Humans Think from their Feet

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The Toga Seminar was held at the headquarters of Tadashi Suzuki, a theater director of global renown, at Toga Art Park in Toga Village, Toyama Prefecture. On the first day, participants observed rehearsals for Suzuki’s theater productions “Electra” (Hofmannsthal) and Kachi Kachi Yama (Osamu Dazai). During the evening program on the second day, Masachi Osawa and Hiroki Azuma interviewed Suzuki on his views concerning the issue of the body in his works.
The interviewers began by asking about the “Suzuki Method” that the director had developed for training actors, based on the feet and walking. After commenting that becoming a biped was the point at which humans diverged from apes, Osawa asked Suzuki why he focused on the feet. Suzuki explained that as humans have evolved, their separation from the ground has tended to increase. For the Japanese arts, the sensation of speaking to ancestral spirits in the ground was traditionally at the foundation of bodily sensations. Suzuki suggested that theater can present contemporary society with critical viewpoints by examining the relation between the body and the ground, as well as by investigating ancestry and history.
Afterwards, Azuma inquired about the role of the wheelchair, which appears frequently in Suzuki’s productions. While wheelchairs appear in these productions as a symbol of social illness, at the same time the actors themselves use them to move in superhuman ways and at ferocious speeds. Suzuki explained that when humans take foreign objects like wheelchairs and incorporate them into their own flesh, the structure of their entire body changes, creating a somesthetic shift. This is no different in operating a mechanical shovel or driving a car. Azuma noted that Suzuki’s line of inquiry resembles Jacques Derrida’s conception of écriture, and he also indicated the parallels between the idea of the “phantom limb,” where people who have lost a limb still feel as if they possess it, and the wheelchair in Suzuki’s productions.
Suzuki stated that he privileges “limitations” in both his own method and the use of wheelchairs. Beethoven, who lost his hearing, and the onnagata (male kabuki actors who play the role of women) both display the spirit of creativity in their ability to use their given limitations. Working in Toga Village, a place far removed from Tokyo, also serves as a limiting yet creative variable. In elaborating on the creative productivity of limitations, Suzuki referred to the spatial limitation of the theater located there, a repurposed home built in the gassho-zukuri architectural style that calls to mind Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. He then invited the participants to visit Toga Village again in the future.