Last October I partook in a tour-style play in Yokohama that was titled “Tsurenakumo Aki no Kaze” (quoted from Basho’s haiku on autumn wind) and directed by 49-year-old South Korean artist Seo Hyun-suk.
The play’s theme of marriage was related to its Japanese collaborators, Kyunasaka Studio, whose base — the tour’s start point — had once been a wedding venue. So attendees such as myself were paired with an actor of the opposite gender and encouraged to talk together as we walked around the locality in a play between an actor and an audience member.
But what turned a stroll into a thrilling drama were the earphones I was issued with to block out any surrounding noise — and the goggles fitted with blinds that the actor sometimes flipped open during the play. So after walking in silent darkness, I was once surprised to find myself on a train; another time standing in front of a peacock flapping its wings in the zoo; and so it went on.
When I asked Seo why he had chosen that title from a haiku in Matsuo Basho’s 1702 masterwork “Oku no Hosomichi” (“The Narrow Road to the Deep North”), he replied, saying: “A haiku is a poem that captures a moment. That sensation is in concert with the moment when a scene jumps into an audience member’s vision when the blinds are opened.”
The artist, who is also a professor at Yonsei University, has been invited to the upcoming Festival/Tokyo’s Asia Series Vol. 1, where he will stage a similar tour-type work titled “From The Sea” in Shinagawa Ward.
In a recent meeting in Tokyo, when I asked Seo what he liked about that format, he explained, “Instead of communicating with words, I stimulate sight and hearing to give the audience a sense of the production. Also, they recognize the true nature of theater together with the actor.”
As to why he’d chosen Shinagawa as his stage, he said, “When I was looking for an area with a multilayered history that could be incorporated into a modern-day theme, I became interested in its rivers flowing into the ocean, the functions of the waterways and the transfiguration of the land through reclamation.
“Also the Namidabashi (“Bridge of Tears”) crossing the Tachiai River touched me as a dramatic and emotional place,” Seo said, explaining that in the Edo Period (1603-1868), condemned prisoners were taken across it from the detention facilities to the Suzugamori execution ground — often crying for loved ones as they passed over.
“In Korea, people think of a peak or a hill as a place of parting,” he added, “but I wonder if a bridge as a symbol of parting or sadness is a Japanese image. Then when I looked into it, I found there are bridges with the same name in other parts of Japan as well.
“But in the process of working in Japan, I began to feel that the interactions with people who live here, and the culture and history etched into their memories, are more important things than places.”
“From the Sea” runs Nov. 3-7, with reservations for individual participants every 30 minutes. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.