Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei is Professor of Theatre at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she formerly served as the Head of Critical Studies and of Playwriting. An authority on post-war Japanese and cross-cultural performance, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, and translator of modern Japanese plays. Her best known original plays, such as Medea: A Noh Cycle Based on the Greek Myth, fuse Japanese and Western performance. Translations from Japanese include plays by Terayama Shūji, Kishida Rio, Katō Michio, and Iwasaki Masahiro. Articles and reviews have appeared in various encyclopedias, edited books, and journals such as Theatre Research International, TDR, Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Asian Theatre Journal, and Contemporary Theatre Review. She serves as an associate editor for the Asian Theatre Journal and is the editor of the Association for Asian Performance Newsletter.
The brothers Ito: Interweaving Art and Politics in Twentieth-Century Japanese-Western Performance
The remarkable Ito family of Japan produced four brothers who were innovators in twentieth-century theatre. Their lives and art intersected with the key political events of the mid-twentieth century in Japan, Europe, and America. After studying art and dance in Germany and France, Ito Michio (1892-1961) performed as an ‘exotic Other’ in England and America. From 1916 to 1941, he performed vaudeville, opera, Japanese, and original ‘fusion’ works in the USA, and acted in films. After internment in a ‘relocation camp’ during WWII, he returned to Japan, where he lived the rest of his life. His dance students included members of the all-female Takarazuka revue. His younger brother, Marxist/Brechtian director-actor Senda Koreya (born Ito Kunio, 1904-1996), studied theatre in Germany, was imprisoned in Japan for leftist politics, recanted, and led a major post-war shingeki troupe focusing on socialist and leftist productions. Two other brothers were prominent scenic designer Ito Kisaku (1899-1967) and costume designer Ito Yuji. While much is known about Senda’s political activism, it has generally been assumed that Ito Michio was totally apolitical. My research focuses on a re-evaluation of that assumption by exploring the political and artistic aspects in Ito Michio’s apparently non-political, ‘Orientalist’ work in light of his experiences in the West, ranging from confidant of British lords, adored star and teacher to imprisoned ‘enemy alien.’