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Asian Theatre Journal 19.2 (2002) 362-364

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Junji Kinoshita, Requiem on the Great Meridian and Selected Essays. Translated by Brian Powell and Jason Daniel. Tokyo: Nan'un-dö, 2000. ii + 369 pp.; ill. 6000 yen

To appreciate the achievement of Kinoshita Junji and the value of this important book, one has to understand the playwright's place in history. Born in 1914, the same year as the political scientist Maruyama Masao, Kinoshita belongs to the generation of postwar Japanese liberals who were most influential during the first fifteen or twenty years after the war. A scholar of Greek drama, a translator of Shakespeare, heir to the socialist realism of Kubo Sakae, Kinoshita epitomizes the kind of realistic, tragic, left-of-center playwriting that became shingeki (modern theatre) orthodoxy in postwar Japan. Tellingly, when younger playwrights and directors revolted against this orthodoxy in the 1960s, it was Kinoshita they singled out for attack. Kinoshita is thus a pivotal and essential figure in the history of modern Japanese drama, and this volume, which contains translations of one of his major plays and three of his essays, is a valuable contribution to the English-language literature on the subject.

Shigosen no matsuri (Requiem on the Great Meridian, 1979) is a dramatization of Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), the epic tale of the war between the rival Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans that began in 1181 and ended in 1185 with the defeat of the Taira. The play concerns the last year of the war and especially the final battle, which was fought in the straits between the islands of Kyüshü and Honshü at Dan-no-Ura. It focuses in particular on Taira no Tomomori, commander of the Heike forces, and to a lesser extent Minamoto no Yoshitsune, commander of the opposing Genji. The title refers to the danse macabre performed by the Heike on an imaginary line across which irresistible tides swept them to oblivion. [End Page 362]

Kinoshita had three purposes in writing this play. First, like his intellectual forebears Tsubouchi Shöyö, Osanai Kaoru, and Kubo Sakae, Kinoshita dreamed of creating a theatre that would unite modern and premodern dramatic forms. Through the Kotoba no Benkyökai (Language Study Group) he founded in December 1967, Kinoshita became aware of the dramatic possibilities of The Tale of the Heike for achieving this goal. In Requiem, Kinoshita incorporates passages from The Tale of the Heike into his modern stage idiom, creating a powerful language that goes far to integrate, if not reconcile, the modern and premodern languages. The translators have succeeded remarkably well in rendering Kinoshita's synthetic language into a dignified, elevated English.

If Kinoshita's first aim was to reconcile modern and premodern theatre through language, his second was to reconcile their acting techniques. He manages this most significantly through the use of ensemble performance that blends characteristics of the Greek chorus with jiutai from nö. In the 1981 production I saw, Kinoshita and director Kanze Hideo also used tableaux reminiscent of the mie of kabuki and the moments of "no action" from nö. Kinoshita took special pride in the fact that, side by side with shingeki actors, performers from all the major genres of classical Japanese theatre appeared in the original productions. The numerous stage photographs by Tomiyama Haruo included in this volume effectively convey the flavor of the acting produced by this collaboration.

Kinoshita's third and most important aim, however, was to reconceive The Tale of the Heike as a neoclassical tragedy in the Western mold. As readers will learn from the three essays included here, Kinoshita defines "drama" in terms of the Western tragic tradition. His aim throughout his career—from his first play, Fürö (Wind and Waves, 1939; revised 1947), to Otto toYobareru Nihonjin (A Japanese Named Otto, 1962)—has been to write modern tragedies in which an individual encounters the overwhelming force of history and is crushed. Reading The Tale of the Heike, Kinoshita believed that he had discovered in the figure of Tomomori a truly...