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Welcome to the Official Website of Philip Kan Gotanda

Excerpted from the Preface to No More Cherry Blossoms.   Sisters Matsumoto and Other Plays. A collection of plays by Philip Kan Gotanda.

No one is ever just one thing: the label that has been given them, the definition that one has accepted and lives within.  Nonetheless, so much of what we work and live by seems based on these seemingly transparent assumptions. I am a playwright, I am an American playwright, I am an Asian American playwright, I am an Asian American playwright of Japanese descent, or, I am not an Asian American playwright.  They serve their purpose.  They served their purpose.

In the end we are all beings in flux, in continual invention and reformation.  We must use social labels and self-defining names as they should be used, as convenient constructs to get a handle on the shifting world, to be replaced by more suitable ones as the world shifts again, as we shift again.

It is an always present, seen and unseen exchange going on between the external and the internal. The process involves keeping the two in sync, mutually informing, conforming, so one has keener negotiation of the described world. The artist can then by the simple act of attention make an action in the direction of truthfulness, relevancy and liberation.

We all do many things. We are all many things. I never quite know what I will be doing tomorrow. If I will travel or stay at home.  Be with others or alone. If it will be a play, a film, a song, a pot or a performance.

What I try to do is get up each day and give my body the chance to speak. In whatever format, language, medium it chooses.  I try to be a harsh judge of the work and brutally honest in its appraisal.  It should represent the truth of that moment to me.  The exact articulation of my whole being – hair to bone, bowels to skin, historical to contemporaneous, emotional to intellectual, all that can be seen and all that can be dreamt – in as artful a gesture as possible.

Of course one can never do exactly that. One comes as close as one can. That is the challenge.

Here is some of that work. It covers a period of about five to six years and gives a sense of the work I have been doing in theater. It is a good companion to my book, Fish Head Soup and Other Plays.  It is a good companion to my films and screenplays. It is a good companion to my Website. It is a good companion to hearing a performance of my spoken-word retro jazz ensemble, the new orientals or, its newer iteration.

The world shifts  

The label no longer fits  

We go to sleep, wake up, and try again  

Hopefully with new eyes. 


Copyright Philip Kan Gotanda 2012-2013 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Epiphany at Shinsai

-- added May 3, 2013 --

Excerpt from a Panel after the Shinsai Event at Cooper Union in New York.   March 12, 2012. Anne Cattaneo moderated. Panelists included:  John Guare, John Weidman, James Yaegashi, Philip Kan Gotanda.

Anne Cattaneo: And then I called Philip Gotanda, who I’ve known for 30 years, and I said “You have to be part of this.” Can you tell us a little bit about your life and how it fit into your Shinsai play?

PHILIP GOTANDA: Well, my connection is I’m a third generation Japanese American. My mother and father were the children of immigrants and I myself went to Japan in the early ‘70s. I went to school there and then I left the program and I lived in a pottery village for a while, for a year and a half, studying pottery. And subsequent to that I’ve been going back and forth, and more recently they’ve been doing my plays in Japan.

What I thought I’d talk about is my experience with this event. I arrived Friday night, late Friday night.  Saturday I went to rehearsals and I attended rehearsals. I had a chance to meet and mingle with all the performers, all the people behind the scenes, various writers. And then I sat through both performances yesterday, in the afternoon and the evening, quite near John. And I think John and I had the same experience finding that the event was remarkable, and it was remarkable for me in the sense that my own play was subsumed by everyone’s stories, so by the end of last night it all became one event. It wasn’t just the plays, the material, it was the audience response, it was me meeting everyone, and it was this powerful cumulative feeling that the event created. 

What I think is that because the initial gesture was one of kindness, collective generosity, and mutual compassion,  the event itself carried a kind of purity of impactfulness that ultimately wrote all over all those who participated and all over my body.  That was the story that I came away with, and it was a wonderful sort of feeling. 

Also, if I can repeat what John was saying, I thought the Japanese playwrights’ material ultimately was what moved the evening. The American playwrights of course we are all here, but  the Japanese playwrights were able to ground the abstraction of the evening and make it real, so concrete because of the specificity of what they talked about, because of the day-to-day events shown in the plays. And that allowed the stories for all of us to become so real.  We feel as best as we can, through theater, through art, as John was saying, the pain, the challenges that the country is facing, by way of everyday people, through the words of the playwrights.

And the last thing I wanted to say was it’s connected a bit to the piece I wrote which was called “Child is Father to Man.”  It’s about a son talking about his father and the relationship they have and the relationship the two of them have to the past, Japan being part of it, Kauai, Hawaii being part of it.  My mother was a Nisei, was born in America at a time when, this was before World War II, she was the all American kid.  She loved America. She loved Japan. And it was all fairly integrated.  She was an American kid. The war happens and Japan and America go at it, and she is imprisoned for three years for being Japanese-American.  She gets out, she comes back to the West Coast and she raises a family, three sons of which I am one, and from that point on, from the time she was incarcerated, imprisoned, her relationship to both Japan and America was ambivalent.  She wanted to love and be patriotic towards Japan, the country of her family.  She wanted to love and be patriotic to America, but they imprisoned her.  And as a consequence, her entire life was one of ambivalence, of a love-hate relationship, which she passed on to me.

But last night I had a minor epiphany, then I’ll be quiet, but I thought of my mother. I wish my mom could have been here at the event because it also ties into something that Oskar Eustis in his welcoming remarks said about this being about the world. My mother struggled always with trying to love and be patriotic to two countries of the world, and I think if she was at the event last night she would have realized that she could love, and she should have perhaps loved the world of which there were two countries, and that’s the thing I thought, that’s what this is about. I wish my mom could have been here. She would have understood something new. As I did. (Applause)


Coming - a Second Act.