The Arts Centre, Swanston Street, 10:30am
When Five Days in March came to the Melbourne Arts Centre recently, I had a chance to meet with its Japanese writer, Toshiki Okada. Toshiki is famous for his explorations of the issues faced by Japan’s troubled generation X. His play follows two young lovers who spend five days in blissful oblivion at a love hotel in Tokyo, while outside the world prepares to invade Iraq. The story examines how helplessness and indifference converge for the lovers, who were saturated with knowledge about a war they neither experienced, nor could prevent.
My meeting with Toskiki at the Arts Centre felt a little like an outtake from Lost in Translation. He sat with actors Taichi Yamagata and Shoko Matsumura on one side of the coffee table, I sat opposite. Toshiki and Okada were wearing blue and pink plastic watches. Bach music piped through the PA system, somewhere, faintly in the background. We smiled at each other.
What did you hope to convey to the audience in Five Days in March?
I wanted to make Five Days in March because I felt the urge to record my own feelings about the war, but I’m not sure if [those feelings are] shared with the Japanese people.
The distance between Japan and the Middle East, as well as our everyday life and the Iraq war, are very important in the symbolism of the play. I wanted to describe the juxtaposition between war and daily life.
Do you believe Japanese people were indifferent to the Iraq war?
I think Japanese of our generation felt a relationship to the war more than the elder generations. Maybe they believe our generation has no interest in the war but we have it.
Taichi, you play one of the protagonist lovers in Five Days in March. Can you tell me how you prepared for your role?
The symbolic relationship [to the war] was interesting, was that they were just tied to themselves. There is an almost constant awareness and absorption from television and the radio that the war is going on, but there was a feeling that somehow it didn’t relate [to my character] or that there was nothing he could do.
Toshiki, what specific theatre styles did you use in the play?
We never discuss about how to play the character, we only discuss how you perform and how you are on the stage. Theatre’s history is over 2000-years-old but the representative way of acting is just over one hundred years old. The style isn’t Stanislavski -which is character driven - but instead about physicality. The approach we taking is more fundamental and in keeping with the traditional theatre styles.
What is the significance of showing this play to an Australian audience?
I think that depends on how much you are aligned with the United States. I don’t think Japan’s relationship has changed, it continues to rely on the United States. It’s crazy.
Finally, the title of your theatre company Chelfitsch is a deliberate mispronunciation of the English world Selfish. What is the significance of this choice?
To be selfish and to be childish is a feature of Japanese society and culture. Also, it’s my own feature.
Thanks must go to Lindsey Ricker who acted as a fabulous interpreter.