak in the 80s, being followed by the advent of silent theatre, which gained popularity in the 90s. The fact is that silent theatre and spectacular theatre coexist nowadays, with remarkable achievements on both sides, making up for the diversity of the Japanese performing arts scene.
The works Matsuda Masataka is best known for are set in Nagasaki region and employ the local dialect. His characters are common people, whose lives are marked by history and social customs, while the reality of life that comes to sight in his plays has a warm, nostalgic feel to it.
The plot of “Cape moon” unfolds in a space that appears to be a usual Japanese style room. It is actually a platform elevated above the level of the stage, reminding one of the loneliness and danger of a stone peak rising above the sea. The drama centers on a woman named Sawako and her younger brother Nobuo, who are living together in their parents’ house, and on how their life changes after Nobuo gets married. Along with their relatives’ opinion that she should move away, it happens that a former lover of Sawako returns from Tokyo to meet her again. His pressures on her bring unrest to the family. In addition, the very particular kind of bond that exists between Sawako and her brother and a scandal involving one of Nobuo’s students become a pressure to his bride, whose pregnancy ends in miscarriage. On the following night Sawako disappears without trace. Apparently, she had gone to the cape, which was now separated from the island by the tide water. There is the possibility that she had drowned herself in the sea. While still unclear of what happened to her, Nobuo’s wife gradually assumes her role as the lady of the house.
What is fascinating about the performance of this play is that what can be seen is only the tip of the iceberg, with the largest part of the story unfolding in the imagination – a challenge for the audience to reconstruct the whole story only on account of the details suggested through the characters’ conversation. As you find yourself relying more on your imagination than on your eyes, you embrace the images as they come, but sometimes you feel it is better to wait before jumping to conclusions. This is when your imagination comes to a standstill. To put it another way, if imagination were a muscle, this kind of drama would be a very good exercise.
One of the most powerful images invoked by this play is the full moon over the sea, an image that I would place in a gallery of dangerously beautiful landscapes, right along a forest of cherry trees in full bloom. (The play reminded me of an excellent short story by Sakaguchi Ango on the fearful beauty of such a forest, Sakura no mori no mankai no shita).
After seeing “Cape Moon” and having shared with the characters the burden of what remains unseen to the eye, you are left with the lingering impression that you climbed yourself on the lonely cape lit by the moonlight and even looked down into the sea, only to feel the danger of being lost in its depth.
For the latest news on Matsuda Masataka’s work, visit the website of Marebito no kai. The company will be participating in this year’s edition of Festival Tokyo F/T with their latest performance, Antigone e no tabi no kiroku to sono jōen (“Records of the journey towards Antigone and its staging”).