TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 114-135
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The Lost Babylon
Kawamura Takeshi *
translated and with an introduction by Sara Jansen
Contemporary Japanese Performance
In The Lost Babylon, Kawamura Takeshi engages what he sees as an undercurrent of violence in Japanese contemporary society, and references several recent events widely covered in the Japanese media. Specifically, Kawamura's play is informed by the change of consciousness resulting from the 1995 Kobe earthquake; the Aum sarin gas attacks in the city of Matsumoto and the Tokyo subway system, in 1994 and 1995 respectively; and many other less spectacular but extremely violent incidents, including the so-called Kobe child murder case in 1997. Other phenomena receiving public attention include the eroticization of teenage girls and their specific culture, sexual harassment, and the frequent touching and stalking on crowded subway trains. The unthinkable violence and disturbing nature of many of these incidents is shocking to the Japanese and has led to extensive public debate. At the center of the debate are the enormously popular Japanese comics, or manga, violent films and video games, and the internet. These are seen by many as provoking the violence. In addition, the depressed Japanese economy has given rise to social situations such as corporate downsizing, unemployment, homelessness, and street crime previously deemed unthinkable in Japan.
Thus, in The Lost Babylon, Kawamura explores the emergence of a new Japan in which, he argues, citizens will have to learn to defend themselves. For Kawamura, the myth of a peaceful and safe Japan is no longer viable. The play presents a confusing, but not unfamiliar world in which the aesthetic and grotesque violence of comics, action films, and video games spill over into everyday life. 1
The Lost Babylon tells the story of a male film director and a female screenwriter who are sent to the secluded construction site of a new theme park where customers play virtual killing games. Their task is to create a commercial film about the park while testing its virtual reality before it is actually open. In the process of writing the screenplay, the protagonists get drawn into the escalating experimental gunplay with others who have been hired as real-life targets. Slowly, the boundaries between what is actual and what is fictive become increasingly blurred--as the developing screenplay blends into the action at the theme park as a play within a play, and guns become more powerful and bullets more real. Act II, included here, begins at the point of the escalation of confusion and violence.
The Lost Babylon premiered in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka in January 1999. [End Page 114]
MAN (film director, known for his action movies)
BOSS (man behind the theme park)
ATTACKERS (men hired as real-life shooting targets)
MAN A, MAN B, YOUNG WOMAN (youths asked to try out theme park)
GIRL (ghost of WOMAN's sister, character in WOMAN's screenplay)
BOY, MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN (characters in the screenplay)
The Lost Babylon
(The meeting room is empty. A door opens and a blindfolded boy enters the room. Behind him enters a MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN. She removes the BOY's blindfold.) 2
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN: Welcome to The Lost Babylon! (The BOY looks around.) Why don't you sit down? (The BOY sits down on the chair.) What would you like? [End Page 115]
BOY: Nothing. (The MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN exits and comes back with a semi-automatic rifle.)
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN: This is what you wanted, right? Go ahead, take it. (The BOY takes the rifle.) You still feel the rifle is an extension of your body? Here you're free to shoot; it's not a crime no matter who you shoot. You can just relax and tell me what went on that day. How did it feel before you fired those shots, and afterwards?
BOY: I don't know.
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN: You have the freedom now.
BOY: What do you mean freedom? The freedom to kill people?
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN: Freedom to be a misfit, an incomplete...