Translation of “YAMAYAMA (I Would Prefer Not To)”

My translation of the play YAMAYAMA (I Would Prefer Not To), written by Matsubara Shuntaro in 2018, appears in Volume 8 of the ENGEKI: Japanese Theatre In the New Millennium series, published by the Japan Playwrights Association (JPA).

The ENGEKI series (“engeki” means theatre in Japanese) brings new writing in Japan to an international audience. The first volume was published in 2015 and subsequent volumes, each containing three plays, have been published on an annual basis since then.

Prior to the ENEGEKI anthologies, JPA published a ten-volume collection in English called “Half a Century of Japanese Theatre” from 1998 to 2007, and a 3-volume collection in French called “Recueil de pièces de théâtre japonaises contemporaines” between 2008 and 2010.

Matsubara (小崎哲哉), who was born in 1988 in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, received the 63rd Kishida Kunio Drama Award in 2019 for this play. A version of his original Japanese text was staged at the Kanagawa Arts Theatre in Yokohama in 2018 by the Chiten Theatre Company.

The play revolves around a group of people (and a robot) who congregate in and around a cordoned off polluted mountain. Although never explicitly stated in the play, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, is an important part of its context.

Matsubara’s writing manages to weave density, detail, fragmentation and dissonance into a plot that brings the environmental, moral, and affective implications of life in (and as) catastrophe to bear on its audience.

At times the play’s characters speak in documentary-style direct address, particularly when remembering distressful events. At other times, they engage in machine gun chatter on the drudgery of everyday life. Some characters find themselves entangled in introspective monologues, wrestling with the inconsistency of memory and the fragility of narrative logic. Occasionally, a character will share an intimate moment of mourning for the loss of another, or for the loss of self.

To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, in “Men in Dark Times,” telling the story of an event of major historic proportion, which the Great Tohoku Earthquake undoubtedly was, no matter how removed the storyteller may be, whether in terms of place, time or even intentionality, is at some level a matter of unlocking meaning in the event without defining it. As soon as explication steps on stage, ecstasy steps off. That is not a call for baseless sensation, but rather the absolute necessity of grappling with the mountain of antinomies, distortions and deadlocks that lie in the wake of catastrophe.

For me YAMAYAMA (I Would Prefer Not To) is that play. It was a privilege to work on this particular translation of it.

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