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Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-garde Theatre of Terayama Shuji And Postwar Japan

Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-garde Theatre of Terayama Shuji And Postwar Japan

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Book DescriptionIconoclast, outlaw, genius, terrorist, pornographer: Terayama Shûji (1935–1983) has been labeled all of these and more. One of postwar Japan’s most gifted and controversial playwrights/directors, Terayama has been compared to such artists as Robert Wilson and John Cage. During his lifetime his work incited scandal, outrage, even violence. Since his death more than twenty years ago, he has been transformed into a cult hero in Japan; members of the international theater continue to adore and damn him. Despite this notoriety, Unspeakable Acts is the first book in any language to analyze the theater of Terayama in depth.

Unspeakable Acts interrogates postwar Japanese culture and theater through the creative work of this unique yet emblematic artist. By situating Terayama in his historical milieu and by using tools derived from Japanese and Western theories of psychoanalysis, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and aesthetics, Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei has woven a sophisticated and provocative study. Among the key themes she explores are the ruins of personal and national identity in the wake of Hiroshima, the Occupation, and the anti-American demonstrations of the 1960s; the paradoxical links between Japanese nostalgia, performance, and postmodernity; the theory of Japan as a "mother-centered culture" that nurtures powerful bonds of love-in-hate toward mothers and other females; and the artistic legacies and practices that bind Terayama to—and sever him from—both the international avant-garde and the popular Japanese rural traditions of his youth.

While driven to create art in many genres, Terayama nurtured above all his roles as a trickster and outsider, encouraging disaffected youths to rebel against social convention. His theatrical troupe, Tenjô Sajiki, was a haven for talented pop artists, transvestites, dwarves, circus performers, and gamblers. His directorial style was so idiosyncratic that it was generally believed that his works could not be remounted after his death. However, because the provocative content of his plays continues to resonate for many Japanese today, internationally renowned directors such as Ninagawa Yukio have been prompted to produce new versions both in Japan and abroad. Translations of three plays and copious excerpts from Terayama’s most important book of dramatic theory comprise the second half of this eye-opening volume.

Unspeakable Acts will be essential reading for anyone interested inthe paradoxical nature of postwar Japanese theater and culture and the cross-cultural influences in international avant-garde performance.