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Japan “in Ruins” – Tadashi Suzuki’s The Trojan Women

By Lin Yu-pin, Associate Professor of the School of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts, theatre critic


Premiered in 1974, The Trojan Women remains one of the classics of director Tadashi Suzuki, but he has never put it on stage since 1989. After leaving it on shelf for 25 years, Suzuki surprisingly re-opened his stage curtain and presented this piece to the world once again in 2014, creating quite a buzz at the time. He deliberately chose a translated Western play as his maiden directing production with the purpose of reflecting Japan’s position in face of the dominance of Western culture.

Essentially there is no obvious dramatic actions or conflicts in Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which depicts little more than the surviving women of Troy, in grief over the fall of their city-state and fear for the future, waiting to be ferried off to lives of slavery in Athens. As they ponder the wretched future that awaits them, their only action is a sustained lamentation of their plight. Using a “framing” approach (adding another context setting to the script without making any changes to the original text 1), Suzuki devices the play in the war-torn Japan at the end of World War II. He cross-imposes the ruinous landscape of post-war Tokyo with the Trojan town in the Greek tragedy via the homeless in tattered kimono carrying all they have in a cloth wrap and the prostitutes in mini skirt frequenting on stage.

Another distinctive characteristic of Suzuki’s adaption is the use of “plural roles”, in that each actor plays two or more roles and switches roles right in front of the audience. In the beginning, Kayoko Shiraishi plays an old Japanese beggar woman, and the whole play is recast through her “Trojan fantasies”, in which she swiftly transforms to the captive queen of Troy Hecuba first and to Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra later by putting up a kimono instantly. In this version, Suzuki puts into practice through and through the beauty of role-switching on stage.

“The absence of gods” is another theme in Suzuki’s The Trojan Women. At the very last act when the young girl, who has to sell her body after the war for survival, throws a bunch of flowers to a god statue, Ouyang Fei Fei’s pop song At the Crossroad of Love is used as the background music, while the god statue can only bemoan in agony. It seems that in Tadashi Suzuki’s mind even gods aren’t capable of solving their own problems in our time.


This article is excerpted and translated from Chinese

1 Lin, Yu-pin (2011). “East Encountering West in Suzuki Tadashi’s The Trojan Women”. Journal of Theatre Studies, 7, p. 178.