|Born||18 January 1901
Kanda, Tokyo, Japan
|Died||22 March 1977
Murayama was born in the Kanda Suehiro district of Tokyo. His father, who was a medic in the Imperial Japanese Navy, died when he was nine years old. His mother became a fervent Christian after having been converted by Uchimura Kanzo, and was active in the pacifist movement. Murayama was initially encouraged towards watercolors and traditional Japanese painting, but was later drawn to philosophy, particularly the works of German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He converted to Christianity himself after being assaulted by fellow students for echoing his mother's pacifist views.
Murayama entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1921 with the intention of studying philosophy, but soon left to study art and drama at the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany. Initially drawn to the genre of Constructivism as typified by the work of Wassily Kandinsky, he later became dissatisfied with the detachment of Constructivism from reality and developed his own style by using a collage of real objects to provoke concrete associations. He coined this method ‘conscious constructivism’, which was known as MAVO. The “Mavoists” sought to eliminate the boundaries between art and daily life, and rebelled against convention by combining industrial products with painting or printmaking in a collage. Protests against social injustice were portrayed by use of theatrical eroticism, which also mocked public morality.
As part of his efforts to bring art into everyday reality, Murayama and others helped design the Aoikan movie theater in Akasaka, Tokyo. He occasionally designed the cover of the theater's pamphlets.
On his return to Japan, Murayama introduced both expressionist and constructivist art, but was drawn more toward the modern theatre, especially the proletarian theatre movement of the 1920s. He applied many of the same techniques and aesthetic modes from his paintings into the realm of drama, including elements from German expressionism, dadaism, futurism and other avant-garde European movements. He wrote and produced Marxist-inspired versions of Robin Hood and Don Quixote, which reflect his thinking that entertainment should play a vital sociopolitical objective.
In 1927, Murayama wrote Suka-to o Haita Nero ("Nero in a Skirt"), depicting Catherine II of Russia behaving callously towards her troops and peasants, and cruelty towards her lover to tried to intercede on their behalf. Japanese government censors interpreted the play as a criticism of the Japanese imperial house, and banned its performance.
In 1929, Murayama again greatly alarmed the authorities by producing Borokudanki ("Record of a Gang of Thugs"), a drama glorifying a 1923 incident on the Jingguang railway in China, where Chinese communist labor union leaders incited their disgruntled workers to riot, and in the ensuing mob violence, murdered the railway managers and sabotaged the equipment before being violently suppressed by the military. At the end of the play, the workers make defiant statements condemning militarism, imperialism and hail the formation of workers communes.
In May 1930, Murayama was arrested on violation of the Peace Preservation Laws, and was released on December. In May 1931, he joined the Japan Communist Party. This led to his arrest again in April 1932 in the middle of a dress rehearsal. He was only released on probation in March 1934 after recanting his political views and agreeing to disperse his theatrical company. In May, he published a novel, Byakuya ("White Night") serialized in the literary magazine Chūōkōron. However, he soon returned to the theatre, producing a dramatization of Shimazaki Toson's Yoake no mae ("Before the Dawn") in November 1934. He quickly followed this with numerous other works over the next couple of years, including efforts to revitalize the genre of shimpa and to produce new forms of kabuki. Murayama was known for his outspokenness against Japanese militarism and against censorship, which again drew official wrath. He was again arrested in August 1940, released on bail in June 1942, and re-sentenced in 1944. In 1945, while released on probation, he went to Korea, and in July 1945, he went to Manchukuo.
In December 1945, after the end of World War II, Murayama returned to Japan. In February 1946, he formed a new theatrical company. However, the company was rent by politics, internal dissention and police issues with the Communist sympathies of a number of its members. In 1959, Murayama restructured it into the Tokyo Art Troupe, which he led overseas in a tour of China and Korea in 1960 and 1966. Murayama also participated in the formation of the Japan Democratic Literature Alliance in 1965, serving as its vice chairman for several years. In his later years, he devoted his energies to publishing compilation of plays, writing an autobiography and continuing to fight for intellectual freedom.
- "Akasaka Aoikan" (in Japanese). Retrieved 21 November 2010. Examples of Murayama's pamphlet designs.
- Cody, Gabrielle H. The Columbia encyclopedia of modern drama: M-Z. Columbia University Press (2007). ISBN 0231144245
- Powell, Brian. Japan's Modern Theatre: A Century of Change and Continuity. RoutledgeCurzon (2002). ISBN 1-873410-30-1
- Weisenfeld, Gennifer. MAVO: Japanese Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1905-1931. University of California Press (2001). ISBN 0-520-22338-1
- (Japanese) GalleryTOM