February 7, 2022/ 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Robot Theatre (robotto engeki) in Japan: Staging Techno-Futures, 1920s to 2020s

Staging Japan: A Lecture Series

Czech litterateur Karel Čapek’s science fiction melodrama, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots, 1920) introduced the word “robot” to the world and robots to the world stage. R.U.R. was translated into Japanese and performed in Tokyo at the avant-garde Tsukiji Shōgekijō (Tsukiji Small Theatre) in 1924 under the direction of Hijikata Yoshi. More recently, playwright Hirata Oriza has collaborated with roboticists in producing several short plays featuring robo-thespians. However, it remains the case that despite the worldwide success of R.U.R., the theatre, unlike cinema, has not been actively utilized as a medium for science fiction scenarios exploring human-robot interactions and coexistence. Beginning with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927; Tokyo 1929) starring the evil Robot Maria, films featuring good and evil robot protagonists have proliferated. Prose science fiction has proved to be more adaptable as film and animation than as theatre, and scholarship on Japanese science fiction animé is prolific. My aim in this presentation is to explore the interface of robots and humans in techno-future scenarios performed on stage in Japan from the 1920s to the present.

About the Speaker

Jennifer Robertson is Professor Emerita of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Robertson’s seven books and over eighty articles and chapters address a wide spectrum of subjects in Anthropology, History of Art, and Japan Studies ranging from the 17th century to the present. Among her books are Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City (1991) and Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (1998, Japanese edition 2000), and Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation (2018). https://professorjenniferrobertson.com


About "Staging Japan: A Lecture Series"

Staging Japan: A Lecture Series is the first event to be funded by a new endowment for Japanese Theatre and Related Arts and Culture, created by Emerita Professor of Theatre Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei. The purpose of this series, and of subsequent events funded by the endowment, is to support strengthen and advance the study, appreciation, and visibility of Japanese theatre and related arts and culture at UCLA, and to increase and enhance appreciation for such arts by the broader public.

Specifically, Professor Emerita Sorgenfrei, a specialist in postwar and experimental Japanese performance, hopes to introduce a wider audience in Southern California and beyond to Japan’s rich theatrical culture, and to encourage young scholars to focus on this field.

The Terasaki Center is pleased to be able to offer Jennifer Robertson’s talk as the inaugural lecture in this series.


Webinar Registration is required to attend this event.