The avant-garde stage and film director, poet, critic, author and founder of the experimental theater group Tenjo Sajiki, Shuji Terayama (1935-83), influenced theater the world over with his iconoclastic plays such as “Mink Marie,” “Heretics” and “Directions to Servants.”
From the early 1970s, his troupe began receiving numerous invitations from abroad, making a huge impact wherever they went in the way they destroyed the border between reality and fiction and presented stages full of strange and wonderful spectacles.
Speaking personally, I will never forget how my mind would fill with doubts about so-called common sense after watching a Terayama production in that era.
Now, 32 years after his death, one of the best places to get a feeling for why Terayama’s art remains as fresh as ever is the Shuji Terayama Museum in the Aomori Prefecture city of Misawa City in northern Honshu where he grew up.
Visitors to the museum, which opened in 1997 and boasts mementos donated by his mother, Hatsu, are greeted by a Kiyoshi Awazu-designed clown mask in the wall at the entrance.
When I visited recently, the bright exhibit hall inside was featuring a display running through March 29 in honor of Kyoko Kujo (1935-2014), Terayama’s wife who was also his producer.
Moving on, after poring over some of the couple’s love letters and photos, is the dimly lit permanent exhibit hall. There, visitors find rows of desks, and are given flashlights and urged to open drawers as they arrive at them — making videos from his plays or films or about his work screen on the desktop.
Together with the many historical objects and scripts in the room, this creates a wondrous world through which visitors can move like detectives searching the 12 themed desks for the essence of the legendary creator.
In addition, visitors can watch DVDs of his key stage works and films, while theater festivals and lectures are also held throughout the year as well as an annual event commemorating Terayama’s death on May 4.
Referring to this exciting trove, the museum’s director, poet Eimei Sasaki, 66 — who starred in Terayama’s famed 1971 anti-establishment film “Sho wo suteyo, machi e deyo” (“Throw away your books, rally in the streets”) — said, “I want people to feel they can drop by anytime. I’ll be happy if everyone understood Terayama’s work and its true value.”
Later, after admiring the nearby Shuji Terayama Memorial overlooking a glittering marsh, where it stands in the form of a giant book with three of his well-loved tanka poems carved into it, I stopped by Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya to savor its Terayama Shuji no Meikyu Kakurenbo (Shuji Terayama’s Hide-and-seek Labyrinth).
There, a maze of narrow hallways lined with items from the museum’s collection made it seem that this artist — who famously said boxing and horse racing taught more about life than school studies — might himself appear round the next corner.
Nowadays, sadly, that’s about as close to the great man as anyone’s going to get.
For more details of the Shuji Terayama Museum in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, visit www.terayamaworld.com or call 0176-59-3434. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.