Humanless Operas and Aquatic Theaters – Tokyo’s Avant-Garde Theatre

Genet & John SkeletonThe right connections will take you into many strange new places, and the past few weeks have been no exception. What started as an appointment to interview the “Father of Goth in Japan,” Genet of the band AUTO-MOD (est. 1980), eventually allowed me to witness some of the most cutting-edge modern theater in Japan. When I first met with Genet, it just happened that he had tickets for what was being touted as the first humanless opera, “THE END,” starring the virtually omnipresent vocaloid character Hatsune Miku. The holographic electronic opera featured Shibuya Keiichirō, a slew of designers, musicians, and even fashion designs by Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, all collaborating to help Hatsune Miku to seek out the meanings of what it is to die and truly “end.” Unfortunately, the production suffered from a bout of overindulgence, and unless you’re a true fan, you can probably get roughly the same experience in truncated form by viewing the following trailer. The idea is promising, and we may see more mature efforts in the future…

Arakajime Ushinawareta Sekai HeWhat I never would have expected, however, was the next invite from Genet to see the Suizokukan Gekijō (Aquarium Theater) performance of a new work by playwright Momoyama Yū, “Arakajime Ushinawareta Sekai He” (To the Long-Lost World). The Suizokukan Gekijō troupe has been active since 1987, and is known for its spectacular use of colossal outdoor sets incorporating massive amounts of water, vehicles, and the natural environment. This time was no exception, as the troupe transformed the small tutelary shrine of Nishitaishidō Hachiman Jinja into a labyrinthine network of metal scaffolding and unbelievable sets ranging from the back alleys of a post-war Shōwa-period town to the decimated ruins of a doll museum.



Suizokukan GekijōThe story revolved around the lost souls who gathered around a place called Namidabashi (Bridge of Tears), each one on a quest for something in a world of memory, illusion, and madness. Between sets a massive deluge poured down from the ceiling, met by towering cascades from below, using literally tons of water to create a spectacle unmatched by what an indoor theater could provide. Moving street cars and elaborate buildings all attested to the true artistry of the troupe, and the acting of the performers also met up to the standards. Due to difficulties in securing locations, the troupe has not performed in Tokyo for several years, and may not be back for a while. If you have the chance to go out and see this underground troupe, be sure to jump at the chance! You won’t be disappointed.