Director Breaking New Ground
Jan. 28, 2016
Amon Miyamoto is one of Japan's leading theater directors. Newsroom Tokyo looks at his work, including his upcoming production of "The Terrace of the Leper King," written by famous Japanese author by Yukio Mishima.
Amon Miyamoto launched his career in 1987 with his own original musical, "I GOT MERMAN."
In 2004, he made a splash in New York. He was the first Asian director to work on Broadway with “Pacific Overtures.” The musical garnered 4 Tony nominations.
When he directed Mozart’s masterpiece “The Magic Flute” in Austria, he merged opera with Japanese video games.
These days, Miyamoto is focusing more on Japanese tradition with contemporary flair.
Last October, he directed a play he wrote based on Shinto religious myths. It was performed as part of an important ceremony at a shrine in Kyoto.
Now Miyamoto is preparing to go back to New York for an off-Broadway show with the Japanese drum troupe, TAO.
Amon Miyamoto has never shied away from creating new sensations for audiences.
His upcoming production is "The Terrace of the Leper King" by Yukio Mishima, an iconic figure in Japanese literature.
This was Mishima's final play, completed just one year before he staged his own death at the age of 45.
It's set in the Khmer Empire of the 12th century, known today as Cambodia.
The play follows the story of the rise and the fall of Jayavarman the Seventh, the empire’s most powerful leader. While dedicating himself to building a grand temple he was deformed by disease.
At a recent press conference for the play, Miyamoto noted that he is a great admirer of Mishima's work.
Miyamoto said, “I've been a big fan of this play since university, so this is a long-awaited day. I've been hoping for many years that someone would direct it. Or, that I would have the chance."
Now the play is heading back to the big stage for the first time in 50 years.
Amon Miyamoto joined Newsroom Tokyo anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio to discuss his motivations behind directing Yukio Mishima's play, "The Terrace of the Leper King."
Shibuya: We welcome Amon Miyamoto to our studio. So you came straight from a press conference for the play. Thank you for being here.
Miyamoto: Good evening, and thank you for having me.
Shibuya: I'm sure you've been very busy preparing the production of Mishima’s play “The Terrace of the Leper King.” What made you want to take on this project?
Miyamoto: First, I want to show the audience the King's way of living. He lived a very powerful and tragic life. But this is not just about this king. It’s also about the life of Mishima himself. Mishima and the king’s lives are so authentic. I think, living in an authentic way is a very difficult way, especially in modern societies. People receive lots of information, values are changing, and Mishima’s story seems to be asking people an important question. That is: “You only live once. Are you living your life to the fullest?”
Beppu: I do agree that it's not easy to live authentically. But what else makes you very much interested in the this author, Mishima?
Miyamoto: I have great respect for him. Both as a novelist and a playwright, he left many masterpieces. He always asked questions about the meaning of life, which is a topic that I also think about. That’s why I feel close to him. I directed a play based on one of his most famous work, in Japan as well as New York. “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” is the story of a young Buddhist monk who struggles with his own identity. He ends up burning down the most famous temple in Kyoto because of its beauty. And working on the play, made me fall in love with Mishima even more. He's still one of Japan’s most respected writers. I hope to direct many more of his works in the future.
Shibuya: Written by a Japanese writer and set in Cambodia, Miyamoto is adding his own international perspective to “The Terrace of the Leper King”. Let’s have a look at how he is approaching the project.
"The Terrace of the Leper King" is set in Cambodia. Miyamoto provides a behind the scenes look at the creation of the play.
Miyamoto visited Cambodia to learn what compelled Mishima to write the play.
The country is on the Indochina Peninsula and was once ruled by the Khmer Empire.
In the jungle are ruins of Angkor Thom, the empire's great capital built in height of its power in the 12th century.
When Mishima first saw Angkor Thom in 1965 he said the sight made him feel nauseous. But he was also mesmerized by its strange energy. He wrote the play's plot in one night, and spent the next four years completing it.
To revive the glamor of the empire, Miyamoto has cast traditional Cambodia dancers and musicians along with Japanese actors.
Apsara dancing is a classical style dating back to the Angkorean era. It comes back to life in Miyamoto's production.
But once there was a real danger that traditional culture would be lost forever.
When the Communist Pol Pot regime took control of Cambodia in 1975, all kinds of arts were suppressed.
Intellectuals and artists were sent to labor camps in the countryside. Many were tortured and killed. Over a million lives were lost--a quarter of the population.
As a result, there are few senior mentors to follow. The young Cambodians are all in their 20's and 30's, struggling to revive their traditional arts.
During practice, Miyamoto sits down with some of the performers and asks, "What happened to your family during the Pol Pot regime?"
Classical mask dancer Khon Chan Sithyka says, "My grandfather was a professional musician, but he was arrested and later killed."
Belle is a lead dancer. She also works with an NGO to train young people in traditional Cambodian arts.
Chumvan "Belle" Sodhachivy says, "Traditional Cambodian dancing is my life. Through dancing we learn our culture and history to revive our nation's identity. So it's very important to pass it down to future generations."
In the play, Mishima depicts a king's obsession with building the most beautiful temple on earth.
The story begins with the king returning home after winning a key battle. He decides to thank the gods by building the Temple of Bayon.
The leader is young and beautiful, but that very day he contracts leprosy. As the temple is built, it becomes grander while the king is deformed by the disease.
He grows obsessed with leaving eternal beauty behind, even as he faces his own death.
The play begins with the king returning home after winning an important battle. He decides to thank the gods by building the Temple of Bayon.
The leader is young and beautiful, but that very day he contracts leprosy.
He goes blind as the temple nears completion, and dies just as the last stone is laid.
Although the king passed away, the Temple of Bayon remains.
The play questions whether the soul or a youthful body can represent timeless beauty.
"The Terrace of the Leper King" opens its door in early March in Tokyo.
Amon Miyamoto continues with Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the Newsroom Tokyo studio to discuss what it was like directing "The Terrace of the Leper King."
Beppu: Did Cambodia’s recent history have any impact on your decision to direct this play?
Miyamoto: Yes, that's right. I first visited Cambodia maybe 18 years ago. There were still signs everywhere warning of landmines. So it was a very dangerous time. I saw no traditional culture at the time. I thought it was a terrible place. You could still feel the terror of Pol Pot. But when I visited recently, I found young people trying hard to revive the traditional arts. They are moving forward to build future. They are hoping that history will not repeat itself. These young Cambodians are so energetic and amazing. That’s one of the reasons, why I want them to join our company.
Shibuya: So what is it like to work with Cambodian performers?
Miyamoto: It’s a very special opportunity for me. Mishima visited the Temple of Bayon and met a lot of people in Cambodia, which made him start writing the play at an incredibly quick pace – in just one night. I think, performing with Cambodians, lets us convey the play’s meaning much more deeply. As a director, I create chemistry among the Japanese and Cambodian cast and then bring out a new sensation. It’s very thrilling and exciting.
Beppu: How do you think your piece can represent Japan or Asia to the rest of the world?
Miyamoto: As I was visiting different countries, I became more aware of the appeal of Japan and other Asian countries. We have a unique spirituality and philosophy linked to nature. And I think such ideas might give hope to people no matter their nationality or background. I think the awareness of diversity and co-existence has become very important today. Instead of fighting. We need to respect our diversity and share what makes us unique. That’s one reason I want to direct a range of works that go beyond genre, nationality or race. I also want to work with people from all different backgrounds. The Tokyo Olympics will be held in 2020. And I think That’ll be a perfect opportunity to convey the cultural essence of Japan and Asia to the world.