When the Curtains Rise, So Do the HopesWith the uproar over history being distorted in Japanese textbooks and with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's controversial visit to Yasukuni shrine, it might seem like one of the worst eras in Korea-Japan relations since the end of colonization. But in spite of the charged political atmosphere, the theatrical world is booming with cultural exchanges between the two countries.
People in the dramatic arts are hoping that such interchanges might help to break the strife and restore ties between the neighboring countries. Below is a list of the current theatrical exchanges going on between Korean and Japan based on the premise of mutual understanding.
A Korean Director in Japan
Lim Young-woong of the Sanulim Theater Company is staging "Gamsahamnida" ("Thank You") with the Seinen Drama Company, the center of traditional Japanese drama for the last 37 years. It is a story based on the autobiographical novels "The Mortuary Tablet of Seoul" and "Blood Over the Sea" by Eeo Kenshi, who is half-Korean, half-Japanese. Uryu Mashami, known as the "conscience of Japanese drama," adapted the stories and dramatized them.
The basic plot is about the Japanese protagonist's visit to his mother's homeland, Korea, for the first time. He tours Tapgol Park (also called Pagoda Park) in Seoul, where independence activists drew up the declaration of the March 1st Independence Movement in 1919. After learning about Japanese colonization and how the Japanese army oppressed Koreans, the young man discovers a kind of patriotism for Korea he had long forgotten.
Three Korean actors will join the Seineng Drama Company for the Tokyo performances. The company hopes to bring the play to Korea afterward, if the situation is right.
A Joint Production Between Korea and Japan
The Michu Drama Company of Korea and the Subaru Drama Company from Japan are collaborating on a production at the Tongsoong Art Center in Seoul. The play, "Hibakari － The Portrait of 400 Years" will run from Friday to Sunday. Son Jin-chaek from Michu is in charge of the production, which is based on a scenario by the leftist playwright Shinagawa Yoshimasha. Each of the companies provided 11 actors. The play depicts the destiny of some potters from the Choson Dynasty who were taken to Japan during Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592. The story then shifts to modern Japan and explores the conflicts that the potters' descendants experience in contemporary Japan; ultimately, it forces the audience members to question their notions of art, creativity and identity. A reporter for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper wrote that the play was truly innovative in using ceramic culture to look at the relations of the two countries. It took 12 years for Son Jin-chaek to realize his desire to stage the story of ceramic makers.
Japan will organize the eighth BeSeTo Festival this year. "BeSeTo" is a word formed from the first syllables of Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. Works by Korean companies include "Leaving Home," by the Seoul City Theater and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," performed by the Sanulim Drama Company. "Leaving Home" portrays the life and artistic spirit of modern painter Lee Jung-sub. It will be performed in Toyama and Tokyo in late August and early September. "Waiting for Godot" will be staged in Hizuoka in late September. The guiding theme of the BeSeTo Theater Festival this year is that drama is the best way to reconcile the cultures of China, Japan and Korea.
The popular Korean musical "Subway Line No. 1," from the Hakjeon Green Theater, recently received an invitation from the Japan Foundation, and the musical will tour Tokyo's Bunkamura Theater Cocoon, Osaka's Drama City Hall and Fukuoka's West Civic Center from Nov. 15 to Nov. 25. This is the first tour of Japan by a Korean musical.
The rock musical, based on German writer Volker Ludwig's "Linie 1-Das Musikal," is about an innocent woman named Fairy who leaves a small village in the countryside for Seoul. She goes to find her love, whom she met and fell in love with at Mount Paektu. She arrives in Seoul with big hopes, but encounters the harsh realities of city life and meets a variety of Seoul citizens while traveling on subway line No. 1, the oldest subway in Seoul. She runs into homeless people, runaways, orphans, millionaires and a psychic missionary, all of whom satirize modern Korean society.
The director Kim Min-ki is updating the play for the Japan tour, with new sets, acts and music, taking into account developments in Korea since it was first staged here in 1994.
by Jung Jae-wal