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CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE THEATER: SYMBOLISM IN SHVSAKU ENDO'S OGON NO KUNI THE TIMEWORN IMAGE OF THE fumie (a representation of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin to be trampled on, used by persecutors of feudal Japan to discover hidden Christians), figures forth in a strikingly original way the intense dramatic conflict of forces-moral, political, racial, religious and psychological-that clash violently against one another in Shilsaku Endo's dynamic three-act tragedy ironically entitled ogon no Kuni (Land of Yellow Gold.) The play, which marked the well-known novelist's first excursion into drama, was first published in Bungei magazine's May, 1966 issue and produced by the Kumo players under the direction of Hiroshi Akutagawa from May 13 to 23 at Tokyo Municipal Centre Hall. With the adept use of symbolic realism reminiscent of Graham Greene's novels, particularly of The Hcart of the Matter with its problem of pity versus moral obligation, and Th,e Power and the Glory with its hunted priest and Judas figure, near Nagasaki on Kyilshil island, Mr. Endo places his drama of the human soul against a setting suggestive of corruption and death in a boggy strip of land (an epitome of seventeenth century Japan) surrounded by an oppressively silent sea, a land once dreamed of by Francis Xavier as a promised land of yellow gold, but where transplanted seedlings of foreign culture quickly decay in the lukewarm mire. The scene is set two years after the revolt of Shimabara (1637-8) during the Christian persecution under Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa shogun who ruled from 1623 to 1651. Although the main action of the play (the apostasy of Father Ferreira) is based on actual fact, Mr. Endo himself has stated (in a radio broadcast over NHK, May 29, 1966) that the scarcity of recorded historical data available left ample room for the full play of imagination. Thus the play is largely a creative work involving a study of mixed motives, depth psychology and situational morality. In the same broadcast Mr. Endo explained how he had come across the picture of a fumie while ill in the hospital, and how this image had struck him as a possible point of departure for a novel. He had always looked upon the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the true moment of Japan's confrontation with the western world, a con397 398 MODERN DRAMA February frontation more significant than that of the later Meiji era when Japan did not actually come to grips with the west but merely adapted and absorbed whatever suited her demands of expediency. In the earlier period the encounter had been more violent. Christianity, for example, had been introduced in "western clothes" and thus came to be associated with all that was foreign to native soil. To this the fumie was a testimoniaL History had kept silence about those who trod the fwmie, but it had occurred to him that their stories would be worth reconstructing since they, too, contained hidden grains of truth about human life. Mr. Endo had then travelled to Kyushu and looked up historical documents dating from the days of persecution. The novel which followed was written in the span of four years and published under the title of Chinmoku (Silence) by Shinchosha, Tokyo, in 1966, shortly before the publication of the play. The novel (though written earlier) takes up where the play leaves off. 6gon no Kuni dramatizes the story of the fall of Father Ferreira, who, after twenty years of an apparently fervent missionary life, succumbs to the wiles of Inoue and steps on the fumie, out of pity for his fellow-sufferers whose release is promised him on condition that he renounce his faith. Chinmoku begins with the arrival of Father Roderigo who has come to look for Ferreira, reports of whose apostasy has reached Rome. The story is recounted, partly in epistolary, partly in documentary style, as Roderigo follows a pattern similar to that of his predecessor, and after a period of apostolic zeal is captured and brought to the fumie. In his case he seems to hear the voice of Christ telling him to step on the fumie in order to save those...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 397-400
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
N
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