Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nippon Wars and Other Plays

Translations of Japanese drama are few and far between so the publication of this collection of six key plays by Takeshi Kawamura is a welcome event, anyone who might have an interest to explore Japanese drama further I'd redirect to the Performing Arts Network Japan pages via the Japan Foundation, the archive of their Play of the Month is especially worth a look through. My knowledge of modern Japanese drama though is slight, other from the appearance of translations of Mishima's reworkings of Noh plays and Abe Kobo's Tanizaki Prize winning play Friends/Tomodachi, there is a collection of translations by Kunio Kishida, (a drama prize named after him is one of the most prestigious in Japan), Five Plays, by Kunio Kishida, edited by David G. Goodman, who also made a study of Japanese drama of the sixties in his book Return of the Gods, and a translation of the The Face of Jizo/Chichi to Kuraseba by Inoue Hisashi, are all books of interest. Another dramatist well over due for some representation into English translation is that of Terayama Shuji, the plays here from Takeshi Kawamura were first performed a little closer to our own time, but at the same time they involve subject matter from the course of modern Japanese history. The book is edited by Peter Eckersall who also writes an introductory essay examining Kawamura's plays and his involvement from production group Daisan Erotica to the forming of his own  TFactory, the essay is entitled - Takeshi Kawamura: Memory, Society, Theater-Media and provides a great insight to the nature of Kawamura's plays which take in both traditional and experimental aspects of theater, including to a degree elements of cyberpunk. The plays are translated by various translators including; Shoichiro Kawai, Leon Ingulsrud, Sara Jensen, Aya Ogawa and Peter Eckersall, the selected plays include - Nippon Wars, The Lost Babylon, Hamletclone, Aoi, (based on the Noh play Aoi no ue), Komachi, and The White House in the Hills of Argos.

Nippon Wars was first performed in 1984, set in a dystopian future it opens with a soldier leaving for the front saying farewell to his girlfriend proclaiming although he is young he will fight for the United Capitalist Republic of Nippon, (UCRN), another man appears at the back of the stage on an elevated platform firing a gun into the air, banners unravel proclaiming developments in the war with Calgaria, he explains he joined the Rebel Canary, another banner explains the intensification of the war, UCRN forms an alliance with Amerigo, the war turns to total war, the man's nausea grows, close to vomiting he observes - History is making me sick!, firing in the air slips of silver paper begin to fall, (an editor's note explain that these represent aka-gami, Japanese conscription notices). The scene shifts, the man is regaining consciousness, someone explains that he is coming around after being shot with the anaesthetic Algin Z, he finds himself amongst a strange group, he can hear the distant sound of waves, Welcome to the blue whale room!, they all greet him, he learns from them that from now on his name will change to 'O', as a deserter of the Rebel Canary he'll  train for two and half years before being sent to the real front, one of the group reveals that he is inside a giant whale and that there are other similar animals in existence being used for similar purposes, the group is made up of both men and women and are named in the play with single letters, J, B, M, P, K. The others in the group display a variety of extraordinary powers, fragments of O's previous life begin to return to him, one of the others observe that, 'you must have some kind of special power if you were sent to this room', O begins to question where he is again, mockingly another says, 'Hey, bro. We already had that where am I stuff in the last scene. Lay off that hero shit. What are we actors?', abruptly they receive a surprise visit from General Q accompanied by Miss Right and Miss Left and a bacchanalian party begins in the middle of which Miss I returns, her previous whereabouts appear to have been a mystery. Lessons begin, as they count through they come to Lesson 100: conversation, Q explains - This is communication. You exchange your own ideas. But you cannot use any existing language. It becomes apparent that the exercise is being overlooked by a higher intelligence than themselves, which is represented in the form of a floating brain called Sue Ellen, using Neuro Kinetic Energy the group inadvertently blow up an enemy sub that had strayed to close, this realization that they possess this power arouses their curiosity in their situation, and through the conversation and questioning Miss I poses the question, 'Do you have the memory of being loved?', which produces a blank within the group. Sue Ellen informs them that the whale is on course for the coast of Calgaria, this news is interrupted by the announcement of news of the war's further intensification, martial law has broken out in Tokyo. As they near the coast the ensuing panic is represented in a dance and the characters begin to recall moments from their previous existences, they come under enemy attack and at the same time O attempts suicide. After the wave of the attack has passed O is operated upon, during the procedure Q explains that the UCRN had manufactured microbe bombs and androids to help the war effort, the only problem they had were emotions, the realization that they are androids sweeps through the group and that the memories of their previous existences were implanted in an attempt to help give them more of a human like identity. The ending of the play sees an attempted power shift and rebellion but this too could be an event that was pre-ordained by the total brain. The title play from this collection  transcends beyond being a story of malfunctioning androids and obviously carries a comment about society at large and offers an apocalyptic vision of a dystopian society, although reading a play you are only exposed to a limited appreciation of it's overall power and scope, reading Nippon Wars you realize it has lost none of it's ability to provoke thought. The plays presented here also come accompanied with photographs of productions of each of the plays.

Read synopsis of Aoi and Komachi at Performing Arts Network Japan

Nippon Wars and Other Plays is published by Seagull Books

T Factory (in Japanese)        

4 comments:

Will said...

This sounds great! Can't wait to check this out sometime.

me. said...

As you may tell by my post I've not yet finished reading all the plays here, so I may well post again on this interesting collection, well worth tracking down a copy.

Rurousha said...

Thanks for the recent suggestions about poetry and plays! I haven't been adventurous enough to read anything except novels (plus the well-known haiku poets), but methinks it's time to give a few other genres a go.

me. said...

I've not read much haiku yet as I've mainly read prose poetry although I've recently bought a copy of the book, 'For All My Walking' by Santoka Taneda, translated by Burton Watson and am really looking forward to reading through it. I enjoy reading and getting absorbed in novels and short stories but also find it interesting to read about things from the perspectives offered by poetry and plays, I'd highly recommend a look into Nippon Wars, thanks for the comment!.