faithful collaborator of Shuji Terayama, Henrikku Morisaki is a
behind-the-stage artist profoundly involved in a number of Terayama's
theater and cinema projects. Having worked as an assistant director,
production designer and sound supervisor, he has also
acted in experimental performances that blur the borderline between
cinema and real life. Here, he reminisces about Terayama and his own involvement as a member of the Tenjo Sajiki theater troupe.
Interview conducted by Laurent Tenzer at Cinema Nova in Brussels on
October 12, 2008 as a part of their Terayama
retrospective. Translated by Oleg Evnin (Original
Can you tell us about your youth and describe how you
came to know Terayama?
Henrikku Morisaki (© Photo :Benjamin Minot)
was born in 1949 on the island of Awaji, right in the middle of Japan.
When still at school, I read Terayama's literary works, such as Throw
away your books, rally in the streets and Invitation to escape. I've
also followed a number of television and radio productions based on
Terayama's scripts. At the time, I was already very interested in his
work, and was intrigued enough to look for personal contacts. I feel
that Terayama's works are very documentary in nature. In fact, they are
in the form of questions for the audience to answer. His radio
programs, like the series for young girls, projected a kind of poetic
spirit I had never encountered anywhere else. I found those words
extremely beautiful. In my last school year, I read some reviews, in
which Terayama presented selected poems sent to him by the readers.
Through these poems, I felt the entire youthful energy of the epoch
assembling around him. Hideaki Sasaki was one of the authors in these
reviews, and later he became the protagonist of Throw away your
books. Like Terayama, he was born in Aomori, in the north of
Terayama advised him to come to Tokyo so that they could work together.
I had also written poems and sent them to the review, but unfortunately
they had never been selected. At that time, I was very interested in
theater, and followed all the theater news. Thus I learned about the
creation of the experimental troupe Tenjo Sajiki
by Terayama, in
conjunction with other artists such as Aquirax Uno, Tadanori Yokoo
Eiko Kujo (his future wife). That's how I decided to join them, and
how I escaped to Tokyo.
left at the age of 17. Originally, I wanted to become an actor in this
troupe, but the others found me too loud and awkward for an actor. I was
thus allocated to work with the sound personnel. For almost 17 years, I
worked very closely with him [Terayama] in all his creations,
theatrical and cinematic alike. I've worked with sound, as an assistant
director, and as a graphic designer. In the end I was ready to do
anything for him. I also appeared in films like Laura and Der Process.
When he needed an actor ready to strip, they called me. That's all.
[Note for the reader: The first of these two films is accompanied by a
performance, in which Henrikku, nude at one moment, interchanges with
his double on the screen.]
And you have exercised for almost 30 years to maintain the same physique as seen in the films!
That's hard! (laughing)
Henrikku Morisaki in « Laura » by Shuji Terayama
What about the day-to-day work of Tenjo Sajiki? How did it go?
the beginning, Terayama relied considerably on external personnel as
actors and technicians (some came from renowned professional troupes)
and other artists such as Tadanori Yokoo, Aquirax Uno, etc. Akihiro
Miwa was also there [Note to the reader: a famous transvestite who
appeared notably in Fukasaku's
Black Lizard]. Afterwards, Terayama
started to employ non-professionals, like me, and to contemplate the
different options for joint work. It's from this moment on that the
documentary aspect started to take on more and more prominent place in
the theater pieces, contributing to our artistic evolution.
also engaged in street theater productions, where only a part of the
audience was aware of what they were actually watching. Later, we gave
up performing on classical theater stage altogether. We preferred to
perform in public places, constructing five or six sets, amongst which
the audience had to circulate without knowing where the play started;
they had to choose for themselves what to see. We had been doing
everything to destroy the classical theater forms, and we'd finally
broken through these constraints. At that moment, Terayama became ill.
Because of that, we were forced to return to the usual theater stage,
where we produced two more plays more classical in nature, but without
story or plot. One can say the same about cinema: for Terayama, his
works were questions and not answers. They had to be completed by the
members of the audience.
Music plays an important role for Terayama. How was it integrated in his world?
the early days of the Tenjo Sajiki troupe, we were inviting musicians
from outside. Later, J.A.Seazer joined
us. He wasn't educated as a
composer at all, but he was asked to write music. That's how he became
a musician; one can hear his first pieces in The Heretics. He learned
to play guitar, and he had studied a lot to be able to compose. Later,
he was in charge of most of the music in Terayama's works. There was
also Michi Tanaka, the secretary of the troupe, who had a musical
education. She contributed some music for the experimental shorts.
Contrarily, the music for the feature films was composed collectively.
Around ten musicians worked on the music for Throw away your books.
Tenjo Sajiki theater plays
How was his work received, in Japan and abroad?
was perceived as extreme avant-garde, and many could not accept him. On
the other hand, he was supported by many among the youth. His
aesthetics mixed Japanese and Western influences, and his art was
extremely visual. People were always interested in this aspect. Abroad,
we made our first performance at the Festival of Experimental Theater
in Frankfurt, and later we staged two plays in Nancy. In Amsterdam, the
director of the Mickery theater showed a great appreciation for our
work and kept inviting us every year; we've performed original plays
there. And in Brussels, 30 years ago, we performed a play at Atelier
210, which at that time was called Atelier 212, I believe.
What was Terayama's place in the cultural context of the epoch? Can he be associated with the Japanese New Wave?
cannot really be seen as a part of the New Wave as it emerged 10 years
before him, at Shochiku, for example. Terayama started to make his
films with the help of ATG (Art
Theatre Guild), which aimed at
promoting modern and unconventional cinema. This company was ready to
engage non-professional directors. His first film Throw away your
books was produced by ATG. Terayama had completely broken the
classical cinema language, arranging everything in an even sequence,
except for scenes cut in a classical manner by the assistant director.
Terayama continued to direct very avant-garde films without worrying
much about audience response. He believed that his films would be
appreciated by the audience, and was never anxious. Later, he started
to shoot experimental films on 16mm. There were many films like that at
the time, usually very boring. He wanted to annihilate this image and
create ‘non-boring’ experimental cinema. As I told you, for Terayama,
half of the film belonged with the viewers. It was extremely important
to engage the audience. From that point on, one can say that he stayed
focused on delivering a spectacle.
« Reading Machine » (1977)
« 16±1 » (1974)
Terayama assigned a lot of importance to audience participation and improvisation. How could this be accommodated in his autobiographic, personal, masterful films?
make a movie, he evidently did write a screenplay to serve as a guideline
for all involved. But, in Throw away
your books, for example, the
protagonist kept receiving new and unexpected scenes every day. In his
films and theater plays, he never wrote the final scenes, so that the
actors and the technical personnel had no idea how it was going to end.
The work required a certain amount of tension, and we never felt secure
(laughing). For example, in one of his films, The Two-headed Girl, the
screenplay merely remarks: "There are no more shadows." The lighting
personnel were forced to think how one could make all the shadows
disappear. This one-sentence instruction required a lot of thinking.
Sometimes, there were things impossible to realize, materially or
technically. But he would say: no, it is possible and it has to be
done. For example, for his last film, Farewell
to the ark, he
indicated that the characters were insomniac, which was very difficult
to represent visually, and he was asked to modify the screenplay.
« Throw away your books ! » (1971)
« Farewell to the ark » (1984)
How did he put together his ideas, his recurrent and personal themes?
theater as much as in cinema, Terayama often approached the same themes
from different angles, so as to show that there are many possibilities,
and that every spectator has the right of his own interpretation. He
also wanted to emphasize that the possible responses were many. In a
number of his works, the question "Who am I?" is repeated. I interpret
this not as an examination of a unique self, but rather like: "I have
split up, and there are so many selves that I know not which one is
really me." [Note to the reader: An entire section of Terayama's
video-correspondence with Shuntaro Tanikawa (Video Letter) is
dedicated to asking "Is it me?" and rejecting various identities in
response to this question. Terayama finally remarks: "One who cannot
find the answer: would that be me?"]. In the film The Others scripted
by Borges, the father figure splits up and the protagonist sees him all
over the screen, even other characters make him think of his father. We
thought a lot after watching this film with Terayama.
Was Terayama satisfied by his films? Did he see them as a suitable form to represent his ideas, in comparison with theater, for example?
general, I believe he was satisfied with his films, except perhaps the
last one, Farewell to the Ark,
which was made when he was already
seriously ill and wasn't sure which direction to pursue. Originally,
the screenplay for Farewell to the
Ark aimed at a 4-hour long movie,
but in the end, we've only filmed enough footage for 3 hours. During
editing, he did not like certain scenes and cut them. Finally, the film
shrank to less than 2 hours. When we were looking at the rushes, he was
so ill that he kept falling asleep all the time, and he was saying it
was because the scenes were boring. He kept demanding "cut! cut!
cut!" without a pause.
« Emperor Tomato Ketchup » (1970)
Why are there two versions of Emperor Tomato Ketchup?
thought that the film was too long and asked Takase Uzui, the assistant
director for Throw away your books,
to prepare a shorter and more
cinematic version. That was his choice. I personally prefer the long
version that lasts over an hour.
With what equipment did Terayama implement his experimental shorts?
shorts were motivated above all by the desire to experiment. For Laura, the question was "How can
one enter the screen?". For The
Two-headed Girl, we wanted a film only showing shadows. He
make experimental films that would not bore the viewer. Terayama was a
very busy person, but whenever he had some time, he would ask his
cameraman to help with the shorts. Terayama was always interested in
new kinds of media when they appeared, in video for example. He was
also the first one in Japan to make use of an overhead projector in his
cinema, which he manipulated himself.
« Der Process » :
... and live performance (© Photos : Benjamin Minot)
What did Terayama think about the adaptations of his screenplays by other directors?
on in his career, he wrote a screenplay for Masahiro Shinoda, but he
did not like the film. The final result seemed like an imitation of
Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront:
too New-Wave-like. He co-wrote
screenplays with Shinoda, except for Buraikan,
which he wrote alone. I
think that the films written by Terayama for Shinoda are not
sufficiently impressive. For example, there is a scene showing
fireworks in ancient Tokyo, where Shinoda did not really bother to
stage real fireworks. For me, it does not appear satisfactory. Among
Shinoda's films, the one I like most was not written by Terayama. It is
the one for which Kiyoshi Awazu worked, a film called Double suicide,
adapted from a Kabuki play.
has also scripted a film by Susumu Hani called Nanami: First love,
and the result was likewise disappointing. In the film, there is a
small girl, Nanami, who comes up with a riddle: "What remains when all
layers of an onion are peeled?", and the answer is "Tears." All these
words are extremely poetic, and it is this poetic vision that Terayama
wanted to transplant onto the screen. But the result was an obscene,
sado-masochistic film, failing entirely to convey the poetic vision of
the screenwriter. Since we were so dissatisfied with this movie, we
decided to make a different version, bearing the same name and
featuring the same characters, but in the form of a music record.
« Buraikan » (1970)
has also written a screenplay for Yoichi Higashi's film Third. At
that time, Terayama was preparing his film Boxer for the large studio
Toei. Since it was a large company that maintained total control, he
had to submit a complete screenplay, which caused him a lot of
frustration. When he received a request from Higashi, he was very happy
to be able to write freely, leaving many possibilities for
improvisation. In this screenplay, there were some very sketchy
indications, where it could be said: "This decision will be made by the
cameraman, or by the director, etc." Higashi was delighted with this
freedom, but I also heard that he had to work on completing the
screenplay every day, which wasn't too easy for him! (laughing)
What is the fate of Terayama's legacy?
Japan, there are sometimes TV broadcasts of his films. We also organize
festivals dedicated to his works every year. His theater plays are also
staged. La Marie-vison is
currently performed in Tokyo, in Roppongi
area. I helped with the premiere performance, two days before coming
here. [Note to the reader: Henrikku is a stage manager for Tenjo Sajiki
plays produced at present.]
It's rather difficult to obtain prints of Terayama's films. Why is it? How is it that the independently-produced films are distributed today by Toho, which does not make much effort to make them broadly available?
believe that this is due to a lack in competence on the part of the
Japanese Society of Directors, an official organization. Many festivals
ask for prints, but unfortunately only the Japan Foundation has copies
of some films. Such is the present situation. If the world presses for
change, perhaps it will happen: I count on you! It's difficult to do
much with the Japanese only! (laughing)
What happened to Tenjo Sajiki after Terayama's death?
Terayama passed away in the month of May (1983) when we were
on tour. We played a few more scheduled performances in Osaka, but
Keiko Niitaka, a principal actress of the troupe, refused to continue
the tour without Terayama. We cancelled the subsequent performances and
soon realized that we were unable to go on. We thus proclaimed the
dissolution of Tenjo Sajiki in July of the same year. In August, J.A.
Seazer, the musician, and some other members founded a new troupe
called Banyu Inryoku (Universal Gravitation). Personally, without
Terayama, I didn't know what to do anymore, and I decided not to
participate in this new endeavor.
And what turns did your later career take?
Henrikku Morisaki (© Photo :Benjamin Minot)
Terayama's death, in June, his mother asked me to become her adopted
son, and that's how I turned into Terayama's adopted brother in
records. Terayama had such great importance and bearing on our stage
productions that I had serious difficulties to proceed on my own. It
took me fifteen years to regain autonomy and the power to say what I
was thinking. After his death, I became an assistant director for a
number of films and theater plays, as a continuation of my work as
Terayama's assistant. It's often said that the job of assistant
director is a transitory stage before becoming a director. But I think
I am really made for this job. It's probably hard to find someone who
has spent as many years as myself working as an assistant director!
It's rare enough to warrant a documentary about me, already 3 years in
making with almost 100 hours of rushes. The director says it must be
completed next year, but I don't believe it! (laughing) I've also
directed some films of my own, but always on video. Other than that, at
present, I take care of the sound for the theater of the great actress
Kayoko Shiraishi, and I am also the artistic director for the photo
books by Nobuyoshi
Araki, which you should certainly know.
Thank you very much for your participation!
Merci beaucoup! (in French)