Thursday, January 12, 2006
The curtain rises on a bare stage, occupied only by a large wooden barrel upon which is mounted an enormous spigot. As the lights come up, the orchestra launches into the delicate opening phrases of composer-choreographer Ittoru Sakitaru’s Ballet of the Salarymen.
The titular office workers file onto the stage in synchronized uniformity, swinging and fanning their briefcases in the patented kagura style popularized by classical Japanese Noh theatre. There is a great flurry of paperwork as the salarymen open their cases, and the sheets and bundles of documents are caused to flutter about in elegant disarray by black-clad ninja dancers, until at last they coalesce into a six-foot tower of processed wood pulp as the workers spin and pirouette in a perfect oval.
Then the music becomes darker and more dramatic, the salarymen bow and kneel in sober obeisance, and the paperwork column shatters into hundreds of tiny fragments. From the cloud of shredded forms and requisitions steps the Shi-Te, the Office Goddess. With a nod of her snow-white head, the clock strikes 6 p.m., and the revelry begins.
The briefcases are tossed aside, landing offstage with a precisely tuned array of thuds and bangs. The central, massive spigot opens into a flood of rich brown light, and the orchestra launches into the intensely alcoholic second movement of Sakitaru’s composition. Small ceramic cups appear and are hoisted high and full in corporate camaraderie. The Shi-Te rises high above the festivities, favoring each of the dancers with a shower of confetti and glitter.
As the drinking begins, the stage is invaded by a coterie of bar hostesses bearing pachinko machines and mahjong video consoles, lighting the faces of the imbibing gentlemen with bright, garish nintendo colors. Bells and clicks and beeps resound through the auditorium, and the dancers and hardware whirl repeatedly across the stage in drunken merriment.
But all is not well in salaryland, for as the clock strikes midnight, a mighty yakuza investor-warrior bursts onto the scene, waving stock certificates as the score segues into a dark, thumping rhythm accented by taiko drums. With a supercilious sneer and a flourish of his glittering katana sword, he symbolically severs the heads of several of the workers, red streamers trailing as the dancers float effortlessly offstage. The hostesses appear bearing office furniture, and chaos bursts forth in an orgy of downsizing, as salarymen scramble over each other to hold onto the coveted padded chairs. The score becomes disjointed and halting, and at each pause, the worker without a seat is left at the mercy of the marketplace, spirited away by the ninjitsu.
As suddenly as it began, the violence is over, and the orchestra begins the lilting final movement, the shousui-kayou (“urination song”). The surviving salarymen locate their briefcases and stagger towards home, as the red sun rises in the distance.