Kara, Leader of Japan’s Underground Theater, Dies at 84

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Juro Kara in 2011

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Playwright Juro Kara, a leading figure in Japan’s underground theater movement, died of acute subdural hematoma at a Tokyo hospital Saturday night. He was 84.

A native of Tokyo, Kara, who also directed and acted, took the helm of the predecessor of the now-defunct theatrical company Jokyo Gekijo (Situation Theater) in 1963 after graduating from Meiji University.

In 1967, Kara, whose real name was Yoshihide Otsuru, staged his first “aka tent” performance in a temporary stage in a red tent set up within the precincts of Hanazono Shrine in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, challenging the norms of traditional theater.

After establishing a new troupe, called Karagumi, in 1989, he continued outdoor performances in a unique style across Japan.

Tent performances became a byword for the country’s underground theater movement, not only for his own avant-garde theatrical endeavors.

Known for poetic dialogue that crafted mesmerizing worlds, his works were performed in and outside his own theater.

Among his major works were “Shojo Kamen,” which won the Kishida Kunio drama award, and “Doro Ningyo,” honored with the Tsuruya Nanboku drama award.

Kara also wrote novels and won the Akutagawa literary prize in 1983 for “Sagawa-kun kara no Tegami,” a work about the 1981 incident in which a Japanese man killed a woman and practiced cannibalism in Paris.

In 2021, Kara was selected as a Person of Cultural Merit.

Jokyo Gekijo produced popular actors such as Jinpachi Nezu, Kaoru Kobayashi and Kara’s former wife, Reisen Ri, who was called the queen of the underground theater movement. Kara’s first son, Gitan Otsuru, is an actor, as are his first daughter, Minion Otsuru, and his second son, Sasuke Otsuru.

Kara suffered a fall resulting in a head injury in spring 2012.