In November 2020, my partner Mika Eglinton and I translated the play Yotaro Aux Pays Des Yokai for a revival at the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in December 2020. It was originally written and directed by French-Swiss duo Jean Lambert-Wild and Lorenzo Malaguerra and premiered at SPAC in February 2019.
By popular demand, the show was revived in December 2020, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Lambert-Wild and Malaguerra had to rework the piece with the thirteen-strong cast at SPAC remotely via Zoom. This latest version included dramaturgical input from Hirano Akihito and musical composition and direction by Jean-Luc Therminarias and Hiroko Tanakawa.
The play draws on Japan’s rich “yokai” (ghost, phantom) folklore culture and its pantheon of malevolent and mischievous monsters and spirits. At the centre of the story is Yotaro, a simple, happy-go-lucky newly deceased soul on his way to the palace of Yama (閻魔/Enma). Yama or Enma is a Buddhist deity of death. In the Japanese tradition, he is a judge who decides the fate of the dead who have mistreated others.
Wandering through this strange limbo, Yotaro encounters a succession of Yokai who cajole and humiliate him, comment on his fate and leave him startled.
Working on the translation was interesting as it required research into the different yokai that appear in the play. Linguistically, it was fascinating to see the intertextuality of the piece; a text in French that draws on a Japanese cultural tradition in translation, reworked in Japan with a Japanese cast and dramaturg in Japanese and finally translated into English.
Cover photo: copyright K.Miura