The Year 2017
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations
Welcome to what is going to be a collective chronicle of the year 2017! This journal will follow the general change that we experience in our daily lives, in our cities, countries and beyond, in the political discourses and in our reflections on the role of artists and intellectuals. Originating from several talks and discussions with fellow artists and thinkers FFT feels the strong need to share thoughts and feelings about how we witness what is going on in the world. Week after week different writers, artists, thinkers and scientists will take the role of an observer as they contribute to this collective diary.
#2 January, 9t - 15th
January 9th, 2017
I’ve been in Munich since the week before Christmas. I’m here to create “No-Theater”, a new piece that will be included in the repertory this season at the Münchner Kammerspiele. It will premiere on February 18. Until I check out on the following day, I am living in this comfortable one-room apartment that the theater keeps for its guest artists. Usually in the process of creating a piece my days become routine and this is no exception. I wake up, fill the tub with hot water, and read a book while I bathe. For breakfast I have fruit – usually apples, kiwi, grapes and pomegranate – mixed with yogurt and plenty of cinnamon powder. I drink coffee or peppermint tea. While I eat, I skim through some newsletters. This morning I read an article about how the CIA reported that the Russian government had hacked the Democratic National Committee, stole massive amount of information and released it to Wikileaks, destroying the reputation of the party and throwing the election in Trump’s favor − but that in fact, there was no evidence of hacking in the DNC server and that there was a likely possibility that someone else within the Democratic Party – for example a Bernie Sanders supporter? – had leaked the information. Rehearsal begins at 10 am. The apartment is located a stone’s throw from the theater. To get from my room to the rehearsal studio in the basement three floors down takes less than five minutes. There is still snow on the streets from the weekend. I did not go out yesterday or the day before. The reason is that I have not yet completed my text for “No-Theater”. Since last Thursday my right wrist has been in pain. It might be tenosynovitis or something. Rehearsal goes past 2 pm. Afterwards, I have lunch with members of the production at the theater canteen. I have a meat dish that’s like meat loaf. With broccoli and mashed potatoes. My translator Akiko accompanies me on the tram to the hospital near the Goethe Institute. The medical exam reveals that I do have inflammation in my right arm joint. They wrapped my arm from the elbow down in bandages with a cooling ointment. I think that it’s overkill. They tell me to come back on Thursday, and that I should pick up a glove that would stabilize my wrist at the orthopedic supply store across the street from the hospital. But when I get to the store, I’m told that there’s no point in putting a glove on top of all these bandages. I ask how much the glove costs and they tell me 120 Euros, so I decide not to buy it. We return on the tram and I buy some fruit at the supermarket. I also buy a bottle of white wine. I go to the canteen for dinner. I have rabbit liver and beer. I go back to my apartment to write some more.
January 10th, 2017
The doctor told me that I mustn’t get my bandage wet, so I wrap a plastic garbage bag around my right arm and take a bath like that. As part of my routine here, I break open pomegranates at the pace of one fruit every two days, and eat the seeds inside over two breakfasts, but with my arm in this condition, it’s impossible to peel open a new pomegranate. So I save half of the pomegranate seeds I had apportioned for this morning for breakfast tomorrow. In reaction to Trump’s tweets booing Toyota for building a new factory in Mexico (in other words booing that fact that Toyota is not adding jobs in the U.S.), the CEO of Toyota in Aichi prefecture decided to attend the inauguration in order to pander to the President-elect. Maybe the CEO should even go as far as to serve as the stage entertainment or the DJ. Since the new president seems to be struggling to book acts for the event, I’m sure it would be appreciated. I throw out my garbage on my way out to the theater. Rehearsal today also begins at 10 am. The concept behind “No-Theater” is to create a piece that references the performances and narrative structure of the traditional Noh Theater form from Japan’s middle ages, but that also diverges significantly from the original form. I’m making two new Noh plays, one on the theme of finance and the other on gender inequality. The first play, on finance, is already written. The other one is almost complete. Noh is a musical theater form, so my “No-Theater” will also be performed with live music. A lot of rehearsal time is spent today figuring out in great detail how many measures each line of dialogue should take to be spoken. We end around 2:30 pm. Everyone is hungry. We head to the canteen. Tagliatelle with duck sauce. We talk for a while. I return to my apartment to write. I write past 7 pm and make dinner. I sauté and steam vegetables and sausage in olive oil, add some miso at the end for some flavor, and I eat this simple dish with the white wine I bought yesterday. My Facebook timeline is full of posts and shares about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards, but all this noise only arouses in me an awareness of the division − or bubble, as they say – that I am a participant in, and that on the outside of this division, what I see on my timeline is invisible. It’s a thought I always have. Even in regard to the inauguration ceremony, on my timeline I see stories about musicians who’ve turned down requests to perform quite regularly, but when you think about it, there must be musicians for whom it would be a great honor to perform at the inauguration and have joyfully accepted the opportunity to do so, though I can’t recall seeing any stories like that on my timeline. I’m sure I could find such stories if I searched for them, but I don’t feel like it. I still feel like writing after dinner. So I continue to write a little longer.
January 11th, 2017
Again, I cover my right arm with a garbage bag and bathe in the morning. It’s difficult to turn the pages of my book like this. But I shouldn’t be grumbling about something so trivial. It’d be pretty difficult to live a life like this in Japan – a life of eating fresh fruit every morning. Because fruit is very expensive in Japan. Although it might taste that much better there. I have a feeling that in the minds of Japanese people, fruit falls entirely into the category of luxury items. Take pomegranate for example. Until last autumn, I’d never in my life eaten a pomegranate. It’s not as if there aren’t any pomegranate in Japan, but they aren’t that common either. I’m pretty into them right now. But I won’t be able to eat any tomorrow. I’m feeling very disappointed about that. Tonight there’s a talk event in which I will introduce my theater work to audiences here in Munich. I review the video clips I plan to show and then head out to rehearsal. From 10 am to 1 pm. Then lunch at the canteen. I have chili con carne. The canteen at the Münchner Kammerspiele is cheap and the food is delicious, so I have no desire to eat anywhere else while I’m here. They say that things in Munich are expensive, but spending my time here inside the theater, that hasn’t been the case. At 2 pm there’s a lecture about the social context of Japan for our production team by Professor Dr. Evelyn Schulz from Munich University’s Department of Asian Studies, Japan Center. The professor had read the text I’d written up to this point for “No-Theater” and had prepared to lecture on themes that are explored in the text. In my second piece, “Tocho-mae” (Before the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices) which grapples with gender inequality, I touch on the discomfort Japanese people feel towards the film “Lost in Translation”; Professor Schulz seemed to really like that part. The lecture was finished at 4 pm and I return to my apartment for a quick nap. And then, I write. I go to the canteen a little after 7:30 pm. I was hoping to have dinner before the event, but I arrive too late and don’t have enough time. So I reluctantly order cheesecake. The talk begins at 8 pm. Professor Schulz is there as an audience member. I talk about what I’ve done in the last ten years and show some video. After receiving a playwright award in Japan I became recognized in the theater world, and since touring to participate in a festival in Brussels, I’ve toured my work internationally every year. Among my overseas performances, I’ve had more and more performance opportunities in Germany beginning with Berlin’s HAU theater, and now here I am at the Munich theater, creating work. I also talk about how Japan has changed, especially following the earthquake of 2011 and the resulting nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima, and I discuss how these events influenced me to change my attitude and process in my own work. Often I am told, and today is no exception, that I ought to move to Germany. There are some people who think that I already live in Germany. The year the earthquake happened, I moved from the city of Tokyo where I lived, to a city called Kumamoto, which is 1000 kilometers west. But then last April, there was a massive earthquake in Kumamoto. When I share these details, I begin to understand what people, in particular Europeans and specifically Germans, feel when they ask me why I continue to live in places that are prone to earthquakes. I am not considering immigrating to a foreign country. There is a question of where I would move to, but it’s also important to consider how quickly one would be able to move after something calamitous happened. It’s a matter of mindset – how quickly you can move and respond? After the event I go to the canteen again. I drink a beer. And I eat some of the risotto that Akiko has ordered.
January 12th, 2017
I take a bath. Breakfast without pomegranate. I hope that when I go to the hospital this evening they will remove my bandages. President Obama made his last speech in Chicago. When he visited Hiroshima last May – this may sound naïve, but who cares – I wept at his speech. Come to think of it, that took place when I was in Munich. On the other hand, when ANOHNI came out with her song bluntly titled “Obama,” I almost cried upon first hearing her distinctive voice expressing her disappointment towards Obama. Rehearsal begins at 10 am as always. I think that this play has progressed in its development very smoothly to this point. I want this play “No-Theater” to reflect more than a reference to the traditional Japanese Noh theater form. What came to mind a few days ago is that “No-Theater is the theater that says ‘no.’” The text I’ve written for this production – though I’m not yet done writing – is clearly saying ‘no’ to the present state of Japanese society, so this interpretation is not far from the truth. Noh, to put it very crudely and concisely, has a format in which the protagonist is a ghost with an unresolved spirit. The “No-Theater” that I’m creating here in Munich of course tampers with that format, but the first of the two pieces I’m presenting, titled “Roppongi” is a story deploring the state of Japan’s finances and its incredible avarice for global capital that leads to the abandonment of future generations. The protagonist is the ghost of a man, an investment banker who’d spent his days handling international deals. In the second play, “Tocho-mae” (Before the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices), the ghost of feminism makes an appearance. By the way, according to an organization that serves as a global economics forum, in a 2016 study of gender gaps, Japan ranked 111th amongst 144 countries. The state that Japan is in is also not unique to Japan, and so it’s not enough for this “No-Theater” piece to just be saying ‘no’ to Japan’s society either. This is what I believe as I create these plays that will be performed not in Japanese, but translated into German, and not in Japan but in the repertory of a German theater. After rehearsal, I head to the hospital where my appointment is scheduled for 5:20 pm. The inflammation is down to 30% of what it had been. I am relieved that nothing is mentioned about the fact that I’m not wearing the glove to stabilize my wrist. But it turns out that I have to keep my bandage on. A new one is wrapped around my arm. They say I can take it off myself on Sunday, but that means that I still won’t be able to eat pomegranate tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I return from the hospital and go to the theater again. At 8 pm there’s an event that introduces programs that are premiering this season to the theater’s season subscribers. But I only have to give two or three comments. There’s an excerpted reading from “No-Theater” as well. It was a really engaging event. The audience members who are season subscribers have a lot of questions and criticisms about the programming content and ticketing procedures, including some pretty harsh comments. Beginning with Matthias Lilienthal, the Artistic Director, staff of the theater answered each of the inquiries thoughtfully and clearly. I couldn’t help but contrast this event with the press conference held by the man who will become president of the United States in just about one week, in which he refused to answer a question from a CNN journalist by saying, “you’re fake news.” After the event I am a bit tired so I head straight home without stopping at the canteen. I intended to go right to sleep but I couldn’t, so I rented the Christian Petzold film “Phoenix” on iTunes, watched it on my laptop, and then went to bed.
January 13th, 2017
I woke up around 6 am, so I write a little before bathing and having breakfast. A verse from the song “Speak Low” that was in the movie I watched last night circles around my mind. Before I realize it, it’s almost 10:30 am, time for rehearsal to start. I rush to the theater. When I direct, I often use the word “imagination.” That’s because what the actor imagines while s/he is performing, and how that actor relates to the imagined are extremely important to me. The German word for it is Vorstellung, and recently I’ve just started to be able to recognize the term when it’s spoken in rehearsal. I take my lunch break in the canteen and have the Friday special fish soup. The conversation turns to last night’s event. From the discussion of the content of the season to details about ticketing procedures, the audience had many critical questions, but the fact that this open space for these voices to be heard had been planned in the theater stood in stark contrast against the news report in which the person who is about to become the president of the U.S. in a week rebuffed a CNN journalist with a single catchy phrase, “You are fake news.” That contrast was something that everyone in the room felt. For a contemporary Japanese person like me, there is a sense of déjà vu I experience towards a person like Trump. For example the former governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara was like that, someone who’d step into the spotlight from time to time with succinct and memorable sexist remarks. Whenever he’d come up with a new phrase that would become a viral topic in the news, I’d be overcome by a gloom like “here we go again” and I’d retreat into my circle of friends to make myself feel better. There is not a single person in that circle of friends who supports Ishihara, and we’d often play with his phrase to make fun of him, to enjoy a moment of distraction. My circle is overflowing with videos making fun of Trump. At first, I could simply laugh along with them, to relieve my discontent. But after a while of watching these posts, I have to face the fact that just laughing about it won’t accomplish anything. A week or two before, at the canteen, a member of our production asked me how Trump becoming the president of the U.S. would affect Japan. Of course I don’t have the knowledge or the thinking to be able to answer such a loaded question, but I did bring up the U.S. military bases in Japan. The military bases are not just an issue for Japan and the U.S. but they pose an international problem. Most of the U.S. military structures in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. In other words, the burden of U.S. military in Japan has been foisted upon Okinawa. As it happens, Trump wants Japan to completely fund the U.S. military base there. He has threatened to remove the U.S. military presence there if the Japanese government refuses to pay. If he is serious, and if Japan refuses, and that leads the U.S. to withdraw its military presence in Japan – although of course it’s very likely that Japan would pay the whole sum – I think that would be a revolutionary step, and highly welcome step. So, as far as this particular issue, I’m looking forward to what Trump says. But is this really a reasonable way of thinking? To be honest, I don’t know. When evaluating rulers, on what points should we evaluate them? When having expectations of a ruler, what am I actually expecting from them? Am I evaluating their ideology or their personality? Or rather, whether their rule would result in a favorable outcome for me? Deng Xiaoping, legendary Chinese statesman famously said, “It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” He is a white cat but he may catch mice. He may not be a good cat, but he may catch mice. Is this a reasonable expectation to have? After lunch we continue rehearsal. We end at 4 pm. We decide to take tomorrow, Saturday, off. In preparation for the weekend I go shopping at the supermarket. I return to my apartment to write. I’ll probably finish “Tocho-mae” by tomorrow. When I begin to see the finish line, my heart shifts from being driven by the desire to push forward and develop the story to wanting to bring the story to its end carefully. I shift to an awareness of wanting to land the play successfully. I don’t finish off my writing right away, and I begin to feel hungry, so I make some food. I make the same steamed and sautéed vegetables with sausage. I have some wine with my meal, and satisfy my mind and body and go to bed a bit early.
January 14th, 2017
I wake up before 6 am and write. Around 8:30 I complete “Tocho-mae”. I send the script off to my team and feel relieved. I take a bath and have breakfast. Outside, snow is falling. I want to see what the English garden at the huge park in Munich is like on a snowy day, so I go out for a stroll. In the museum next to the park, Haus Der Kunst, there is an exhibit called “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965”. I plan to see it next weekend. The river that runs along the side of the English garden has a section where the water flows just fiercely enough to make it a great spot for surfing. It’s already pretty famous as a tourist spot in Munich. Even on a snowy morning, there are a few people surfing. The English garden in its snowy visage was lovely, as expected. There are people jogging through the park as well as people on cross-country skis. The bone-chilling cold is harsher than I imagined and I grow uncomfortable and quickly return to my apartment. I’m overtaken by slumber and take a nap. After I awaken, I am in a daze for a while. Tonight I am supposed to go see a screening of a Japanese movie that happens to be showing at the movie theater in Munich. At 8:30 pm I will meet up with Akiko and Kazu who is composing music for the production. I’d skipped lunch so I go to the canteen 30 minutes early and order fried fish and beer. The two arrive and we drink to my finishing the script. Then we walk about 20 minutes through the snow that has accumulated from the day to get to the Werkstattkino theater in the Glockenbach neighborhood. Glockenbach is an area that stands out as a hip neighborhood within a very conservative city. It’s famous for having once been home to Freddie Mercury. I’d wanted to come out here for a drink, but I hadn’t been able to until I’d finished writing my plays. When we get to the theater, it is a small intimate venue that could sit maybe 50 people. The place to completely packed. We see a documentary film called “Sona, the Other Myself” by director Yang Yonghi. The Korean-Japanese director has three older brothers, but they had all gone to North Korea in the 1970s. The documentary chronicled the life of Sona, the director’s niece. It shows the landscape of Pyongyang, and the lives of the people there. It also shows the daily lives of Japanese people in Japan who have relatives living under the political system of North Korea. After the screening, there is a Q and A with the director. There are many questions. It’s not difficult to imagine that the German people, who experienced the East-West divide, have a strong interest in the North-South divide in Korea. Even after the Q and A, Yang is still surrounded in the theater’s small lobby by audience members with questions. I thought I’d just say hello and go home, but she tells me that she wants to talk to me and asks me to wait at the beer hall next to the theater. I tell her to take her time since I’m sure there are many German audience members who want to talk to her, and that I’d be waiting at the beer hall. The three of us went to the bar and were talking about the film when Yonghi joins us in almost no time. For the last several days she had spent answering questions after screenings, and she was exhausted from answering the Germans’ questions in English, so she was thrilled to escape here. She seemed very happy to be able to converse in Japanese. This is the first time I’m meeting Yonghi. We happened to have mutual friends in a Japanese family living in Munich, and they were the ones who’d given me information about her film screening. Yonghi loves theater and had even been a stage actor, and she’d seen my plays in Tokyo. We chatted about that play and about North Korea, and before we knew it, it was closing time for the beer hall. We hope to see each other again as we part. Akiko, Kazu and I walk back to our apartments. It’s very cold. I thought I’d gotten accustomed to the cold in Munich, but today might be the coldest day I ever experienced here. Back in my room, I am sleepy and lie down in bed right away. Naturally my mind ruminates on tonight’s film. People are overwhelmingly dominated by the social structures they belong to. It’s an obvious fact, but watching this as an audience member unfold through the life of Sona from the age of three to when she is a teenager, the film made me think intensely about it. I also think about things that weren’t explicitly portrayed in the film. What would happen if massive numbers of people from North Korea were to come to Japan as refugees? It’s not such an unlikely hypothetical situation. Would the Japanese government be prepared to welcome them with an “annyeonghaseyo”? No, probably not. There’s no shred of possibility. Japanese society has no mentality to accept refugees. In fact some people like Boris Johnson have upheld this Japanese attitude as ideal. It’s embarrassing. Actually I’ve been in discussion with an organization in Japan about creating a new play two years from now about refugees. I don’t know if I will be able to do it. Right now, my head is full of “No-Theater” and I can’t think about anything else.
January 15th, 2017
The first thing I do when I wake up is to take off the bandages on my right arm. The pain is not completely gone, but my arm feels better without bandages. The snow has accumulated outside the window. It’s still snowing a little bit. I take a leisurely bath. I feel a little dizzy so I lie down in bed and read a book. I feel better so I put on water for peppermint tea. And now for my long-awaited breakfast with pomegranate. We have the day off so I could go out, but this snow makes me want to stay in. Yonghi had said she was going to the Bavarian State Opera today. I’ve been in Munich for a pretty long time, and I even live within ten minutes walking distance of the opera, but I have never been. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the places in Munich that reek of establishment. But it’s certainly possible that it’s my uninformed belief that the Bavarian State Opera is the establishment. Or it could be that I keep opera at arms length because it has never been something I was accustomed to. If I’m pointing out the establishment, the Münchner Kammerspiele where I am working is itself a legendary public theater, and is in that sense part of the establishment too, but the people I work with everyday and the sense I get of the personality of the organization is not of the establishment. In fact the Artistic Director, Matthias, seems very far from establishment, to have invited me, someone who knows nothing about the traditions of the creative processes of German theater and doesn’t even speak German, to create a new play for the theater’s repertory. I’m making whatever I want however I want, and testing out things that I want to. I boil some pasta and mix in some ready-made sauce for lunch. Since this is the Sunday lunch after having completed my text, I have wine with lunch. After my meal, I lie down and read. The last few days I’ve been reading “Postwar Germany – the intellectual history.” It’s written by a Japanese scholar of the history of German philosophy and contemporary philosophy. I am reminded of an email. I received the message a while ago but still haven’t been able to reply. It’s from a German friend who had come to see the last play I presented in Munich. He was worried that I’d get exhausted working within the stressful system at the public theater, that I didn’t have to work there, that in fact it’d be much better for me to continue making great plays for my own company as I have been doing. That was the gist of the email. I’m grateful that he’s been concerned for me, but these are needless fears, he has nothing to worry about. That is the reply I haven’t been able to write. Once I finish this journal entry, I plan to write the response to the email I received over half a year ago. It was a really long email. I could tell that he was really worried, and I felt so overwhelmed by his emotion that I couldn’t bring myself to respond. Working as a theater-maker is fun. It’s always new and challenging, and in any case, for me, it’s simply a positive experience. Of course we have no idea what will happen to Germany, or any place in the rest of the world, from here on out.
Translation into English: Aya Ogawa (New York City)
Toshiki Okada, born in Yokohama in 1973, is stage director and author. In 1997 he founded the theater group chelfitsch. His works deal with cultural upheaval and their social ramifications, especially in a Japan marked by consumption and economic constraints. His productions with his chelfitsch company have been honored with several awards. The production “Five Days in March” (2005) was granted the renowned 49th Kishida Drama Award. “Air Conditioner” (2005) attracted great attention at the Toyota Choreography Award. From 2006 to 2007 he served as manager for “Summit”, an annual theater festival which is organized by the Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo. Recent productions of the chelfitsch company, such as “Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech” (2009), “Current Location” (2012) and “Ground and Floor” (2013), have regularly been staged in Europe, as well as “Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich” (2014) and lately „Time’s Journey Through a Room“ (2016). Okada also presents his works in numerous art centers and museums.
As author he not only writes the texts of his own productions, but also prose. His story collection “The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed” was published in 2007 and won the “Kenzaburo Oe Prize”. In 2012 it was translated into German under the title “Die Zeit, die uns bleibt”.
#1 January 1st - 8th Jacob Wren
#4 January 20th - 30th Alexander Karschnia & Noah Fischer
#5 January 30th - February 6th Ariel Efraim Ashbel
#6 February 6th - 12th Laila Soliman
#9 February 26th - March 5th Gina Moxley
#11 March 13th - 19th Agnieszka Jakimiak
#12 March 20th - 26th Yana Thönnes
#13 March 30th - April 2nd Geert Lovink
We are deeply saddened by the devastating news that Mark Fisher died on January 13th. He first visited the FFT in 2014 with his lecture „The Privatisation of Stress“ about how neoliberalism deliberately cultivated collective depression. Later in the year he returned with a video-lecture about „Reoccupying the Mainstream" in the frame of the symposium „Sichtungen III“ in which he talks about how to overcome the ideology of capitalist realism and start thinking about a new positive political project: „If we want to combat capitalist realism then we need to be able to articulate, to project an alternative realism.“ We were talking about further collaboration with him last year but it did not work out because Mark wasn’t well. His books „Capitalist Realism“ and „The Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Future“ will continue to be a very important inspiration for our work.
Podiumsgespräch im Rahmen der Veranstaltung "Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - Zum 100. Geburtstag von Peter Weiss"
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations ist ein Projekt im Rahmen des Bündnisses internationaler Produktionshäuser, gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.