The Old Globe’s tokyo fish story features plenty of big themes from generational disconnection to familial nihilism to art versus commercialism to gender discrimination. The other theme is titling one’s play in all lowercase letters. Give it a rest. Capital “T” tokyo fish story will work just fine.
Let’s discuss art versus commercialism. Master sushi chef Koji is unwilling to lower his standards in order to raise his revenue. He appears intent on riding the traditional standard all the way to his grave — or least the his restaurant’s grave.
He is choosing death before dishonor. He is committing something of a drawn out seppuku within the confines of his business.
The restaurant across the street has a line around the corner because they give people appetizers and dessert. Koji believes in the quality of his art and has no interest in appetizers or dessert or innovation. He is unflinching as the knife enters the belly of his establishment inch by inch.
Yet Koji might not so much believe in the quality of his art as be trapped by the structure of his tradition and unable to avoid the destruction. He allows innovation to occur but not because he wants it. His apprentice, Takashi, takes over for the dinner service when Koji has a nervous breakdown.
Koji does not find his peace and surrender the kingdom of his own free will. Rather, circumstances forced him from his abalone-encrusted throne.
I find myself sympathizing with Koji. His form is pure, his approach is steeped in wisdom. The problem is that it is not making as much money as the chain restaurant across the street. Takashi, the apprentice, appears to represent a middle ground between a dying tradition and a soulless chain of sushi factories.
Can we have wisdom, tradition, innovation, and financial success? Maybe.
When we talk about finding the middle ground in such topics we’re talking about the middle ground between the high ground and the low ground not the middle ground between two equals on the left and right. In order to get to the middle ground the high ground must decay and erode while the low ground must be uplifted and improve.
Neither element does this of its own accord. Those who are dedicated to the ideals of high culture do not want to reduce the rigor of their intellect while those unaware of their baseness are... unaware of their baseness.
Those who occupy the high ground (culture) often lob sentiments such as “thoughtless troglodytes” down at the swirling mass of humanity in the valley. At the same time the valley looks up with contempt at the pompous, rigid, and boring elements on the heights above.
Tokyo fish story tries to find a middle ground artistically. The risk in trying to find a synthesis between thesis and antithesis is becoming half-baked. The middle ground is a difficult place. We might be better served to think of it as no-man’s-land.