enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


The 1960s

During the 1960s, Japan was rocked by a number of protest movements, including protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty and the student movement. The theatre world echoed this “zeitgeist”, with young dramatists rising up against established theatrical practices. Dispensing with the standard narrative structure (introduction, development, turning point, and conclusion), these radical dramatists examined Japan’s traditional dramatic arts in search of new physical methods of expression. This avant-garde small-theatre movement was mockingly dubbed “anguraengeki”(アングラ演劇), meaning ‘underground theatre’. Whereas “shingeki” (新劇; new drama) had imported forms of modern European theatre, the new underground theatre movement went a step further by establishing a fresh form of Japanese theatre, drawing inspiration from contemporary European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett. Another factor distinguishing the underground theatre movement was that it involved itself with avant-garde arts of the time, such as Hijikata Tatsumi’s “ankoku buto” (暗黒舞踏; Butoh).

The underground theatre movement also experimented with new kinds of theatre space. For example, Suzuki Tadashi and Betsuyaku Minoru’s Waseda Sho Gekijo (早稲田小劇場; later known as SCOT) established a theatre of the same name on the second floor of a café. Similarly, Kara Juro’s Jokyo Gekijo (状況劇場; later known as Karagumi [唐組]) staged tented plays on the grounds of the Hanazono Shrine. At the time, it was a bold move to create a theatre company and a theatre space of one’s own. Other original theatre companies of the time included Sato Makoto’s Kokushoku Tento 68/71 (later known as Gekidan Kuro Tento; 劇団黒テント), Terayama Shuji’s Engeki Jikken Shitsu ⦾ Tenjo Sajiki (演劇実験室◎天井桟敷), Ota Shogo’s Tenkei Gekijo (転形劇場), and Shimizu Kunio and Ninagawa Yukio’s Gendaijin Gekijo (現代人劇場; later known as Sakurasha [櫻社]). These pioneering efforts were the origins of today’s small theatre.

The above individuals remained active in the years that followed, organising international theatre festivals, establishing local theatres, working with universities to help raise the next generation of dramatists, and staging “shogyo engeki” (商業演劇; commercial theatre) performances in large venues. In this way, they played a significant role in shaping Japanese contemporary theatre.

Note: On the panels, as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.