By Etsuo Kono / Japan News Staff WriterTokyo’s Shimokitazawa district is a magnet for theater people who want to produce unconventional dramas from home and abroad. Two plays performed in a small theater won Berlin-based actress Mai Morio two prestigious Japanese theater awards.
In June last year the 40-year-old woman turned in a solid performance as the mysterious nurse in Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon’s stunning play “Butcher,” which depicts an act of revenge against an old man who had committed a number of atrocities during a period of ethnic conflict.
In July of the same year, shortly after “Butcher,” she also performed the role of the main character’s lover in Canadian Hannah Moscovitch’s “East of Berlin.” The drama focuses on the hidden scars that remain on people even long after the end of World War II. Both plays were performed in the “Geki Shogekijo” theater in Shimokitazawa before an audience of about 100 people.
For her highly praised acting in both plays, the talented actress received the Kinokuniya Theater Award in the individual category in December last year and the Outstanding Actress Award at the Yomiuri Theater Awards in Feburary. During her recent stay in Tokyo, Morio said with a smile, “I realized that such a small space [in Shimokitazawa] was connected to the rest of the world.”
After two trips to Germany to train, she moved to Berlin. She steadily appeared in a number of dramas by foreign playwrights. She has given unparalleled performances even in difficult roles based on complicated circumstances and histories quite different from Japan.
However, she felt drained by taking on a series of dark roles. “Can I really help those who continue to suffer from painful experiences even now?” Morio has often asked herself. Still, living in Berlin and learning from locals about the scars that still exist from ethnic conflicts and immigrant issues make her performances deeper.
In October, in a small theater in Shimokitazawa, Morio will tackle a challenging role in contemporary Japanese playwright Minoru Betsuyaku’s new play, which was inspired by works of British playwrights. “Even though I’m performing in a small theater, I hope I can be a bridge to the world beyond the door,” said Morio. “By portraying people’s regret and pain, which aren’t seen in everyday life, I will show how humans truly live,” she said, demonstrating her strong passion for theater.