Toshiki Okada’s cutting-edge theater/performance company chefitsch has been turning heads in the Tokyo performance scene for the last few years, recently winning the prestigious Kishida Kunio Drama Award for “Five Days in March, ” a show that takes place in the spring of 2003, at the beginning of American military strikes in Iraq and the moment when Japan found itself involved in international conflict for the first time since World War II. Though Okada calls the piece anti-war, its characters seemingly remain fundamentally distant from current events and political concerns, sequestered in a love hotel and practicing vices and escapism of various kinds.
What makes “Five Days in March” and Okada’s theater unique is its challenge to representational theater, taking the form of abstracted yet dramatic narrative that fills in the often empty gap between theater and performance art. Both the show’s choreography, consisting of movement disintegrated from speech, and its language, which has been dubbed “super real” Japanese for its fragmentary, abbreviated and often incomplete speeches, are anchored in Okada’s sense that our reality resembles realism onstage much less than we imagine. “I reproduce the real, inarticulate way that average people actually speak, because one of the things I want to express is what lies within that ineptness… and in reality it is extremely rare for body movements to complement or reinforce the words we are speaking,” he explained in a 2005 interview.
As for the disconnect between the characters’ experience and the war abroad, Okada argues for the expression of our relationship to the political as one characterized by both distance and personal connection: “I feel that committing ourselves to anti-war movements doesn’t seem to fit us… we have this attitude that involves concern with some degree of distance, but it is not that we are not concerned. Some people see this as a work showing young people who have no concern at all about the war and are only interested in sex, but I personally think of this as a firm anti-war play.” For those in search of this kind of emotional honesty, as well as those interested in abstracted theater and hybridity between genres of performing arts, “Five Days in March” should provide a provocative springboard for thought. (Monica Westin)
February 20-22 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, (312)397-4010.