Sex and violence can be a good draw to get crowds out to the theater, but don’t underestimate the power of actress Shinobu Terajima to bring audiences to a show.
The 42-year-old Kyoto native is a star of stage, screen and television in Japan. International audiences may know her from her award-winning performance in the 2010 film “Caterpillar,” which won her a best actress award at the Berlinale film festival. The film, directed by the late Koji Wakamatsu, featured Terajima in the role of Shigeko, the wife of a soldier who loses all his limbs in battle and turns into a wriggling sex maniac.
Now, the actress takes on another racy role in “Kindan no Ratai” (“All Nudity Shall Be Punished”), the masterwork of Brazilian playwright and novelist Nelson Falcao Rodrigues (1912-80).
“This work has a crushing impact, it’s so treacherous and violent,” Terajima tells The Japan Times while at a rehearsal studio in Tokyo. “I couldn’t even speak when I first read it, so I really deliberated on whether to take the role or not.”
Written around 1973 under the Portuguese title “Toda Nudez Sera Castigada,” “All Nudity Shall Be Punished” centers on a wealthy and pious widower named Herculano, played by the charismatic Seiyo Uchino (the actor changed his first name to Seiyo from Masaaki in 2013). He is tricked by his brother Patricio (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) into meeting a beautiful, free-spirited prostitute named Geni (Terajima).
The pair quickly fall head-over-heels in love and, defying Herculano’s Roman Catholic beliefs, start spending all their time together wallowing in carnal pleasure.
The affair sparks discord in the family, however, and Herculano’s son, Serginho (Shuhei Nomura), vows to make his father pay for flouting the strict moral code he drilled into his children.
“I love Geni a lot,” Terajima says. “She is tough, but she’s also straightforward and very charming. She doesn’t have any hidden agendas.”
Terajima says she needed considerable preparation time to get herself into the mind-set of the world in which the story is set.
“It’s entirely the opposite of my peaceful daily life,” she says, referring to her French art-director husband and 2-year-old son at home in Tokyo. “I had to find the gears in my mind that would allow me to reach another level to become Geni. Without that awareness, I would never have been able to do her passion justice.”
The passion is on full display as Geni and Herculano alternate between thunderous arguments and fevered love-making. Despite the intensity, Terajima says she has no problem working so intimately with Uchino.
“We studied together at the Bungakuza theater company in Tokyo about 20 years ago, so I know him very well,” she says.
“He’s a strong-minded man with a well-developed, masculine body and — in a good way — he is also very stubborn. So in this play I look forward to messing with his mind,” she adds with a laugh.
As befits a piece by Rodrigues, who is regarded by many as Brazil’s greatest playwright, “All Nudity Shall Be Punished” poses deep questions concerning people’s morality, hypocrisy and double standards, love and hate in a family — and differences between men and women in matters of love.
Interestingly, too, Terajima says she thinks the piece is also testament to the underlying rebellious spirit that debunks the idea of “common human values” that society often refers to, since anything at all can happen in life.
“In this play, everything is constantly being turned upside-down,” she says. “So, one day a rational person unexpectedly meets his perfect sex partner, which then causes all his decisions to come from his genitals rather than his brain.
“The characters often make references to ‘four-footed animals,’ and I think the play demonstrates the truth of that description of what people fundamentally are — and Geni is a metaphor for our basic instincts. I love such very human characters.”
When it comes to portraying all that basic-instinct stuff on stage, Terajima says the image used to promote the play (featuring the four main characters — herself, Uchino, Ikeuchi and Nomura — showing off their bodies) is “mild” compared to the “more passionate and extreme staging.”
All of the sex on stage is, of course, simulated. But the atmosphere of raw sexuality that pervades the work is still convincing and powerful. That’s not surprising, since the play is being directed by Daisuke Miura, who won Japan’s top accolade, the Kishida drama award, for “Ai no Uzu” (“Love’s Whirlpool”) in 2005 — a piece he wrote and directed about strangers indulging in anonymous sex at a party in Tokyo.
While pointing out she hadn’t worked with 39-year-old Miura before, the actress says she enjoyed discussing ideas about the play with him and other cast members.
“I want our genuine enthusiasm for the piece to come across to audiences,” Terajima says.
“People are becoming more distant from each other in today’s Japan and some people even die alone. I want this play to convey our very hot-blooded interactions — even if they’re sometimes worthless — as a reminder of what human communication is about,” she says.
“In fact, if people leave the theater and visit a love hotel after seeing it . . . and do some real and basic human communication,” she adds, laughing, “that would be a great result.”
Terajima wrote on her blog that her husband wasn’t concerned about her rising, often near-naked, to her current acting challenge.
“Since from before I met him I’ve had no qualms about being naked in a film or on stage if the role calls for it,” she says. “My husband also loves being naked at home, and he — or the French in general, perhaps — don’t have any filthy ideas about that. He’s looking forward to chatting with Uchino and the other men in the cast.”
Terajima pauses before expanding on the virtues of French culture: “Even if they are tired after work, French men definitely praise their wives at least once a day, saying ‘you’re beautiful’ or ‘I love you.’ That’s difficult for Japanese couples, but I think it’s quite important to declare such romantic feelings naturally and frequently.
“That attitude has even influenced my son. He said to me just recently, ‘Mom, you are especially beautiful today’ when I was getting dressed. I also heard he gave a girl at his nursery school a flower. That’s such a beautiful thing to do.”
“Kindan no Ratai” (“All Nudity Shall Be Punished”) runs April 4-25 at Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, before moving to Theater Brava! in Osaka on April 29 and 30. For more information, call 03-3477-9999 or visit www.bunkamura.co.jp/cocoon/lineup/15_kindan.