|Noise and Darkness
Germany Tour 2014
Aug. 21 - 23 at Kampnagel P1, Hamburg
Aug. 28 - 29 at HAU2, Berlin
Photo: Jumpei Tainaka
Apr. 28, 2015
|Born in 1986, Toko (Toco) Nikaido formed the performance group “Banana Gakuen Junjo Otome-gumi” (Banana academy pure-hearted girls group) and began a style of wild, frenzied performance they called “ohagi live” performances. Taking as their base the ota-gei (the group performances by members of the audience at the live performances of girl “idols”) while drawing on elements from anime, idol live performance, student protest demonstrations and more in a wild collage of performer dance, music and video, these ohagi live performances have attracted attention for the images they present of the wide variety of sub-culture that continues to be consumed in Tokyo. After dissolving Banana Gakuen in 2012, Nikaido formed a group of these performers named Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker. In 2013 they toured performances in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany, and in 2014 to two German cities (Hamburg and Berlin), while this year they are scheduled to perform in Germany and Austria from April 24 to May 8. In this interview, Nikaido talks about the reasons she abandoned superficial theater to face head-on the realities of present-day Tokyo with ohagi live performances.
Interviewer: Masashi Nomura [producer / dramaturg]
You majored in theater in what is now the College of Performing and Visual Arts of J.F. Oberlin University. Among other Oberlin graduates on the performing arts scene today are young artists with different styles like Takahiro Fujita of Mom and Gypsy and Junnosuke Tada of Tokyo Deathlock. Would you begin by telling us about your first encounter with theater?
I’m from Sapporo [in Hokkaido] and when I was in the 4th grade in elementary school Gekidan Shiki came to Sapporo with a production of Cats
that they performed in a temporary stage tent. Seeing that was what got me interested in theater. That was absolutely my first encounter with theater and it really moved me, so I learned all the songs and played Cats
by myself all the time. Then in 5th grade, when we did the play Kasako Jizo
for our class study presentation, I was so much more motivated than the other kids that the teacher complimented me. That got me all excited (laughs) and I decided that I just had to become an actress. But, there was no drama club in our middle school, so I joined the brass band, because the upperclassmen in it looked so cool, and I really got into playing trumpet.
In high school I continued brass band but also took part in the drama club at the same time, but eventually I found that I didn’t have the motivation to continue in the brass band, so I ended up doing only theater. But it was a really weak club and the teacher in charge of it didn’t have any interest in it either. When we entered the interschool drama contest, however, I got a comment from one of the judges saying that my performance had been good because it was full of energy. So, that started me thinking again that maybe I had some talent (laughs).
Also, since middle school I had been longing to go to Tokyo, and in fact I had gone by myself to auditions there. I didn’t know exactly what, but I wanted to be somebody. And that is why I also applied for universities in Tokyo. I didn’t get into my first choices so I ended up going to Oberlin University in the general arts department and majoring in theater. But to tell the truth, I didn’t learn anything in college (laughs).
Did you do any sports?
Through elementary school, middle and high school I took Kendo
(Japanese fencing) lessons. I made it to second degree. But, I have to admit I was best in the forms. During matches I would get all worked up do the shouts in a big voice that made everyone think I must be really skilled and strong, the image I had was like a mad dog, but I would always lose on fouls, like having my bamboo sword go flying off (laughs). I also did synchronized swimming. I also took piano lessons, and after seeing Cats
I took tap dancing lessons too. I also went to cram school. But, I would have quickly have given it all up if I had the chance to go to Tokyo.
It sound like you had a lot of hobbies, or that you were a child who had a full schedule of lessons.
It is not so much that I chose to do them myself, it’s rather that, for girls, piano and swimming lessons and going to cram school and learning English are the standard-course lessons that parent have them do, and I guess they had me doing them before I was old enough to be really conscious of it. With kendo
, I only started it because a childhood friend of mine had started doing it, so I guess I’d do things like that without much discrimination. And, that nature of mine may connect to the “ohagi
live performances I came to do (laughs).
At the time [in your childhood], a variety of video games and anime, manga and music that you reference in your performances already existed. How were these elements involved [as a part of your life]?
I played a variety of video games like an ordinary child at the time. The ones I got into most were roll-playing games (RPG), but more than Final Fantasy, I liked Dragon Quest most of all. I also got into Monster Farm so much that I even wrote a fan letter once to the game company that made it (laughs). The way you create original monsters and make miracles happen from all kinds of CDs was so much fun that I played constantly with all the CDs we had at home or ones I rented from the TSUTAYA video shop.
Regarding music. Since I was in the brass band and had studied piano, I knew a bit about classical music, enough to think that composers like Bartok were cool. And, when I was in my second year of middle school I loved the [rock/pop] band L’Arc-en-Ciel. Once I became a fan of something or someone in the media, I would really, seriously fall in love with them. It wasn’t simply a matter of looking up to them as a fan, but more a feeling of real love, and when I would find a thread about them on a blog like 2 Channel and there would be blog entries about someone who was suspected of being in a love-relationship with the star I liked, I would actually do things like writing negative entry’s criticizing that person like a romantic rival. It wasn’t on the pseudo-romance level, it was real over-the-top, I would actually do that kind of stuff.
As for anime, to tell the truth, I wasn’t into anime at all when I was in middle or high school, and I still only watch it very rarely. Nonetheless, the reason elements like anime characters and pop “idols” find their way into my performances with such frequency is, I believe, that for me they carry a meaning that is something like “hope.” Since I’m not an [idealistic] otaku
(geek), and I can look at these [characters and idols] with an attitude of mean disillusionment of knowing that they are tainted characters with ambition and sexual motivations but also with feelings of love at the same time, I can find them exciting, emotionally charged, fun and fascinating.
Today’s [pop] “idols” are used to being in the public spotlight, but they also carry a lot of emotional and personal pressure in their role. They are taking advantage of the trends of the times but I also think these characters are also steeled seekers who train themselves hard in order to inch towards its ideals. I thing that professional determination is amazing. They work and compete in a world that is full of sacrifice, but also transient and often cruel, and yet when they are on stage their role is to sell hope and dreams to their audience. On one side there is cruel competition between rivals and other people in the industry, but on the other hand there is team play [when they perform] that can require a heart like a Buddhist saint (to accept and work together with one’s rivals). I sometimes wonder what kind of spirit that involves, but the drama of it is certainly interesting.
Myself and the other members of our “Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker” group are not otaku at heart, but whether its high-cultural or sub-cultural, whether its anime or idol, we use everything that we think is interesting, and we do it with love. I’m not an otaku, but I am a hard worker.
What was it that brought you to this way of thinking about idols?
After being frustrated so long in Sapporo with my desire to become someone, when I finally arrived in Tokyo, I became active at first doing something like “Net idol” (aspiring idols who gather fans on the internet) activities. And, because I wanted to become an actress, I went to auditions and signed up with an agency and such. But, there is no way you are going to get wonderful work coming your way unless your agency is one of the biggest one or unless you have exceptional substance or talent. It had also become a time when anyone could send out your clips and anyone could become an idol, and the first Net program I got a job appearing on was called “Hyper Idol Station egg.” It was a late night program for aspiring young idols to communicate with visitors over the Internet, and as I looked around at the participants they all had the same stereotype idol image, so I felt strange to me and couldn’t help but develop a negative and even disgusted attitude toward it. In the end it served to reveal my true [un-approving] nature and I got fired. The egg that was supposed to hatch into an idol ended up hatching into something completely different (laughs).
Around 2007 the “underground idol” movement had started to emerge and I started going to see the live performances. What I found was that, rather than the mostly low-quality performances of aspiring idols singing Karaoke on stage, the dolu-ota
(idol otaku) in the audience had suddenly become more interesting. That made me think, “The real culture is in the audience,” and, “The idol otaku are performing [in the audience] with much more passion and energy. They are the ones that really should be up on the stage performing, shouldn’t they? They are the ones doing something worth seeing.” As a result of my “defeat” when I was on the idol side [rather than the audience side] had caused a big change in my way of thinking.
Something I often say is, “Isn’t culture really not a product of the artists trying to express something but of the audience that receives and enjoys it?” It is a world where there is only value, where there is only success if your audience enjoys it. In the end it wasn’t the people on stage but the people in the audience that solved the small anxiety, the worthless little problem that I had been struggling with. And that is why in our ohagi
live performances, it’s the people in the audience that are important for us, they are the main characters.
The performance art called ota-gei
(performances by idol otaku audiences) is what you can call a form of cheering, or cheer leading, and you can also call it an expression of love. That is why I want to cheer for the audience, who are the important main characters, and that is why I want to get them excited. I want to show them that I am working with all my heart and soul so I can say, “Hey, we’re gonna show you a performance more exciting than anything you’ve seen before!” If we were just trying to bring ordinary half-hearted ota-gei
to the stage, it would end up being little more that the “See this dance cover I did” clips that video upload sites like Niconico (nicovideo.jp) are full of. That’s not what we want. Instead, I arrived at a working method where, true to my hard-working nature, I do all the research I can, train [our members] thoroughly and build our physical abilities so we can show ota-gei
as solid, well regimented group performance, with military-like discipline, and keep updating our repertoire with new material.
When you were at college in 2008 you formed the performance group “Banana Gakuen Junjo Otome-gumi” (Banana academy pure-hearted girls group) and at first you had Norihito Nakayashiki, who was also an Oberlin University graduate write your stage script.
I think it was in the spring of my third year of university. I had been active mostly outside the university so I thought that before I graduated I decided to do something of an ordinary [theater] type at the university with some of the few friends I had on campus. When I was in high school, I had once directed a short play and I thought I wanted to try directing again. But, I didn’t have any desire to write the script, so I thought it would be more exciting to do what I could to break apart an interesting play, so I called up Nakayashiki-san and asked him to write something for me.
At the time, the students at our university were only doing what from my point of view was uninteresting student theater. So my intention was to parade a show of my dark history as a student there with the Net idol stuff and the sub-culture stuff I had been involved in that none of the other students knew about as contents for one theater piece before I made my exit from the school. The concept was to have a woman who had reached adulthood [age 20 in Japan] sing and dance still wearing her high school uniform and then excuse away the embarrassing results, saying, “It’s OK. It’s just the script. It’s just the rashness of youth.” But, in the process I got into the fun of directing and I felt that I had found the place I wanted to be. I felt that I had grasped something, and two months later I did a second performance.
Why did your activities then take the form of ohagi live performances?
As an added attraction for that performance we decided to an “ohagi
live” performance event. But Nakayashiki-san’s script was so late in coming that most of our rehearsal time was spent working on the ohagi
live performance and the quality of it began to improve. As it did, I got the desire to make it a really strong performance and my directing got stricter and more demanding.
In simple terms what “ohagi live” means is taking underground idol performance and student protests and Takarazuka musical review Yoshimoto Shinkigeki comedy and the dividing them by four while stripping away the meaning in each of them (laughs). As for the style, the image is taking ani-son
(anime songs) and idol songs and playing them at high speed as loud noise and, while you are bombarded with this information overload, about 30 actors perform all at once with single-minded concentration and in precise order, and from all of this a story emerges.
Partly because I was tired of the average theater performances I saw around me, I was beginning to feel that this kind of performance made me feel more alive. Rather than theater that evokes déjà vu, I thought it felt better to create a well-ordered uproar full of energy.
That is a great expression you used, that it made you “feel more alive.” So, you felt that rather than devoting yourself to theatrical drama, it suited you better to put your heart and soul into 40 minutes of live performance.
Yes. And also, at first I had been leaving the script and the music up to other people, and although it would a lot of work to do it all myself, I realized that it would be faster and many times more fun to do it by myself. During my Banana Gakuen period I had other people make the base sound and music for us, but even when I explained my intentions to them, it still never came out like I had imagined. And it was frustrating to think that I still had to use it because they had made it for me. Finally I got fed up and after we started Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker I began doing all the music recordings by myself. But it was my first time making a soundtrack, so I bought a Mac computer and learned how to use its GarageBand and PCDJ software and then made it from scratch.
By the way, what is the meaning of the name “ohagi live”?
I’m sure there isn’t really any meaning. A long time ago I had a motto that went “ohagi wa nodogoshi
” (literally translatable as an ohagi [rice ball with sweet-bean coating] goes down well). But I couldn’t really answer when people asked me what it meant, and I didn’t even like ohagi that much (laughs). So, I just used it for the name “ohagi live” performance without any particular reason. It might as well have been “Toco live” or such.
What about the reasons for your group names “Banana Gakuen Junjo Otome-gumi” and “Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker”?
They are long stories, but when I put together things that I liked, that’s just how they came out (laughs). I like bananas, and since I was going to be doing performance at the academy (Gakuen
) I was attending, it became Banana Gakuen. And, since I wanted to give it a feeling of purity, I chose junjo
(pure feelings/emotions), and then I chose it end it with “Otome-gumi
” (girls/maidens group) even though there were also male members, because I wanted the feeling that this would be made up of a group of women working and creating together. It was the same with “Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker.” When I put together things that I like, this was the odd mix that came out.
In 2012, you dissolved your group Banana Gakuen and the following year you started activities again as the group Miss [Revolutionary Idol] Berserker. With Miss Berserker you do auditions to choose new members for each production, but what kind of people remain as your core members? Are some of them people who were with you in Banana Gakuen?
Masami Kato and I were classmates at Oberlin University, and in our freshman year we were in the same English class. I think it was in one of the classes that she said she was interested in doing production work. So, when we started Banana Gakuen she came to join us as a company member. Since then she has stayed with me, saying that the things I do are interesting, regardless of whether its theater or not. She is a tremendously responsible and dependable person. Normally she participates as an actor in our performances too, but she continues to do the production work along with our producer, Ryo Kabasawa. She is someone I talk to when I want advice.
Also there is the actress Amanda Waddell. She is from Houston [in the USA] and from the time she was a child she like the Japanese anime Sailor Moon
. This anime is now commonly popular in countries around the world, but she says that when she was in high school people teased her about it and even bullied her [for what people thought were her weird taste in comics]. She majored in Japanese studies at a university in Los Angeles and there she found people who shared her interests for the first time. So, she is really knowledgeable about Japanese theater and playwrights like Shuji Terayama. She came to Tokyo after graduating from college and was working as a volunteer staff member for Festival/Tokyo when she saw one of our Banana Gakuen performances and came to us and said, “My life changed with a bang!” [after seeing our performance]. And, when I sent her an email saying that we were starting the new group Miss Berserker, she answered, “I want to do it, I really want to help out.”
Then there is Eri Takamura, who was an underclasswoman at our college and has been a performer with us since Banana Gakuen. She doesn’t have any specialized skill but no one like ohagi live more than her. She used to be a ban-gya
(band girl), so no one can do “idol android” movement like her. She got a full-time job once, but when we were putting together Miss Berserker and I invited her to join us, she said, “I’ll follow you, Toko-san for the rest of my life,” and she quit her job (laughs).
Usually we have between 20 and 30 performers in one production, including these three strong core members I have just mentioned, while the rest are the people who gather for the audition, of which we basically accept them all, so we have quite a variety of different people performing. Considering the fact that our ohagi live performances are physically very demanding, we would naturally have the option of choosing dancers, but I prefer to use actors. That is because I think of our ohagi live performances as theater with stories to tell. I would love to have the wonderful bodies of dancers, but more important than that is that I want to have the emotional qualities and the capability for raw, if inexperienced, power of expression. That is why we gather actors, plus office workers, part-timers, housewives high school students, so we have people with a variety of identities and backbones.
With such a mixed group of performers, how do you go about creating an ohagi live performance?
First of all I begin by conducting a voluminous survey with questionnaires. I ask people a lot of questions, about their upbringing, how they live, where they were born, how they have lived until now, the makeup of their families, what clubs they were in at school, their special skills, hobbies, dark history, the biggest trauma they have suffered, the biggest inspirations they have experienced, if they have a musical instrument, if it can be used on stage, if there is anything they have done before that could be used as part of the stage composition (story), what idols they like, what music, what books they like, their ambitions… I ask them a tremendous number of questions. Then I write the plot and choose the music and I through everything together on stage: the backbone that makes each person the person they are. Because, even in people who have no significant voice in society, even people who may be of the common ranks, each one has culture, old and new, East and West, each has an identity and each has something they want to say. All of this is culture, and each person has an existence and wants to be loved with a soul, and wants to shout, “I love you.” I want to thrust this whole heap of being at the audience, who in the end are the main characters of our performances.
One ohagi live piece is about 20 minutes long medley and I sample together clips from about 50 pieces of music, mixing and linking them together with lengths of as short as three seconds for some pieces of music and at longest about one minute of the original piece. I use not only anime songs and idol songs but also J-Pop music, Korean music, classical music and film soundtracks. I select from around 200 pieces, taking the most delicious parts and serving them up in the best way. Then, I take the soundtrack that I have created in this way to fit the piece’s story concept and have the performers listen to it while I explain all about the scenes and their concepts.
Then we enter the rehearsal stage, and I begin by drawing what amounts to [performer] formation plans. We draw lines of the rehearsal studio floor and mark the positions of the microphone stands and then decide placement of the movements around them. Every time, for every piece and every scene, the formations change and, for example, I decide that a group performing in the audience area will be waving flags and a group up here will be waving fans, a group over here will be doing idol dance. And then I tell the performers why a particular action or movement and a stage prop are necessary for the story. These things aren’t allowed to be done at random; they are done in a controlled way with a consciousness of the mutual states/actions of all the performers coordinated.
Do you do the choreography for all of the groups?
I do some of the choreography but more often it is decided within the individual groups by the actors themselves. The actors are always speaking or calling out or singing; they are always words coming out of their mouths. Perhaps none of contents of what they are saying reaches the audience, but the important thing is that when their mouths are closed they lose facial expression, so even if what they are saying isn’t heard, I want them always to be saying something. In this way we make countless scenes.
We assign a leader in each group, and that leader controls its movement. In that way we make movement by group and they show it to me, and then we proceed to make adjustment after adjustment.
Also, I send a lot of emails to the performer mailing list. It is absolutely necessary to read the emails concerning your own parts, but it is equally important to read the emails about the other groups’ parts so that you understand what is going on in the entire space. There is so much that needs to be known, about where the wires are and where the props are and where to take off your uniforms, etc. The rehearsal period for one live performance is usually about a month and a half.
Do you have basic training in dance movement or physical expression for the performers to do?
Before they enter the formal rehearsals with me, the performers do what you could call basic training in the movements of ota-gei
(otaku audience performance) that are necessary for ohagi live performances. There are a variety of [movement] combinations in ota-gei, and each of the movements has a name; things like “OAD” or “romance.” During the formal rehearsals I will be giving directions like, “8×2 romances and then the OAD comes in,” so they have to memorized the minimum basic knowledge and movements and their names.
And, for people who have never performed in front of an audience before, we do games that give them a sense of the way ota-gei is performed and the sharpens their sense of rhythm. Even when there is no one directing them, we always have basic training routines that the first-time performers do themselves with the company members.
Since the launch of Miss Berserker, you yourself don’t perform in the ohagi live performance anymore, do you?
Before, with Banana Gakuen I had to be the one leading the embarrassing ill-mannered parts that were the leftovers of my Net idol days. But after the change to Miss Berserker, I have concentrated fully on the directing and haven’t been performing. I don’t want to show the audiences performance that isn’t worthy of being seen, I have stopped performing and instead I have focused on doing everything I can to support the performers, because I believe it is best to work on making the pieces better. I don’t think I will be performing anymore.
You use video to create your stage spaces. What meaning do the videos have for your work?
From the beginning with Banana Gakuen, I think I used video more than most, but since the change to Miss Berserker we have gotten rid of all stage art and used only white sheet backdrops. At first it was just one surface of white sheeting, but now we use three or four surfaces. There are the bodies, there is video, there is lighting and props, and we make water fall on the stage. I would say that what I want to do is to use speed to take the audience outside of time. I want things to move faster than the speed that audience understanding can keep up with, because I want the kind of exhilaration that has them saying, “What was that?” when they leave the theater. So, I want to use everything I can to do that, and as a result I use video more and more. From our early days we have had Ryuta Yaguchi do our video, and since there is still a lot we can do, I want us to do things like projection mapping.
Watching Miss Berserker performances, despite the way they embody the latest trends in Japanese culture, I feel also feel something nostalgic in them.
I am trying to create an explosion of the culture that is Japan. If I don’t do that then I feel we can’t depict our real selves living in Tokyo in 2015. Our lives are being filled with a growing number television stations, newspapers, magazines, millions of websites, smartphones, Twitter and lots more, so there is no way we can see or absorb all of this huge confusion of information around us. I recreate this world by presenting a chaotic space with too much going on for the audience to absorb.
After seeing this chaotic space, I’m sure that the audience will only remember a few things from it. So, I think this is also a reflection of the consume-and-throw-away orientation of the society we live in. There is just too much information out there, so it feels like it is just blowing past us. Knowing that no matter how many interesting things there are going on in the world we can’t connect with it all leaves us with feelings of regret and emptiness. But, on the other hand, there is an emerging trend among those of us who give up the idea of trying to understand it all and say, “It’s OK.” It is this big knot of contemporary life that I want to try to express.
That is why I want to connect to a wide variety of things without discrimination or rules about what I choose. I of course go to see straight theater performances, but I also go to musicals, watch video clips on the Niconico website and others, I go to museums, look at photograph collections, art and visually-oriented live [music] performances. Since I also like things that are sullied or dark in nature, I see all kinds of things, old and new, East and West, regardless of era, be it science or the occult, anything that I think I might be able to use in our performance, and I take notes about what I see every day.
In you fast-paces performances where we aren’t sure who is who, there is also a kind of anonymity that also seems to me to be symbolic of contemporary life.
In Japan today, there is a unique emergence of something that might be described a “amateurism” in which the users themselves do things like making Hatsune Miku (humanoid persona) clips and Niconico video clips to share with each other, with the result that there is a lot of authorless (anonymous) creation going on. In our ohagi live performances there is a lot of as yet unnamed culture and emotions or what you might call raw material dancing unconsciously around and charging forward with a feeling of what seems to be excess. But, if we don’t talk about the things we do in our own words, it will be as if they don’t exist. However, we won’t know until tomorrow what in fact it was that we did. So, we can only leave that to tomorrow and continue the berserk dash of our lives with love, and taking a positive attitude toward this dash of life. What our ohagi live performances mean to me is ignoring the anxiety and uncertainty of our life and times and continuing in search of the desire for exhilarating moments that make you feel the thrill of being alive.
With all the diverse types of [artistic and personal] expression we see around us today, why do you choose the format of “theater” (staged plays/drama) for your activities?
It is because, although in the theaters where plays are traditionally performed, there is separation between the stage and the audience seating that perhaps renders the audience powerless, but when that separation is dissolved to a minimum, there can be tremendous potential for emotional cleansing, or catharsis. When we are on stage showering the audience with our ota-gei, or even if we spray water on them or throw tofu or wakame seaweed at them, they remain seated within the confines of the small chairs for us and restrain themselves without trying to flee. At a club for live performance, the audience tends to become one with the stage and will often cheer spontaneously at things they like, but in a theater it is not easy for the audience to be drawn in and get involved, and they naturally try their best to maintain their position as audience, as the ones who are being cheered on.
Then, at the end we try our best to reverse the position of the people who had been the audience until that point and get them to come up on stage, even if we have to do it almost by forcibly. We tell them they should come up on stage because they are the main characters and our performance is all about them. At that moments there may be a variety of emotions ready to come to the surface, some my want to cry, some to laugh, some may feel annoyed or frustrated. I feel that is like a flood of information and I want to receive it all, and with the people who feel a bit embarrassed and are barely able to make themselves come up on stage, I want to take that emotion and to the best possible, the most enjoyable state of mind. That can become a sublimation of the complex that the member of an audience has, feeling that they can’t belong on stage. After the all-out brawl of give and take between the stage and the audience, what waits at the end is a blessing and affirmation for all, actors and audience alike without discrimination. Because having the audience come up on stage becomes an affirmation of all human beings, I say we should all face and embrace each other with all our heart and mind and spirit. But, saying it this way makes it sound a bit grandiose and exaggerated, doesn’t it? (Laughs)
In short, I want to do the kind of things that ‘makes people’s lives change with a bang.’ I don’t want people to be bored for even a second. Since I believe that people are only really moved by things that contain an element of surprise of revelation, it may be that I am simply packing our performances with things that are extreme, things that are over the edge and things that are bursting with energy.
Your latest performance was “we-lu-ka-mu★2015 – Kakumei no Yoake” (Welcome 2015 – Dawn of the Revolution). What was it like in terms of contents?
Since it was performed at the New Year, it was full of seasonal contents, with acting out of traditional New Year’s Kakizome
(first calligraphy writing of the year) and use of New Year’s songs and bringing out a shrine torii
gate. At first I had only intended it to be a first event of the year, but as I wrote it began to take on more of a narrative aspect than usual. It made references to George Orwell’s 1984
(a novel about a near-future world controlled by a mysterious “Big Brother”) superimposed with the group Denki Groove’s song “Dare Da!” while working in scenes from Salomé
and using the Boys Town Gang song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and poignant music like Akiko Yano’s song “Shiawase na Bakatare
” that was used as the theme song of the movie Kantoku Shikkaku
. In the end, the story reaches its climax with the birth of an idol named Hatsune Miku and a dawn of revolution. An explanation like this doesn’t really convey much though (laughs).
In contrast to the chaotic performances you have done until know, this sounds like it was composed more as a play involving a number of characters and storylines.
Yes, it was. However, despite the chaos, my pieces until now have also been structured around a story of sorts, because without that narrative element, I can’t connect the flow of the music. Why do I use this song? Why does this action go with this song? If I don’t have reasons that are convincing to me, I can’t explain it to the actors either. In that way it is the same as in a straight play; there is a script, and the performance, formation, choreography and music were all part of the stage script. But, this time you could say that there was a main character and the center was mostly firm and I brought in elements that depicted something like the rise and fall of that character. In this way, I think this latest work represents a turning point for me. And, I’m brushing up about 50 to 60% of it to take with us for our performances in Germany and Austria this year.
You also did overseas tours in 2013 and 2014. What was the response like?
To begin with, the audiences came not knowing anything about Miss Berserker (laughs), so the audience included young and old, men and women, and even babies and grandfathers and grandmothers. For our overseas performances we always hand out plastic rainwear and ear plugs to the audience, and there were people that started walking away as soon as they heard the preset music start (laughs). It was evident that people had clear likes and dislikes.
Of course there was also the language barrier, so in Germany, for example, we write things on boards in German for the audience to read. We had our member Amanda speaking to the audience in English, while our Japanese members used broken sentences and gestures to communicate with the audience. While mostly we shower the audience with anime songs, idol acts and other aspects of Japanese subculture, we also include some local elements that the audience can relate to in the composition.
What I worried about the most was at the end of the performance when we have the audience come up on stage and intermix with our actors, but I was delighted to see how easily the audiences responded and joined in; they are very quick to come up on stage. Once on stage we kissed, some began ballroom dancing, some picked up the props lying around and shouted “Yea!” as they lifted them high in the air. In that way I think it was very well received.
You are also expanding your activities to new areas through things like your relationship with the visual artists Kyun-chome (the 17th Okamoto Taro Contemporary Arts Award winning man-woman duo of Eri Honma and Nabuchi).
The Kyun-chome duo is of my same age and it was just a matter of my being a fan of their work. But when we happened to meet by chance and I approached them, they said they like Miss Berserker, so I invited them to take part in one of our performances as guest performers. Now, they say that they want to use some of our Miss Berserker members to do a video work, and we are now getting ideas together.
I also created an ohagi live with elementary students in Osaka recently. It was tremendously interesting and fun. They use the Osaka Kansai dialect and are verbally so adroit. Of course, with that performance too, I did my questionnaire survey and sprayed water around. It made me feel that I wanted to do workshops with people of different age groups and people overseas. When I think about it, the window of possibilities for Miss Berserker is very wide-open. It’s because, we have a huge amount of potent things to work with in idol and anime songs and ota-gei. I want to use everything available to me and take on all kinds of new challenges.