Miryam Sas’ Experimental Arts in Postwar Japan: Moments of Encounter, Engagement, and Imagined Return (Harvard University Asia Center, 2011) is an exceptionally rich study that has a great deal to offer scholars across the humanities. The book looks at the experimental arts in postwar Japan in a study that ranges across works of experimental theater, film, video, dance, photography, poetry, essay, and other forms of text. Much of the study focuses on close readings of the work of artists who were experimenting with different modes of performance, and different ways of relating language, image, materiality, and time, to explore the possibilities of encounter from many different frames.
Scholars of embodiment will find much of interest here, as will readers interested in the histories of intimacy, of collectivity, and of materiality. There are also some fascinating characters along the way, including experimental theater troupes that set fire to cars and gave audience members drugs during performances, and characters that experimented with a “self-spanking machine.” The artists in Sas’ book consider the relationship between performance texts and mapping, experiment with darkness and blindness to challenge the notion of a performance as a fully perceptible experience, and use collective activity as a space to explore relationships, and to challenge assumptions about truth and power. In the course of these fascinating accounts and close readings, Sas introduces us to ways of thinking about crimes as “contagious,” and invites us to consider notions of the “Japanese body,” “Japan,” the “Orient,” and even “home” as counterfeit coins. It is an immensely stimulating study and will leave you with much to think about.