Stage Whispers: Reflections on Theater in Film, Inspired by “Drive My Car” Part 2

by Earl Jackson

In Half 1 I sketched a short cinema-historical survey of Chekov in Japanese cinema, as a background for a extra direct appreciation of “Drive My Automotive” right here in Half 2. Staying with the give attention to theater, I’ll take into account three elements of the movie’s construction and inside dynamics: the orchestration of voices, “Uncle Vanya”, and Noh. Ryusuke Hamaguchi appears to inhabit a universe much like that of Patricia Highsmith – one composed of seemingly random particulars whose significance will depend on the sort of consideration paid to them. When Yusuke asks the dramaturg Gong Yoon-soo (Jin Dae-yeon) why he had discovered Japanese, Yoon-soo replied that as a graduate pupil he had studied Noh at Waseda College for 2 years. This might additionally clarify why he was so within the experimental model of “Uncle Vanya” they had been rehearsing (on the extent of plot) and would supply a key to the unconventional independence of voices from their speaker (on the extent of illustration).

The interface between plot and construction I’m suggesting right here will turn into clearer with another detour: a studying of the climactic scene from an earlier movie, “The Ceiling at Utsunomiya” [怪異宇都宮釣天井] (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1956). Though the 2 movies mentioned in Half One shared references to Chekov, Nakagawa’s movie truly is nearer to “Drive My Automotive” in structural innovation, in that it additionally presents the dialogue of an earlier theater piece concurrently because it had been carried out and in contexts that give it one other stage of meanings altogether.

“The Ceiling at Utsunomiya” is a hybrid genre- each jidaigeki and thriller. Set within the fiefdom of Utsunomiya, it focuses on a posh assassination plot in opposition to the Shogun Iemitsu (Yōichi Numata). In making ready for the shogun’s go to, the daimyo has commissioned a military of carpenters, engineers, and stone cutters to create a mechanically-powered suspended ceiling in a big banquet room, wherein the shogun and his entourage will likely be entertained. After eating, the shogun will likely be invited to stay within the room for a folk-dance efficiency, throughout which period the ceiling will likely be lowered and the suspending bonds launched, sending each the ceiling and tons of rock down on each meant and collateral victims.

The Shogun’s spies, nevertheless, uncover the plot and are capable of head the Shogun off, urging him to go by Utsunomiya to security in Nikko, however the Shogun insists on visiting as deliberate. As soon as within the lethal corridor, when his hosts are about to retreat, the shogun proclaims that as a substitute of watching a efficiency, he’ll carry out himself and orders his hosts to stay as he, alongside together with his refrain, carry out the kusemai – a standard dance within the finale of the warrior Noh play, “Kiyotsune”. The hosts don’t have any selection, and the strain they really feel is underscored by the crosscutting between the Shogun’s efficiency and the mechanism above the ceiling, the place one of many carpenters is pressured at swordpoint to set the lethal descent into movement.

Like a lot of the warrior Noh performs, this one offers with a member of the Heike, the shedding facet of Genpei civil warfare between the Taira and Minamoto clans. However Taira Kiyotsune is an uncommon determine, as a result of he didn’t die in battle, however dedicated suicide by throwing himself within the ocean. Within the first half of the play, Kiyotsune’s spouse confronts his ghost along with her anger at his loss of life. He apologizes to her and explains his resolution to die, and describes the Ashura hell he had fallen in earlier than attaining Buddhahood. Ashura is a hell of perpetual combating for warriors who died in battle (so technically Kiyotsune shouldn’t have been there). In that hell, the ghost sees each atypical side of the pure world as a threatening enemy. In his testimony to his spouse, Kiyotsune sees double: each the pure world and the way the delusion reworked it. In performing the kusemai, the Shogun doubles the double imaginative and prescient whereas putting the reality elsewhere. When Kiyotsune sees the world as enemy troopers, it’s a delusion; when the Shogun performs “Kiyotsune” -he sees the gorgeous corridor as a lethal weapon and his hosts as his would-be killers – and that’s utterly correct.

The language of Noh is extremely allusive, utilizing pivot phrases (kakekotoba) and puns primarily based on homonyms. Whereas the Chinese language characters might repair the that means on the web page, the recitation destabilizes the meanings into a number of interpretations. Within the desk under I excerpt a few of the traces from the kusemai, and supply each literal stage and secondary stage meanings. The ultimate line, I argue, has an added that means particularly within the efficiency throughout the movie that it might not have within the unique Noh.

Traces from “Kiyotsune” Translation
さて修羅道におちこちの…Sate shuradō ni ochikochi no “I’ve fallen into the Asura Hell” *Ochikochi – is each “have fallen” and “right here and there” [connects with next line] (Fig.1)
立つ木は敵Tazuki wa kataki 雨は矢先。ame wa yasaki The standing bushes are enemies  And the raindrops are suggestions of arrows
Tsuki wa seiken 山は鉄城。yama wa tetsujō
The moon is a gleaming sword  The mountain an iron citadel
雲の旗手をついてKumo no hatate o tsuite Which means 1: Arriving on the far ends of the clouds. Which means 2: The clouds are battle flags A dagger pierces
げにも心は清経がGeni ni mo kokoro wa kiyotsune ga Which means 1. In reality the guts is purified [kiyo] Which means 2. In reality the guts,  Kiyotsune
仏果を得しこそ有難けれBukka o eshi koso arigatakere. Which means 1. has attained Buddha hood [and am grateful] Which means 2 [in film only] :  I’ve discovered the weapon!*

Fig. 1. “I’ve fallen into Ashura Hell.”

The scene is structured managed and maintained throughout the kusemai of Kiyotsune.  A kusemai is a hard and fast construction and its actions are the identical throughout all performs, due to this fact each the size of time the Shogun takes and the gestures are acknowledged components of the dance grammar (Fig 2).

Fig.2 “The standing bushes right here and there are enemies. The raindrops suggestions of arrows”

The stress right here is enhanced by a data of the play and particularly by a data of the conventions of the dance itself.   Moreover, the factors at which the dancer will brandish the sword, and the place and when he’ll level it are additionally mounted, thus the gestures of the Shogun are directly deliberate and actually pointing at his actual enemies and easily dictated by the sample of the kusemai (Fig. 3). This doubled that means is in flip doubled by intercutting with what is going on above the ceiling: the shogun pointing his sword on the daimyo is intercut with the conspirator’s sword threatening the hapless carpenter on the winch (Fig.4).

Fig. 3. Pointing the sword on the conspirator.

 Fig. 4. The henchmen pointing the sword on the carpenter.

Instantly after the ultimate observe within the kusemai is sounded, the ceiling begins to break down. The Shogun dodges the stones and captures his devious hosts (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. “Kiyotsune has attained Buddhahood”/ “I’ve discovered the weapon.”

In fact, as a efficiency custom, Noh can be troublesome to check with the European realist theater that Chekov exemplifies. Within the Noh play, Kiyotsune solely sings two of the traces within the kusemai – the remaining is sung by the refrain, alternating fluidly between first-person and third-person. On Chekov’s stage, every actor turns into the character they painting, and every character represents a single, psychologically coherent particular person. On a Noh stage, a persona is evoked. Whether or not or not it’s Kiyotsune, Ariwara no Narihira, of Yamaba, the persona is generated by the whole configuration of important performer (the shite), the refrain, the music, and many others.. The mode of being of that persona is nearer to music than to a person – evoked to dissipate on the conclusion, recalling Jean-Paul Sartre’s query in “L’Imaginaire” in regards to the “existence” and site of Beethoven’s “Seventh Symphony” – that it’s neither within the rating nor a selected instrument within the orchestra however solely briefly current (as an occasion) through the efficiency.

When it comes to “Drive my Automotive”, nevertheless, this absolute distinction between Noh and western drama solely holds for the efficiency of “Uncle Vanya”. The movie devotes way more time to the preparation for the efficiency, and in that, the similarities are suggestive. Within the Noh, “Kiyotsune” is a product of the voices that flow into. And in “Drive my Automotive,” the voices additionally flow into – among the many actors in rehearsal and most importantly, in his spouse Oto’s (Reika Kirishima) voice taking all components however Vanya on the tapes Yusuke listens to and responds to. The excerpts from the play out of context turn into commentary within the new context of Yusuke’s life and silences. Each Nakagawa’s and Hamaguchi’s movies hinge on a “plot machine” that every movie first literalizes after which transforms it right into a car for a further stage of that means: each the rigged ceiling and the cassette tape are machines, however their makes use of contain the creation of a second narrative stage in Nakagawa’s movie and a flexible know-how of subjectivity in Hamaguchi’s.

On the best way to Narita airport, Yusuke begins as Vanya: “Nobody understands how I’m feeling. My anger and frustration make sleep not possible. I wasted a lot of my life. I might have attained a lot extra. Now at this age, it’s no use.” His complaints are met with disapproval from each Sonia and Vanya’s mom, in Oto’s voice. Yusuke’s utterance can also be contradictory in that he’s convincing as a result of he’s an achieved actor so his supply itself is proof of the achievements his phrases deny. However, the highly effective supply of the traces stays as have an effect on unbiased of who spoke them or why: the traces convey an actual feeling untethered to an identifiable speaker. Because the movie progresses, nevertheless, conditions contextualize unintended meanings of Chekov’s dialogue delivered each by Yusuke and by Oto’s disembodied voice.

The primary such transformation of dialogue comes from Yusuke’s latest historical past, moderately than his previous. An early scene recollects “All About Eve”, when Yusuke is in his dressing room after a efficiency of “Ready for Godot”, when Oto brings in a younger actor, Takatsuki Kōji (Masami Okada ) who gushes like Eve Harrington, and later proves to be simply as monstrous, albeit in several methods. Whereas Harrington’s ambition preempted a conscience and the capability for empathy, Takatsuki’s crammed his vacancy with appetites he fails to manage (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Oto introduces admiring actor Kōji Takatsuki to Yusuke.

Returning unexpectedly from Narita airport the day his flight to Russia was postponed, Yusuke walks into his house to seek out his spouse and Takatsuki having intercourse. The trauma is figured as a disassociation: the shot reveals not Yusuke, however his reflection watching (Fig. 7) He leaves unseen and returns to the airport and by no means tells his spouse that he had been there.

Fig.7. The reflection appears on within the mirror’s silence.

 What he sees gives a brand new context for his dialogue with the Uncle Vanya tape on the best way house per week later.

Yusuke: For 25 years he has been pretending to be somebody that he isn’t. Strutting round like a prince.

Oto’s voice [as Dr. Astrov]: You appear envious of him.

Yusuke: I’m very envious. His file with ladies. I doubt Don Juan himself would have had extra motion.

Whereas Yusuke’s utterance within the earlier excerpt is affectively highly effective, the imposition of context within the second is vital by way of Hamaguchi’s ethics. Hamaguchi’s earlier work evinces not solely a perception within the voice however within the absolute significance of recognizing who’s talking. That is strongest and poignant within the Tohoku Tsunami documentary trilogy he codirected with Ko Sakai:  “The Sound of Waves” (2012); “Voices from the Waves” (2013) and  “Storytellers” (2013).  On this trilogy, Hamaguchi and Sakai transfer from the traditional interview format to pairing survivors to speak to one another about their shared and divergent experiences – these dialogues represent a novel testimony, as does the third movie wherein folks from Miyagi prefecture inform folks tales within the wealthy and complexly rough-hewn Miyagi dialect. In fact, the fictional Yusuke’s private dilemma doesn’t attain the extent of tragedy or dignity of the real-life survivors of the disaster in Tohoku. As an alternative, Yusuke’s state of affairs permits the twin meanings of Chekov’s dialogue a readability each on stage and within the automotive.

Who speaks is painfully important within the subsequent excerpt because it begins with Oto’s voice as Dr. Astrov asking, “Is she devoted to him?” Yūsuke’s reply is Vanya’s reply, however the meanings of the phrases are utterly reversed:

Yūsuke: Sure, sadly

Oto’s voice [as Astrov]: Why do you say sadly?

Yūsuke: As a result of that girl’s faithfulness is fake from starting to finish.

Wealthy in rhetoric however devoid of logic. (Fig. 8)

Fig. 8. “Was she devoted to him?” “Sure, sadly.”

From a superficial view, if the query of faithfulness refers to Oto, the reply can be “no”. However Yūsuke is satisfied of Oto’s love and her dedication to their togetherness. “Faithlessness” is inapplicable, which, alternatively, retains Yūsuke from both confronting Oto or absolutely acknowledging his emotions of betrayal, to not point out his concern that talking along with her about it might endanger their full togetherness that has not been threatened by her extramarital sexual experiences. Simply as Vanya modifications the worth of “faithfulness”, Yūsuke redefines and rejects “unfaithfulness”.

Yūsuke drives round for hours to keep away from the dialog that Oto requested to have, fearing that he might have to listen to her converse of “unfaithfulness”. The dialogues he practices as he lastly approaches the house and parks are particularly fraught.

Yūsuke: My life is misplaced and gone with none approach of retrieving it.

This concept plagues me evening and day like a satan. . . . What ought to I do a bout my life and my love? (Fig. 9)

Oto [as Helena]: Whenever you converse to me of your love, I develop numb and don’t know the right way to reply you.

Fig. 9. “What ought to I do about my life and love?”

As soon as Yusuke has parked, he practices Vanya’s ultimate despair and listen to Sonia’s lengthy comfort in Oto’s voice, not understanding that he’s about to lose Oto ceaselessly when he enters the house.

Yusuke: I’m struggling. I want you knew how a lot I undergo.

Oto’s voice [as Sonia]: It will probably’t be helped. There may be nothing for it however to reside our lives. . . We’ll reside via the lengthy, lengthy days and infinite nights. With persistence we are going to reside via the trials in retailer for us [Yusuke puts in eye drops] . . .When our time has come, we are going to go away quietly [the eye drops run down his cheek like a tear]. (Fig. 10)

Yusuke listens to the ultimate speech in its entirety. The attention drops giving the looks of crying underscores the simultaneous occasion of performing a fictional function and struggling in actual life, made extra ironic as he’s about to find the lady whose voice is prompting him [Oto] and pretending to consolation him [as Sonia] is lifeless.

Fig. 10. “We suffered. . . . We cried.”

The subsequent important type of the circulation of the voice is available in a sound bridge on the finish of Oto’s funeral. Yusuke maintains his composure when he sees Takatsuki on the funeral, however when he silently returns his bow after it’s over, he appears to sentence himself within the voiceover with a line that beforehand appeared to check with Takatsuki: “For 25 years he has pretended to be somebody he’s not”. This now appears to refer each to Yusuke’s career as an actor and his refusal to debate Oto’s sexual infidelities.

Fig. 11. Dealing with Takatsuki on the funeral.

Fig. 12. “For 25 years he has pretended to be somebody he’s not”.

This line, nevertheless, is a sound bridge to the subsequent scene with Yusuke on stage as Uncle Vanya in a full manufacturing of the play (Fig. 13). Now the voices have been positioned in three-dimensional our bodies and the person types of struggling and lament are restored to their unique characters.

Fig. 13. The voices restored to the characters.

The play, nevertheless, continues to complicate the relation between Yusuke and his function. On this efficiency he omits traces he had already rehearsed within the automotive with the tape, and he breaks down and walks again stage to recuperate (Fig. 14).

Fig. 14. Struggling Backstage.

The opposite complication arises on the extent of the movie’s presentation, which considers not solely the relation of Yusuke to Vanya, however the relation of Hidetoshi Nishijima to each. In “The Ceiling at Utsunomiya”, the Shogun speaks to his would-be killers via the phrases of the ghost of Kiyotsune (each in traces he sings himself and people of the refrain) and thus stays the Shogun and the conduit for the Kiyotsune persona. However the actor Yōichi Numata was a western-style movie actor and never skilled in Noh- he solely discovered the dance for the function, and imitated a Noh actor. Equally, Shotaro Hanayanagi (1894-1965) was mainly a Shinpa (New Faculty) theater actor who nonetheless performed a Kabuki actor in “Story of the Final Chrysanthemum” [残菊物語] (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) and a Noh actor in “The Tune Lantern” 歌行灯 (Mikio Naruse 1943). In each instances, the efficiency constitutes a gifted western-style actor approximating an artwork type not his personal. Though Ichikawa Raizo (1931-1969) had been adopted right into a Kabuki household and skilled and carried out in Kabuki, he left the theater for a distinguished profession as a movie actor. His Kabuki coaching couldn’t elevate Ichikawa’s try to carry out as a Noh actor in Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1960 remake of “The Tune Lantern” to something past an imitation. Nishijima, nevertheless, is similar sort of actor as Yusuke, and equally devoted and severe about his artwork. When Yusuke performs “Uncle Vanya” within the automotive, on stage, or in rehearsals, nevertheless, Nishijima can also be participating within the performing custom he has labored in for years. These sequences due to this fact, represent a posh configuration of efficiency and course of, artifice and actuality. The rehearsals with Nishijima as Yusuke directing, and the stage manufacturing with Yusuke each performing and directing, additionally resonate with the unique manufacturing of “Uncle Vanya” in 1898, which was directed by the legendary Konstantin Stanislavski, who additionally took the function of Dr. Androv.

The rehearsals and eventual staging of “Uncle Vanya” are set aside, not merely with the on-screen designation: “Two Years Later” however with the opening credit starting to run as Yusuke is driving to Hiroshima. When the opening credit interrupted “Blissfully Yours” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul 2002) a 3rd of the best way into the movie’s working time, it served partially as an alienation impact and partially as an analogy to the crossing of boundaries- between town and the forest and the Thai-Myanmar border. In “Drive My Automotive” the credit not solely retroactively recommend that the earlier 40 minutes had been a preface, however that each the brand new rehearsal area and the historic significance of Hiroshima represent, demand a heightened stage of dedication from each the onscreen figures and the spectator.

The rehearsals supply intense workout routines in an actor’s relation to the textual content. Yusuke’s insistence within the early levels that the actor shouldn’t carry out however merely learn the textual content recollects the regime Robert Bresson imposed on his “fashions” to permit an ineffable high quality to radiate from the person, uncompromised by theatrics. Every actor’s talking in their very own language would additionally encourage important variations to emerge.

Though it appears unlikely that Hamaguchi meant to infuse the stage with political allegories, the historical past of Japan in Asia makes such allegories a prepared choice. It’s onerous to miss the truth that two of the actors who’re foregrounded are from former Japanese colonies: Janice Chang (Sonia Yuan/Yuan Ziyun) from Taiwan and Park Yu-rim (Lee Yoo-na) from Korea. Nonetheless, Takatsuki’s sexual predation of Janice primarily serves as an exposition of his character and never a historic metaphor. Realizing that Yusuke had seen Janice in Takatsuki’s automotive the morning each had been late, Takatsuki hopes to clean issues over, however as so typically in with Hamaguchi’s characters, Takatsuki’s try to current a greater self-image solely uncovered his baser nature. Actually, the dialogue ends in a logical contradiction.

Takatsuki: I’m sorry about this morning.

Yusuke: It’s okay.

Takatsuki: I used to be solely advising her on her issues.

Yusuke: You say that, however you possibly can’t converse English or Chinese language. And she will be able to’t perceive Japanese.

Takatsuki: Sure. And for that cause, after all, in any case . . .

There isn’t any English translation that may seize the placid cynicism and full abdication of non-public accountability in Takatsuki’s final line: なので、結局… As soon as once more, Takatsuki revealed who he’s – a sort of pathological variation on the processes of discovery the actors interact within the rehearsals. It’s no accident that he masters the function of Vanya on the identical time he lastly should face the results of his darker impulses (Figs. 15-17).

Fig. 15. Takatsuki as Vanya makes an attempt homicide.

Fig. 16. Takatsuki drained by his efficiency.

Fig. 17. Takatsuki charged with, and admits to homicide.

Lee Yoo-na is a unique story altogether, and neither her Korean nationality nor historical past could be put aside on this case. A dancer whose profession was reduce brief by a private tragedy, Yoo-na determined to strive performing, delivering her traces via Korean Signal Language, as a result of she is mute.

Below colonial rule, Japanese language grew to become the official language of instructing in Korean school rooms, and college students caught talking Korean had been subjected to punishment. The historical past of Korean cinema additionally evinces a silencing related to the ability of Yoo-na’s efficiency. For instance, “Spring on the Korean Peninsula” [반도의 봄] (Lee Byong-il 1941) opens with a Korean language restaging of the beloved folks story of Chunghyang. It continues till somebody yells, “Minimize” when the scene reveals a movie studio. Your entire manufacturing crew speaks in Japanese, and the actors off set additionally converse Japanese in different social conditions all through the movie (Fig. 18).

Fig. 18a Chunhyang in Korean

Fig. 18b. Japanese-speaking manufacturing crew.

 “The Straits of Joseon” [조선해협] (Park Gi-chae 1943) options an aged Korean couple in mourning for his or her eldest son who died combating as a Japanese soldier and making ready to ship the second son off to warfare. Though the daddy is clearly a standard Korean mental, he, his spouse, and two surviving grownup kids converse solely in Japanese (Fig. 19).

Fig. 19. Why are they talking Japanese? Straits of Joseon (1943)

In adopting “sensible” work-arounds for non-Korean actors, even modern Korean cinema evinces a post-colonial imbalance. When the Taiwanese celebrity Chang Chen appeared in “Breath” [] ( Kim Ki-duk 2007), the script had his character reduce his personal throat earlier than his first scene, rending him silent for the complete movie (Fig. 20).

Fig. 20. Chang Chen, throat bandaged and silenced. “Breath”. 2008

 However, in “Dream” [미몽] (Kim Ki-duk 2008), Joe Odagiri, taking part in Jin, a carver of stamps in Seoul, speaks Japanese to everybody who merely understands him, together with Ran (Lee Na-young), a younger Korean girl who’s in peril of being killed by Jin’s desires (Fig. 21) (Satirically, the Korean title is “Candy Dream”, the title of a Colonial period Japanese melodrama whose various title is “Lullaby of Loss of life” [미몽 죽음의자장가] [Yang Ju-nam 1936].)

Fig. 21. Lee Na-young, pressured to grasp Odagiri Joe’s Japanese and reside out his desires. “Dream”. 2008.

From this angle, it’s already refreshing to listen to Janice Chang converse Mandarin and Ryu Jeong-eui (Ahn Hwi-tae) converse Korean within the Vanya rehearsals and on stage. However Yoo-na’s achievement is much more highly effective: a silenced Korean girl who speaks via her silence with an eloquence that actually surrounds the director and title character of the manufacturing. Yoo-na built-in her prowess as a dancer with the compelling gestural vivacity of her language – a language each ideographic and haptic, tactile and tremulous.

Yusuke first listened to Sonia’s monologue in Ota’s voice, within the storage earlier than he found her loss of life. On display screen, the automotive sat in a cement tomb-like cell, from which the disembodied voice gave her mournful try to console in describing life-long struggling and relaxation solely within the afterlife. Now, on stage, a therapeutic Yusuke has assumed the function of Vanya, and permits the brand new, embodied Sonia to enmesh him in her monologue – a language itself that’s corporeal and able to contact. Oto’s voice from the machine was a immediate to repeat a line. Sonia’s language can level (Fig. 22), can illustrate (Fig. 23), and may embrace (Fig 24). The manufacturing ends in that embrace accepting the darkness that enfolds the whole lot however the lamp nonetheless burning. And the movie ends with the open questions of survival and redemption throughout the mysteries of the self and its arts.

Fig. 22. “In that immense past, we are going to inform Him”

Fig. 23. “That life was onerous”

Fig. 24 “We will relaxation”


Devoted to the reminiscence of Professor Karen Brazell (1938-2012), who taught me about Noh, and a lot extra.



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