It’s the last Sunday of January. I have invited Takuya Fujisawa to my home for this conversation, and he shows up 12:00 on the dot. The dog barks upon his arrival, as he does, chaotically and indiscriminately, whether it is a family member or a stranger who is walking up the stairs.
Takuya and I are not strangers, but our paths haven’t crossed for a while. It’s been more than 3 years since Takuya and I shared the stage at the Gothenburg Opera, and since then, both of our lives have changed. This time I have the privilege of meeting Takuya in his role as a freelance dancer and choreographer. The work he is in the middle of developing right now is called “Mitate”.
I have searched online prior to Takuya’s arrival, to at least know what the title of his piece means. I have found the words “to look again” as the first translation popping up in front of my eyes. I’m not too sure about my source, and I ask him if that is a correct translation. -Well… It’s a bit difficult to translate, as it means different things, but it can be quite simple, like the usage of metaphors…
Takuya explains that Mitate is something that is being used in classical Japanese Noh-theater, but he thinks that rather than simply being a theatre technique, it’s a way of seeing; a way of seeing something again; of seeing something in a different way.
-An example can be the sliding of a curtain as a metaphor for changing time. How can one change reality in theater without making a big physical change? The term comes from daily life, from children’s play, he tells me. He smiles and tells me that Mitate can be a playful way of using metaphors.
Takuya is speaking with his whole face and body. With swift hand movements he describes that –in Japanese Folklore, paper puppets can be used to symbolize not only the human form itself, but also the weight of a human life. Takuya suddenly lifts the spoon I have put out for him to stir his coffee. The everyday magic unfolds in front of my eyes as he shows me how easily the spoon can be transformed into a sword or a microphone with the simple act of imagination.
-Oh, and “Mitate” is also a way of using a minimal stage setting in Noh-theatre. On the Noh-stage, each pillar, each direction, each line of sight is used to represent a scene or an emotion. But I wouldn’t call Mitate a technique, it’s more of a perspective, a mentality, a way of thinking.
As his words seem to unfold in my mind, I start imagining it, the different perspectives, the play with time, the paper puppets… I realize I have started daydreaming. I look back at Takuya, who is right here, right now and very present in my kitchen and then I’m suddenly snapped back into reality.
On the kitchen table in front of us are a pile of my books. One of them is “The Book of Tea” by the Japanese scholar and art critic Okakura Kakuzo (1863-1913). I recently stumbled upon this little book while looking into the relationship between Daoist philosophy and phenomenology and realized that Kakuzo influenced several philosophers and poets: Martin Heidegger, Swami Vivekananda, Ezra Pound among others.
There is a quote from Kakuzo that I find especially beautiful in its simplicity: “The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings”
I find that certain sayings have a special feel to them, a sort of perpetual quality. That quote is one of them. The constant readjustment to our surroundings is part of our shared human experience of life, but some people have experienced more extreme shifts and differences in surroundings than others.
To me it seems that Takuya carry a timeless quality with him wherever he goes. He has lived in very different parts of the world and has adjusted to his varying surroundings several times.
We talk about communication. Takuya thinks for a moment, then starts to laugh. His laughter is very contagious – it can feel a bit like a re-enactment of childhood when you move to a foreign country and try to understand and make yourself understood.
He goes on to say that his creativity and curiosity lies in the communication with others, and we both agree that so much of what we communicate exists between the words and that meaning is expressed in so many different ways depending on the context. He pauses for a moment –sometimes it feels like you can understand more when you don’t know all the words of a language, since you engage your feelings more. You become more like a child. We miss out on so much by listening to the words only.
It makes me think about what vast amount of our communication is body language, gestures, micromovements… as well as upbringing, common understandings and misunderstandings of certain things, things we take for granted, certain things that have been internalized since childhood and which can easily be mistaken for our own subjective views and opinions.
–There’s an immense freedom in the beginning when you get to a new place, where no one expects you to communicate in the very particular way of that place. After a while that freedom shifts into a responsibility of understanding and being understood.
Takuya and I are drinking coffee. We’re nibbling on some chocolate in between sentences. We discuss how language isn’t only a tool for communication with someone else but also a way we translate and communicate to ourselves what we read from the information flow of others, and that there is a lot of editing happening in our minds when we try to understand each other.
Takuya points out that even if I as an interviewer is trying to not steer this conversation, the text I will write will have to be edited, and therefore it will be guided by the direction of my subjective curiosity, and my perspective. I am aware how right he is about that. Wow, how did he manage to turn it around right now? I wanted to give him so much space! Oh well, maybe this is demonstrating “Mitate” in action!
Takuya says that he finds it more fun to analyze other people’s behaviors while talking about a topic, rather than the topic itself. –Oh, and all the weirdness that surrounds us, all the strange little things… He smiles and throws a discreet glance around the room, I think I can detect his eyes sweeping past a teddy bear that my dog has eaten the tail off and that I still haven’t repaired, the pen marks on the walls, the big piles of unorganized papers and books…
I experience a sudden sensation of being observed, and throwing my slightly worried and not-so-discrete eyes around the room, realizing that all these messy details of my living space are probably giving Takuya lots of clues about my perspectives on things right now… I suddenly feel a bit self-conscious, and I want to focus on him, not on my sudden urge to clean up the place… I change the topic.
After a short silence I ask Takuya if he sees his life and his artmaking as separate entities. He says that they are definitely connected.
-I love building bridges between different things, he says. He explains how he sometimes creates a sort of translation from something quite “everyday” into a material to work with in his artmaking. The conversation shifts into the act of guessing; something Takuya says that he is constantly doing when he tries to understand others.
-To try to understand someone else’s perspective and priorities is a great exercise. For example, he says, if we look at children and try to see something with their eyes… From our own perspective, when we do everyday things, things can feel mundane or insignificant, but for them it’s the first time they experience that thing.
I find this reminder a beautiful way to explain the attempt to empathize with someone else’s priorities.
I smile as I think about the countless times I, as a tired mum has tried in vain to get my kids to speed up whatever it is that they are doing, so that we won’t be late for the next thing on the agenda… School, work, important routines… Knowing deep down how much more important it is to them in their world in that moment to hold out their hand to catch the raindrops dripping slowly but rhythmically from the roof of the bus stop or to physically investigate that huge, dirty pile of snow and gravel that has manifested itself by the side of the road…
I suddenly think that I can grasp something in what Takuya is saying… Perhaps it is something in the direction of a kind of “Mitate” – a different way of looking at things, which holds a new possibility for us to not assume but to slow down, to communicate in more than just words, to include the perspectives of others, or at least attempting to make some well measured guesses about what they might be thinking and feeling.
Foto: Gnugga av Takuya Fujisawa. Fotograf: Shogo Hirata. Dansare i bilden: Beda Åsbrink.