Pure BANANA girls class & Bird Park's Hyper-Adjustment and Super-Aggregation:
The Peculiarities of Eighties-Born Japanese Artists

Kyoko Iwaki(Japan)

I should start this essay with the simplest question: Why do people go to the theatre? I myself as a performing art journalist have a bluntly self-evident reason: it's my job. However, why have I continued doing this for over ten years? Not only in my home country Japan but around the world? There should be some plausible reason other than just for the sake of paying the bills. This year's F/T Emerging Artists Program elucidated, to certain extent, the answer to this question.

During my one-week visit to Japan I took in performances by five groups of Japanese theatre practitioners born in the Eighties: KUNIO, Bird Park, Pure BANANA girls class, lolo and Pijin Neji. And as ten days prior to flying from London to Tokyo I had just completed my book on Japanese theatre artists born in the Seventies, involuntarily, I found myself comparing the two generations of practitioners and subsequently made aware of the salient characteristics of the so-called "eighties babies".

Quite simply, even for someone Japanese like myself this theatrical experience was intensely foreign. And so, to return to my opening question, given that I find joy in engaging with the current zeitgeist of how people from other countries, races, religions, generations and cultures are living, the pursuit of my work as a theatre journalist could be explained as a form of socio-cultural fieldwork. To explicate further by drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "chronotope" (literally "time-space" in Greek), all performing arts could be described as a progeny of a specific chronotope. That could be posed as a reason why, not only a theatre journalist like myself, but many other theatregoers make their way to numerous performances; that is, through the mediation of the "theatre", they are trying to seek out the "culture" born in that specific time and place. And as this year's Festival/Tokyo's Emerging Artists Program displayed idiosyncratic seeds of contemporary Tokyo theatre, it was functioning well as a platform for showcasing the specific chronotope. It was thus simply an alien but also enjoyable experience for any theatregoer.

Now concretely, what particular kind of 2011 Tokyo traits could be witnessed? They could be largely broken down into two key concepts that I will specifically label as "hyper-adjustment" and "super-aggregation". For the former, let us look at the performance by Pure BANANA girls class.

In their F/T debut "BANAGAKU★☆Super Spunky Sports Autumn Grand Tournament!!!!!" forty-five male and female performers, dressed in the cosplay of the Akihabara underground idol subculture, gave it their deranged all in a full-on, extreme sixty minutes of singing and dancing noise - imagine Shibuya's Center Gai to the multitude of ten - to the point of numbing the audience's visual, auditory and physical senses. The Team Leader - not "director" or "artist" - Touko Nikaidou christens this a "screaming otaku idol live concert" and the performance, with its flying bodies, sweat, spit, and seaweed, is certainly nothing other thing than "screaming".

However, the most interesting part of their performance was the continued retention of a spookily unequivocal order, even amidst a zenith of disorder attempting to reach maximum entropy. This can perhaps be explained by the peculiar proficiency the Japanese have for preserving order without conflict in the chaos of Shibuya; bustle without bust-up. However, other than this general aspect, their sense of order is demonstrated more concretely by what is created by the particular capabilities of these "eighties babies". Precisely because they have witnessed the previous generation struggling so much to obtain full-time employment, the result of the state education policy that encouraged students to seek out their uniqueness and to express their individual selves, the new generation has shifted their vision to the opposing direction. They have stopped seeking "themselves" and instead started searching out their "places". What is important to be noted here is that, in order to fully optimize themselves to be able to fully blend in and feel secure in that place, they may have cultivated this ability of "hyper-adjustment".

Fresh in the mind of Japanese is the article "The Ice Age of Employment Seals Up Individuality", published in the Nikkei Shimbun on September 16, 2010, which attracted considerable public attention. In this article, two pictures were juxtaposed: a photograph of 2010's newly recruited JAL employees, dressed uniformly almost like robots in their clothing, hair, posture and facial expressions; and an image from the same corporate induction ceremony from twenty-five years ago, with its diversity of clothing and more fragmented countenance. The argument goes that today human resources departments have ceased hiring a wide variety of personnel, the result of which is that increasing numbers of new recruits are suppressing their individuality. In short, the faculty required of new company employees today is, as sociologist Shinji Miyadai states in "Professor Miyadai's Principles of Job-Hunting" (2011), above all "adaptability" for corporate style and company culture. Individual skills and techniques take the back seat while the ability to read between the lines in your surroundings, march to the mutual drum and reach the single common ground is prioritized. This adaptability has progressed so excessively for the sake of self-survival that I feel the idiosyncratic capabilities of the generation attaining adulthood around 2010 should be labelled "hyper-adjustment".

An older generation would likely lament this as a loss of individuality or personality. However, I personally, upon witnessing the total unity in the Pure BANANA girls class performance, felt the emergence of an uncanny yet extraordinary verve. This energy could be described as the power of abnormal solidarity at a time of emergency, like a thousands-strong sardine shoal facing a shark. Of course, there are two sides of the coin to this mass energy. If constructed on top of a blind brain-freeze this solidarity may very well plunge into the extremes of fascism and militarism. However, considering Pure BANANA girls class by itself, they maintain a satirical objectivity towards the recently popular Akiba culture, and one cannot sense faith that is blind. The Pure BANANA collectivity is not built on a crude creed, but sits atop a hyper-adjustability which we can define as delicate non-linguistic communication. Nikaidou and her team are perhaps observing a crisis, where our country, community and personal lifestyles are heading towards collapse, and thus, they are likely attempting to amplify the strength of their individual screams by gathering together with such abnormal density.

Extending from this concept of hyper-adjustment we can grasp our second key idea: super-aggregation. As I have already mentioned, right now in Japan, young people are excessively adapting themselves in order to maintain their economy, lifestyle and self-respect, i.e., trying to survive within their surroundings and roles. In a sense, as a natural result of this desperate survival, we can arrive at the concept of an agency of super-aggregation. This is particularly pronounced in the performance of Bird Park, "The Unending Warmth of a Bedwetting Bog", written and directed by Kaori Nishio (b. 1985).

The work depicts three women - Mrs. T, Mrs. L and Mrs. M - dwelling in a shut-off village on a distant marsh, sharing and raising children all as the "mother". The "father" is absent, though there is a faint suggestion of a man named Ishimatsu, who once long, long ago filled that patriarchal role while also dressed up as a woman like a quasi fourth mother figure. They live matter-of-factly, detached from the banal modern family system, somehow blended together as a whole. And so, when the children are off playing on the marsh and the voice of their mother is calling from afar, it's simply not important whether that voice belongs to Mrs. T, Mrs. L or Mrs. M. Here we can see an increasing volition of the three's "aggregation"; in short, we can call it speech as a verbalized, final form.

Sociologist Georg Simmel, in his essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1903), states that metropolitan citizens come to take on an attitude towards the social that is apathetic in form and, for the sake of self-preservation, maintain a system that somehow controls the vast amounts of information they consume. As a result, human relations are conducted not by sensibility but via understanding (Verstand). In a word, social relations become a matter only of the head, not of the heart. Simmel postulates the dilemma that this consequently invites solitude for the metropolitan resident, and as a means of breaking out of this solitude, he proposed a theory of social relations based not on an intellectual co-existence but on an emotional symbiosis.

Now more than a century has passed since Simmel published his theories, and in Tokyo of today, one of the greatest global metropolises, rather than any co-existence or symbiosis, we can now see the more evolutionary co-habitation form of aggregation. Identity is not maintained through affiliation to a group, however the reverse doctrine appears from here, which is that the group itself is your volition and identity. If we continue on with the performance of Bird Park as our example, above and beyond volition as individuals, no matter how much at times they appear to be personally asserting themselves, the voices of Mrs. T, Mrs. L and Mrs. M are one voice for the purpose of retaining the aggregation of the slum-like marsh where they live. Like the mud endlessly flowing out of the bucket suspended over the centre of the stage, these voices borrow someone's mouth and pour out as volition from the peak of the crisis point of the single aggregate agency (i.e. the village). It seems as though perhaps the artists born in the Eighties, cultivating hyper-adjustment like second nature rather than any emphatic self-assertiveness, could arrive at a harmonious territory where mass volition is the congenial will of the individual.

These are the distinctive characteristics witnessed in the very peculiar chronotope of Tokyo, 2011. Three weeks later, I was watching the work of near contemporary, Eighties-born practitioners at a theatre festival in Romania, and in contrast to the Tokyo young artists, they were directly confronting the past Communist era, struggling to weave history that is convincing for none other than themselves. Against this sensation of the antithetical and linear where the individual directly confronts the state, I became highly conscious of the complex mentality in Tokyo that cannot linearly face up to present day Japanese society.

Coincidentally, the overall theme of this year's F/T festival - "What can we say?" - could also be, consciously or unconsciously, connected to these concepts of hyper-adjustment and aggregation. In this questioning not of the first-person singular "I" but of the plural "We" there is an unavoidable sense of the deranged uncertainty in Tokyo today.