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In Session: Art & Politics of the Social Body in Japan
Countdown, Meltdown: The Political Voice in Fukushima Musical Theater
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Bates College, United States
After the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, there was pressure against expressing negative feelings about the nuclear accident and recovery in affected areas. Many creative works have addressed nuclear contamination, but metropolitan areas, especially Tokyo, have been dominant in crafting post-meltdown narratives on a national scale. However, there are extremely important voices to be heard in Fukushima. Playwright Satō Shigenori and his Fukushima-based theater troupe Unit Rabbits have staged original musical comedies addressing the crisis from a local perspective, first for local audiences in Fukushima, and later touring to Tokyo. The choice of musical theater as medium is crucial to the political goals of the troupe. This form presents layered, simultaneous voices that model collective expressions of anger tied to embodied regional identity and group political action in ways that have been discouraged in discourse and everyday life. Using a contiguity of identity on and off stage through an approach I call “borderless performance,” Satō uses the power of particular, local voices to craft incisive critiques of national politics and narratives that resist appropriation. Musical theater is a promising space to work through temporal trauma and to nurture and express community-making processes that are part of collective trauma claims. Informed by scholarship on polyphony, opera, and performance, this presentation investigates how Satō’s plays strategically use synchronous voices to critique an overwhelming nationalized voice through the organization, rehearsal, and communicatoin of individual and group experience.