The scene, as they say, takes place in Tokyo, in June 1985, but I remember it clearly. It was on a trip during which two companions and I were supposed to network with the Japanese theatre scene. But the trip had been poorly prepared, and the only appointments that had been arranged for us were with highly traditional institutions unable to consider any form of collaboration except perhaps proposals for tours, which we weren’t in a position to be able to offer them. The only good memory I have, slightly vague after all these years, is of a Bunraku performance that we saw in Osaka. But what I want to recount happened in a sort of small salon in the back of the National Noh Theatre in Shibuya-Ku, where the master (I think he was the eighth representative of the Tetsunojo Kanze dynasty of actors) received us for a scalding cup of tea.


I remember little of what he said, all I know is that it was courteous and formal, and quite brief as well. But as he was speaking and the words were translated for us, I was distracted by a sight outside on the street: a worker was climbing a utility pole, wearing shoes fitted out with hooks and performing a sort of slow-motion aerial ballet. Between his silhouette that I could see from below, the intricate tangle of wires, transformers and cords where he was busying himself, and the sky, for me he turned into a sort of living ideogram; and the more I turned my gaze toward him, the more my attention to the words of the master faded. The worker, and not the great actor, was the silent reciter of Japan. I am well aware that this anecdote holds something of a zen spirit, but what I draw from it is the power of distraction, the level of attention it allowed me to reach.


Jean-Christophe Bailly