Walker Art Center
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Revolt, Dysfunction, Dementia: Toward the Body of “Empire”


He goes on to argue that the issue of globalization must be discussed in relation to an emerging sovereignty of the politico-economical and the sociocultural. Assuming that issues of neo-liberal sovereignty can only be observed in local practices in local contexts, Uchino tries to analyze some aspects of Japan's theater culture as a localized form of practice. In his view, it is possible for theater practitioners to "consciously deal with issues that a neo-liberal sovereign technology imposes on them (how they present themselves depends on each localized context)." Furthermore, "J theatre practitioners, having lived in the accelerated permeation of neo-liberalism, especially after 1995, should have acquired ways and methodologies to observe, feel and dramatize/theatricalize aspects of neo-liberal powers of sovereignty in their everyday life, precisely because they have enclosed themselves in the 'J'-infused everyday-lifeness."[23] What Uchino discovers by exploring the depths of J-theater practices is the very fact that there is no possibility of these forms breaking out and coming to the surface. Rather, those theater works only look to "affirm the status quo, being filled with naturalized masculine violence and sexual desire," faithfully reproducing images of Japan as propagated by the mass media.[24] And he goes on to locate these facts within the cultural-theory framework:

These new "J" theatre practices are exploring their own aesthetic identities ("aesthetics of junk") by inoculating different theatre histories with a sense of arbitrary violence (or to follow Alexandre Kojčve and Azuma Hiroki, in a manner of an "animal"). But it is an inescapable fact that all these young "J" theatre practitioners are political only to the extent that they "play with" the institution of theatre. Many levels of their sense of violence (in acting, in inoculating theatre histories, as a theme) are only a "mirror-up-to-nature" kind of reflection of the world. They cannot interpret the issue of violence in terms of the radical brutalization of a controlling power structure in society. They apparently show a sense of resistance to a mainstream theatre culture by intellectually manipulating institutions and conventions of theatre thus making their own excessive junk. The biggest problem for them is that they cannot critically assess their own position as being within the framework of theatre, and theirs can only represent various senses of violence as a reflection of the age, and can only repeat mediatized images such as "Japanese society, which is now totally falling apart."[25]

What Uchino is getting at is that theater culture in Japan after the 1960s apparently entered a distinctively different phase. Theater in the 1960s was a revolt (the most important work of Hijikata Tatsumi, an initiator of Butoh, was entitled The Revolt of the Body), followed by the theater in the 1980s in which young theater practitioners were firmly determined to smoothly glide the surface, being able to live in the fantasy of postmod-ernism. Japan's version of postmodernism in the 1980s was to live not in the dysfunctional, in what Jean Baudrillard called the "cracked front glass," but to keep the surface as smooth as ever, enjoying the lack of depth. In the late 1980s, they grew tired of gliding the surface and began to collapse, while Japan's youth theater also began to collapse. During this time we were able to see only a few theater practices expressing the dysfunctional. The monumental work in this vein was dumb type's S/N (1993-1995). In this beautiful multimedia performance work, performers tackled the major issue of AIDS, while also problematizing the fictionality of gender, national borders, and sexuality. It questioned all existing institutionalized frameworks and was thus a very political performance. Furthermore, people who were HIV positive participated in the performance, and the performance itself was designed to tread a very delicate and ambiguous line between the real and the fictional. After Furuhashi Teiji, the director, died of AIDS in 1995, dumb type seemed to founder. We came to lose one of our most important performance groups, which could represent dysfunctional bodies so powerfully. In the meantime, Gekidan Kaitaisha started to make Foucauldian "de-spectacles" at the beginning of the 1990s and went on to present (not represent) "bodies under siege" and Freudian "war bodies" on stage. The group was completely ignored and isolated in Japan, and they were forced to move their center of activity abroad, to Euro-American countries, Asia, and Oceania, as if they were cultural refugees. They, too, realized the state of dysfunctional bodies on stage, but such a provocative theater practice seems to be in the minority. With the exception of dumb type and Gekidan Kaitaisha, there is virtually no theater work in Japan today that interprets postmodernity as a social phenomenon that begins from the point of the world as dysfunctional and then tries to critically engage that issue. In such a void, what Uchino calls J-theater--that which lacks all sense of critique--came into being.

23 Uchino, "'Empire' and Theatre," p. 198.

24 Ibid., p. 202.

25 Ibid., pp. 203-204.