Terayama’s World

Do you feel your education as an avant-gardist is complete? Of course not. There is always something new to discover…

I know it will seem like a lot of trouble to follow these steps, but believe me, it will be well worth your while to find out about one of the most revolutionary artists (poet, playwright, filmmaker, photographer) of postwar Japan, Terayama Shuji, and I think I want to take advantage of the joys of hypertext instead of paraphrasing everything:

1) Go read the Wikipedia entry on Terayama Shuji.

2) Next, watch The Emperor Tomato Ketchup on the Ubuweb site. You might want to look at his other films, too, but that one is the masterpiece. I alluded to it in a post last month.

When I lived in Japan with the translator Masaya Saito, we worked together on translating several of Terayama’s tanka. Masaya, like Terayama, came from the bleak frozen north of Japan, as did the great butoh dancer Hijikata Tatsumi. Masaya was well-equipped to understand the resentful but intrigued outsider perspective on modernity and the urban that Terayama brought to his work. I type a few here for your reading pleasure:

Having been slaughtered
a cow comes
back within me
…beginning – what?
I wonder

In the darkness
a pickle growls…
Sing, someone,
a lullaby
as loud as possible

An onion I’ve planted
in the woman lodger’s
buttock, and so
long is my
rainy season

A fetus
preserved in alcohol
growing cloudy…
in my head
hydrangea blossoms

On a dark night
spilling pollen
on the stairs
I wait for mother
to change her clothes

The sky
like a huge jar
my father bears
to fill…
with what?

In exchange for
my sky
I gained a a tiny hope
that sweats easily
like a frog

A moment when
evening gas
becomes flame,
my saliva thicker
than communists’

A mouse
whose freedom
is about ten meters long –
its beastlike eyes
I feel intimate with

On a day
when my vowels grow
muddy… I go
to the precipice
to corrupt myself

Here’s a photo that Masaya took of me, maybe in 1995 or 1996? If I remember correctly, there was an exhibition called “Terayama’s World” at a department store gallery somewhere in Tokyo, hence the cardboard cutouts. Can you detect a kind of Japanese Warhol Factory vibe?

One thought on “Terayama’s World

  1. Lorraine and I watched Emperor Tomato Ketchup and the other two films in that Ubu web sequence the other night, so thanks. Lots to be said at some point, but we did note that while one reviewer talks about the children’s “struggle for liberation,” it seemed that the children were the most militaristic group portrayed–fascinating. But of course we couldn’t understand the voiceovers, which might change everything.

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