Friday, January 04, 2008

The brotherhood of the living and the non-living

During the new year holidays, I had a chance to glance at some of the old photos at my parents' house. The old times certainly existed, but are sometimes difficult to hold vividly in one's memory. When these times were "here and now", I certainly breathed and reveled in the unmistakable qualities of the passage of time. I could not escape from it. Moments of my life flourished and then perished, never to return or to be regained. There were people around. My parents were once at my own present age or even younger.

In the long history of humanity that have now fatally passed, countless people have wondered why it is that all living things are destined to die. This particular enigma originates from the more general and arguably greater puzzle of the passage of time. The mystery of life is a part of that of temporality.

There was a time when the earth found itself in its infancy, still hot and sometimes violently erupting. That time is now gone. Once there was a collision between the earth and a meteorite with a diameter of a few kilometers, making dinosaurs and other species on earth extinct. As "here and now", these periods had the same encapsulating and inescapable qualities for the contemporary dwellers, whether actual or hypothetical, conscious or unconscious, living or non-living.

Mortality is not unique to life. It is an unavoidable consequence of the flow of time. Time itself is mortal. Mortality is the consequence of, and the prerequisite for, any changes that befall this world. Pondering the nature of time opens one's eyes to the hidden agenda of the universe: The brotherhood of the living and the non-living. Thus we learn to embrace all materials in the world as sharers of a common fate.

Myself at five years old in the kindergarden album.
These times are now irreparably gone.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Conversation with Kanzaburo

I was invited to sit as one of the guest judges at the 58th Red & White Year-end Song Festival
hosted by NHK, performed live and broadcast on the new year's eve (19:20 to 23:45 JST, 31st December 2007). It is considered as one of the greatest honors for Japanese singers to be selected to sing in this once-a-year festival. 10 people were invited to be the guest judges this year.

One of my co-judges was the great Kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura. Kanzaburo is known for his superb acting, as well as for planning and executing ambitious stage projects such as the commercially successful and critically acclaimed performance of Kabuki pieces in New York in 1977. Kanzaburo plans to tour in Berlin in 2008.

I exchanged short but vivid words with Kanzaburo during the preparations and curtains. One of Kazaburo's well-known roles is "Gonta" in the play "Sushiya". Gonta, a notorious criminal on the surface, is revealed to be a sincere follower of his forlorn master. The fact that Gonta is committed to the great cause is only revealed at the time of his imminent death, caused by a stab from his father infuriated by the apparent vice. It is too late for the poor fellow when the stabbing was discovered to be unjustified, and the confessions of the convert that follows is played so movingly and convincingly by Kanzaburo.

During the conversation, Kanzaburo mentioned that he would like to perform Gonta in front of the inmates at a Japanese prison.
"Do you think it is possible?"
Kanzaburo whispered in a eager tone.
"I think to perform Kanzaburo's vice together with his hidden sincere heart in front of the prisoners would be great. But I doubt if the officials would allow it."

As is well known, Kabuki initiated from the dance drama performed by Okuni at the beginning of the 17th century. When the Tokugawa government forbade female actors from stage, the Kabuki players invented Onnagata, where male actors play the role of women. Since then, Kabuki was never in line with the prescribed norms preached by the powers that be, choosing to go along with truths of human nature rather than the officially approved moral institutions of the times. In Kanzaburo I witness the finest example and embodiment of this living tradition.

The pinnacle of our conversation was when Kanzaburo mentioned out of the blue that Kabuki actors used to visit psychiatric hospitals to study the behavior of patients, so that they could refine the performance of mentally distracted roles. These days, however, such a visit is difficult to realize, as people are oversensitive about being politically correct. Needless to say, it is important to be politically correct in the modern life. The wide dynamic range of the "dramaturgie" of Kabuki, however, originates from elsewhere.

The Great Kanzaburo Nakamura the XVIII th. (1955-)