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Hisashi Inoue works get memorial series

Photo by Maiko Miyagawa

Ryuhei Matsuda, left, plays Kenji Miyazawa in “Ihatobo no Geki Ressha.”

The Yomiuri ShimbunAbout nine years have passed since the death of playwright Hisashi Inoue, whose philosophy was to make difficult concepts easy to understand and present simple ideas in-depth.

Komatsuza, a theatrical company specializing in Inoue’s works, is putting on a series of his plays this year in a project called “Memorial 10.”

Inoue (1934-2010) wrote more than 70 plays in his lifetime. He was in his mid-30s when he debuted as a full-fledged playwright, after holding such jobs as a scriptwriter at a strip club in Tokyo’s Asakusa area and a broadcast writer.

He turned out many superlative works during the latter part of his life, using Komatsuza, which he founded in 1983, as the main stage for his activities. By the time of his death at age 75, Inoue had written musical dramas, critical biographies, three works depicting the realities of ordinary people’s lives during World War II, and a trilogy featuring the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, known as the Tokyo Trial.

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  • Photo by Maiko Miyagawa

    “Dobutsu Kaigi,” a drama marked by colorful costumes and stage design

Inoue’s approach was to read an enormous number of documents, digest their content and then finally start writing. He was so slow to complete scripts that he nicknamed himself “chihitsu-do,” or slow writer.

His slow output caused great difficulties for directors and actors.

“It was all they could do to get ready for the first public performance of a new work. In some cases, the curtain didn’t go up,” theater critic Yoshio Ozasa said. “Still, the scripts he finished were so high-quality that everyone tolerated [his slow writing].”

Even after Inoue’s death in April 2010, Komatsuza has continued to perform his work, with two directors playing a central role: Hitoshi Uyama of the Bungakuza theatrical troupe and freelancer Tamiya Kuriyama. Several other directors have also been invited to participate.

“In re-staging his plays, both directors and actors can face these works without haste, making it possible for them to discover new facets of the plays,” Ozasa said. “While heavyweights like Uyama and Kuriyama are still active, next-generation directors will face great pressure when they take on Inoue’s works. But that’s exactly why it would be worthwhile.”

One of the next-generation standard-bearers for theatrical direction is Keishi Nagatsuka, 44, who directed two Inoue plays at Komatsuza — “Ju-ippki no Neko” (11 cats) in 2012 and 2015, and “Ihatobo no Geki Ressha” (Ihatobo Play Train) in February.

“I’ve put on brutal works, so when I was asked to direct these plays, I thought it was a mistake,” Nagatsuka said.

“Ju-ippki no Neko” — Inoue’s dramatization of a picture book by cartoonist Noboru Baba — gave Nagatsuka some inspiration. He sensed Inoue’s depth while reading the play, a depth that can’t be properly conveyed just by describing him as a pacifist.

“The work was intended for children, but I was moved by its irrational, shocking ending,” Nagatsuka said. He received high praise for directing the play in a new fashion, in which all its actors formed a circle in which they performed their songs and dances.

The next production Nagatsuka directed was “Ihatobo no Geki Ressha,” a biographical story of Kenji Miyazawa, a poet and author of children’s literature, which was first performed in 1980. He invited actor Ryuhei Matsuda, 36, to take the leading part.

Nagatsuka did not use a revolving stage, but instead tried to make his theatrical direction as simple as possible. For instance, actors in the production were instructed to produce the sound of Kenji rattling as he falls down the stairs.

“There must be ways that plays can be appreciated by young people who wouldn’t otherwise watch them,” he said, urging younger directors to take on Inoue’s works.

After Inoue’s death, Komatsuza premiered several new plays built on his basic ideas. They include “Ki no Ue no Guntai” (Army on The Tree) written by Ryuta Horai, which was first performed in 2013, and “Haha to Kuraseba” (Nagasaki: Memories of My Son) by Seigo Hatasawa.

Kohei Matsushita, 32, who won the Sugimura Haruko Award in the 26th Yomiuri Theater Awards, acted in a revival of “Ki no Ue no Guntai,” which opened at Kinokuniya Southern Theater in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area.

In “Haha to Kuraseba,” Matsushita played a young man who died in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and in “Ki no Ue no Guntai,” he appeared as a new recruit in the Battle of Okinawa.

“Both plays represent what Inoue-san wanted to write. I feel like I’m pursuing his feelings,” Matsushita said.

He feels Inoue’s “anger” is at the bottom of both works. “When I straightforwardly act out the realities of what happened in Nagasaki and Okinawa on that day and at that time, I’m bound to feel angry,” Matsushita said. “But our task is to produce good productions. Doing so may make it possible to pass the baton on to the next generation.”

A daughter’s mission

Maya Inoue, a daughter of Hisashi Inoue and the president of Komatsuza, has always been determined to carry out her deceased father’s wish of contributing to society through plays.

Her hope is evident in the purpose of Memorial 10. “Times have changed a lot since my father’s death. I hope [Memorial 10] will provide people with opportunities to stop and think about how society should function,” she said.

Memorial 10 is to stage six plays this year, starting with “Dobutsu Kaigi” (Animal meeting), which was performed in January. The work was initially intended as a musical drama for children to address environmental problems. It was written for the Shiki Theatre Company in 1971, and was not performed for a long time.

“The issue of radiation [due to the 2011 nuclear accident] has arisen, and I think the meaning and depth of the play has become greater,” Maya said.

“Ihatobo no Geki Ressha” and “Ki no Ue no Guntai” will be followed in June by “Kesho Nidai” (two “Make Up” plays), which are set backstage at a theater. Another work is “Hino-ura Hime Monogatari” (The story of princess Hinoura), which will be performed in September.

The play was written for the late actress Haruko Sugimura to have played the main part. In October, Inoue’s posthumously performed work, “Kumikyoku Gyakusatu” (Suites slaughter), a critical biographical story about prewar proletarian writer Takiji Kobayashi, will be performed.

“Each work has its own characteristic traits, and my job is to decide when and how they will be shown to the public,” Maya said. “The wish I inherited from my father — that is, contributing to society through plays — remains unchanged.”Speech

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