– Autumn/Winter 2009

The Imaginary Martial Theatre of the Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Thomas Dylan Eaton

Shuji Terayama, Tomato Kecchappu Kôtei (Emperor Tomato Ketchup), 1970, colour-tinted black-and-white 16mm film, 76 min

Our culture is highly organised and systematised, and we do not grant citizenship to pigs. Therefore, disruption and criticism would ensue if even a lone pig were to jump into the Imperial Household…1

Tolstoy attributes wars and revolutions to the whims of unknown historical forces, and declares the decisions of emperors and the manoeuvres of generals to be irrelevant to either their outbreaks or outcomes. 2 In the long, violent and agonising battle between two boy-generals who play a never-ending game of Jan-ken-pon (the Japanese version of 'rockpaper- scissors') in Shuji Terayama's dystopian film Tomato Kecchappu Kôtei (Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1970), cataclysmic war comes to Japan, a nation whose martial history ended abruptly in 1945 with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.3 Terayama once described dramaturgy as the 'organisation of violence'4 and in his film's brutal satire of political activism and ideologues, his boy-generals, dressed in cobbled-together uniforms, resemble less generals than actors in a martial theatre in which dramatic action simply spreads like pandemonium.

Japan emerged from the catastrophe of World War II as one of the most pragmatic and materialist societies in the world, and amidst this consensus Emperor Tomato Ketchup erupted deliriously, along with a string of acts of violent political contestation by leftist and nationalist factions - hijackings, bank robberies and an attempted coup d'état-cumpublic suicide - that were upending Japan's post-War ideology of parliamentary democracy, domestic peace and economic expansion. The film depicts the anarchic scenario of children taking over, told through a series of burlesque theatrical tableaux and a collage of voiceover and found audio documents. The sheer sensationalism of the

  1. Shuji Terayama, 'The Labyrinth and the Dead Sea: My Theatre' (trans. Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei), in Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-Garde Theatre of Terayama Shuji and Postwar Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005, p.288.

  2. In the second epilogue to War and Peace (1865-69), Tolstoy, writing about the Age of Revolution (approximately 1760 to 1830), equates war to a cataclysm: no one in particular is held to be responsible and no one is expected to gain from it. Tolstoy's ideas are the polar opposite of Clausewitz's notion of war as a rational instrument of national policy and 'continuation of politics by other means' that proved so influential in Japan following the Meiji restoration of 1868.

  3. Emperor Tomato Ketchup has existed in at least three separate versions since the black-and-white footage was shot in 1969-70, reflecting Terayama's determination to revise his productions. The 76-minute version is currently available as a red-tinted transfer through Image Forum in Tokyo, alongside a 28-minute version from 1972 printed by the German Television Bureau, with German text superimposed throughout. This essay treats the 76-minute version from 1970 released by Image Forum on DVD as part of The Experimental Image World of Shuji Terayama (2006).

  4. S. Terayama, 'The Labyrinth and the Dead Sea', op. cit.

    , p.275.

  5. Ibid., p.286.

  6. Terayama was born in 1935 and died in 1983.

  7. Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs (trans. Richard Howard), New York: Hill and Wang, 1982, p.32.

  8. Expo '70 was the World's Fair held in Osaka between March and September 1970.

  9. Quoted in C.F. Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts, op. cit., p.3.

  10. Quotations from the script of Emperor Tomato Ketchup (trans. C.F. Sorgenfrei), in C.F. Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts, op. cit. , p.121.

  11. Seppuku is a form of ritual suicide by disembowelment, traditionally reserved for samurai. It offered a way to die with honour rather than in the hands of the enemy.

  12. Quoted by Karl Dixon in 'Recent Shift in Japanese Right-Wing Student Movements: The "Minzoku-Ha" Students', Asian Survey, vol.12, no.11, November 1972, p.83. The Shÿwa monarchy is the Imperial Household of Emperor Hirohito. A Shÿwa restoration would undo the 1947 constitution which forbids the emperor to play a role in politics.

  13. Yukio Mishima, quoted from a transcript of his 1969 debate with Tokyo University students, in Susan J. Napier, 'Death and the Emperor: Mishima, Oe, and the Politics of Betrayal', Journal of Asian Studies, vol.48, no.1, February 1989, p.85.

  14. Quoted by Hisaaki Yamanouchi in 'Mishima Yukio and his Suicide', Modern Asian Studies, vol.6, no.1, 1972, p.15.

  15. Quoted by C.F. Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts, op. cit. , p.43.

  16. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, p.107.

  17. Mishima wrote 'I will never admit the decay of the flesh' as a caption for a selection of his photographic portraits from Eikoh Hosoe's series Ba Ra Kei (Ordeal by Roses, 1963). The photographs were exhibited, with Mishima's caption, in the section 'River of Flesh' of the exhibition 'Mishima Yukio' held in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, October 1970.

  18. Patricia G. Steinhoff, 'Hijackers, Bombers, and Bank Robbers: Managerial Style in the Japanese Red Army', The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.48, no.4, November 1989, p.727.

  19. Terayama wrote the screenplay The Dry Lake in 1960 for the director Shinoda Masahiro. It follows the transformation of a leftist radical into a right-wing terrorist. 20 Quoted by Jan Dawson, 'Shuji Terayama', Cinema Papers, vol.7, November/December 1975, p.231.

  20. Quoted by Jan Dawson, 'Shuji Terayama', Cinema Papers, vol.7, November/December 1975, p.231.

  21. Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art (1974), London: C.T. Editions, 2005, p.243.

  22. C.F. Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts, op. cit., p.120.

  23. Ibid., p.104.

  24. Quoted in the programme (p.27) for 'Diary of a Shinjuku Poet-Shuji Terayama: 1935-1983', a retrospective of Terayama's film and video work at the National Film Theatre, London, January 1987.

  25. Quoted by C.F. Sorgenfrei, Unspeakable Acts, op. cit., p.94.

  26. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (trans. Helene Iswolsky), Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1984.

  27. 'Dengaku' literally means 'field entertainment'. Performers used stilts, drums tied to their hips, copper cymbals and instruments made of lengths of wood fastened together to produce a rattling sound. Dengaku events were characterised by people wearing garish costumes, dancing with gusto and playing loud music.

  28. The kampaku system of government in Japan refers to a period of rule by the emperors' chief advisors, also known as the Fujiwara Regency. The kampaku system is associated with the Heian period of Japanese history (794-1185). The insei system of government in Japan refers to a period of rule by cloistered emperors that began in 1086 under the retired Emperor Shirakawa and continued throughout the late Heian period.

  29. A section of œe no Masafusa's Rakuyÿ Dengaku Ki (1096) is included in Jacob Raz, 'Popular Entertainment and Politics: The Great Dengaku of 1096', Monumenta Nipponica, vol.40, no.3, Autumn 1985, pp.296-98.