Posts Tagged ‘Toshiki Okada’

Always Keeping Score: Baseball in Japan, South Korea, and the United States

Posted January 20th, 2016

Back in November, the World Baseball Softball Confederation—a recent merger of the older International Baseball and International Softball Federations—held the first ever Premier 12, an international baseball tournament featuring the twelve best-ranked national baseball teams from around the world. A replacement for previous international baseball tournaments, it was viewed by many as a bid by the WBSC for the inclusion of baseball/softball in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after the events were unceremoniously removed from the 2012 games, the first cuts from the Olympics since Polo in 1936. Of the twelve teams who competed in the Premier 12, Japan went in ranking number one and the US sat at number two. South Korea was ranked eighth of the twelve. So imagine the surprise when Korea unseated Japan during the semifinals with a last minute, come from behind four point rally, making the final score 4-3. [You can watch some highlights below. South Korea turns the tides around the three minute mark.]

To level with you, I have no particular interest in baseball. I had no idea that a) the Premier 12 was happening, b) there was an international baseball/softball governing body, and c) baseball/softball had been in/booted from the Olympics. Still, the South Korean victory struck me as notable beyond all of its classic underdog story touchstones. Following the completion of the tournament, many South Koreans criticized the WBSC for showing favorable bias towards co-host nation Japan’s team. Whether there is weight to these accusations remains to be seen, but regardless, the dispute brings the opposition that has existed between Japan and South Korea for decades to the baseball diamond, much like Toshiki Okada’s new play God Bless Baseball, showing here at FringeArts January 21-23. A collaboration between Okada and actors from both Japan and South Korea, the play finds two young women struggling to understand the game that looms large over their respective countries’ consciousness with the help of two men, one with nothing but contempt for it and the other with nothing but reverence.

Actors in God Bless Baseball all wear the number 51 on their back - the same number worn by famed Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

Actors in God Bless Baseball all wear the number 51 on their back – the same number worn by famed Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

Though his new work is centered around the favorite pastime of both countries involved, in an October article in The Japan Times, Okada admitted, “I’ve always had a negative image about baseball myself, and many of the play’s plots stem from my own feelings and experiences,” adding, “I’ve been wanting to publicly announce my negative view through my work for a long time.” Spoken like a true dramatist. But God Bless Baseball is far more than an artist’s gripes against an institution that, in his opinion, takes attention away from more worthwhile endeavors. In the play, baseball and “baseball culture” are front and center, but it’s the turbulent relationship between Japan and South Korea—as well as the looming influence of the United States—that hangs heavily over the proceedings. “I think I’ve finally succeeded in dealing with the two countries’ historical controversy without writing directly about historical incidents or subjects,” Okada told The Japan Times.

Japan-South Korea relations have been troubled for decades now, marred by territorial disputes, disagreements on trade, and unreconciled views of the two countries’ shared histories. Based on a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 19% of Japanese people view South Korea’s global influence as positive while 28% view it negatively. Similarly, 21% of South Koreans view Japan’s influence positively, while a staggering 67% take the negative view. The United States has a vested interest in seeing relations between the neighboring nations open up, as trilateral cooperation among the three of them becomes increasingly important to the US in the face of North Korean threats and aggressive movements from China. Late in December of last year, the two countries reached a landmark settlement in the hopes of finally putting to rest the vitriolic conversation surrounding “comfort women”—women, a large percentage Korean, forced to work in Japanese military brothels during WWII—with Japan contributing one billion yen to a fund for the surviving elderly victims in exchange for South Korea’s agreement to refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, as well as the removal of a statue memorializing the victims that currently sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. Though this settlement marks a major stride in relations between the two nations, some have suggested the rift is rooted in something less tangible than past atrocities.

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Winter at FringeArts lights up the waterfront

Posted January 13th, 2016

Communications Intern Hugh Wilikofsky shares his comprehensive guide to the FringeArts Winter season.


As we gear up for our first show of 2016, we at FringeArts simply cannot contain our excitement over our entire upcoming winter season. Literally. It is tearing us all apart. We’ve been screaming about it at the top of our lungs for some time now and the neighbors hate us. This excitement needs an outlet. So, I am going to do my professional duty and alleviate at least a little bit of that need by clueing you all in to the future goings-on here by the waterfront.


Photograph: Moon So Young

First up, showing January 21-23 is Toshiki Okada’s latest play God Bless Baseball. A collaboration between Japanese and South Korean actors, the play follows two girls as they attempt to comprehend their countries’ favorite pastime with the help of a man who understands the game but despises it, and another who thinks he’s Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki. However, despite the men’s best efforts, the girls continually frustrate their explanations, slowly teasing out just how deeply rooted the game is in the everyday life of Japanese and South Korean people.

Though most contemporary Japanese theater rarely makes it outside of the country (as far as I know, though I’d be happy to be wrong on that one), since 2009 Okada’s work has received regular productions here in the US. His oeuvre is said to represent Japan’s “lost generation,” the group most affected by the Japanese recession of the 1990s and this is perhaps part of why he has found an audience here, in the wake of our own Great Recession. Characterized by the idiosyncratic vernacular of Japanese twentysomethings, his vérité writing style is in some ways akin to that of renowned American playwright Annie Baker, but his use of disjointed and abstract choreography based on exaggerations of everyday gestures imbues his works with a quirk all his own. On top of the Philadelphia premiere of God Bless Baseball, FringeArts will also be hosting a reading of Okada’s The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise directed by Pig Iron Theater Company artistic director Dan Rothenberg on January 18.

Escuela, La Dirección y dramaturgia está a cargo de Miguel Calderón, se presentará en la sala N° 2 del teatro de la Universidad Católica a las 22 horas, en el marco del Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil. En Santiago; 20/01/2013 FOTÓGRAFO: * VALENTINO SALDIVAR*

Photograph:  Valentino Saldivar

Next up, showing January 28-30 is Chilean playwright/director Guillermo Calderón’s latest play Escuela. Set in Chile in the late 1980s, amid the tumultuous transition between the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the dubiously regarded democracy that followed, a group of left-wing university students receive secret paramilitary training in the living room of a fellow dissident. Hiding their identities with hoods to ensure none of them can betray their revolutionary comrades, these intellectuals awkwardly learn skills essential to guerilla warfare, such as proper crawling and rifle cleaning methods, in the hopes of overturning a corrupt regime, all while grappling with the chilling realities of staging a violent insurgency.Calderón has made a name for himself with plays grounded in times of violent turmoil and political upheaval, using dangerous and unstable settings as a jumping off point for larger universal themes, and Escuela sits well within this established style while taking it somewhere new. Instead of the surrounding violence haunting the onstage proceedings, as it did in Calderón’s first play Neva, it is brought to the forefront in Escuela as we watch its characters preparing to engage with it. In an interview with FringeArts, regarding the political implications of his new work Calderón asserted, “Politics is a combination of emotions and rationality, and that is what Escuela tries to convey and push to its limit.”

Kicking off February is a multimedia performance from composer Daniel Wohl, who previously graced the FringeArts stage last year with a multi media performance of his album Corps Exquis. This time around the Paris-born composer will be presenting his latest full-length album, Holographic, accompanied by an excellent line up of musicians and video art projections from LA-based artist Daniel Schwarz.

Wohl has garnered acclaim for works in which the acoustic and electronic blend into each other: a resonating snare drum becomes a low unnerving drone, percussion and electronic noise crash into a joyous cacophony, and synthetic pulsations elevate the steady bowing of strings to a higher plane. The result is immersive, slyly disorienting music that seeks to close the gap between the chamber groups of concert halls and academia , and electronic experimentalists pushing sonic boundaries in basements and warehouses. This is a one night only event, so mark your calendar for February 5.

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This House Is Made of Waste Products Only: Thinking about Kyohei Sakaguchi

Posted September 18th, 2012

Julius Ferraro is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, a former Festival Guide intern, and regular blog contributor.

Kyohei Sakaguchi. Photo via Pig Iron.

One of the 2012 Live Arts Festival highlights is Toshiki Okada and Pig Iron Theatreʼs Zero Cost House. The show is about, among other things, Kyohei Sakaguchi. Though Sakaguchi is relatively unheard-of in the United States, his Zero Yen House project has traveled as close as Canada, and with the sustainability movement in full force here, heʼs a figure who bears extensive discussion.

Sakaguchi is an artist, a documentarian, the author of two books, a musician and illustrator, and an avid blogger and tweeter. He is Bear Grylls crossed with John Lennon. He is an architect who does not build houses, a Tokyo-based artist, a performance architect, and a revolutionary. But it was not until March of 2011 that he became the Prime Minister of Japan.

After the jump: Running the new government, living in a water tank, and questions of freedom.

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