- Engeki: Japanese Theatre in the New Millennium
Edited by the Japan Playwrights Association, the three-volume Engeki: Japanese Theatre in the New Millenniumpresents nine recent Japanese plays, each meant to highlight social and political issues prevalent in Japan and around the world. Each volume contains three modern plays in English translation in a variety of genres ranging from science fiction to mystery. The anthologized plays provide insight into some of the issues facing an increasingly industrialized, capitalized society, including patriotism and the negative effects of national identity formation, the dangers of nuclear energy, and high school bullying. The translations of the plays flow naturally and are readibly playable, which should appeal to those interested in performing modern Japanese theatre, although many of the plays do lack adequate explanations for cultural references that may be lost on an international audience. While the collection could have benefited from introductory essays that explain why this group of plays were selected, the fact that so many recent Japanese plays are now accessible in translation to an international audience is commendable. With the wide variety of social issues that are addressed in a myriad of [End Page 262]genres, these volumes are a useful addition to the field of Asian performance studies.
Volume 1 contains Got to Make Them Sing!by Ai Nagai, about the Japanese national anthem; The Sunby Tomohiro Maekawa, a dystopian science fiction play about a new species of humans with much higher intellect; and 8 Minutesby Yoji Sakate, which takes place in an eight minute repeating time loop. Volume 2 introduces What are the Parents Like?by Seigo Hatasawa, which discusses teen bullying and suicide; Synchronized Walkingby Yayoi Shimizu, about disabilities and workers' rights; and Stop Hitting Yourselfby Hideo Tsuchida, which is about nationalist rhetoric. Volume 3 features Love's Whirlpoolby Daisuke Miura, about a sex club; Remote Backwater Islandby Akihito Nakatsura, about a family devasted by the 3/11 Tōhoku Earthquake; and Traces— On and Onby Yuko Kuwabara, in which a mother searches for the truth about her missing son. In the foreword of the first volume, Yoji Sakate, the former president of the Japan Playwrights Association, laments the devaluing of humanities and arts education in Japan, and writes that the purpose of this translation project is "reviving a main lifeline for today's Japanese theatre and drama to become globally available, performable, and viewable" (p. ix). One of the primary goals for the volumes is to make contemporary Japanese drama more accessible to a global audience. With the varied options presented in these volumes, these plays accomplish this goal.
Volume 1 opens with Got to Make Them Sing!by Ai Nagai (translated by Mari Boyd) in which a young music teacher is asked to play an accompaniment to the Japanese national anthem during a commencement ceremony which becomes marred in controversy when the history teacher of the school stages a protest against the performance. The play does not commit directly to one position or the other, although the pro-national anthem members of the staff are slightly more caricatured than the others. The second play is The Sunby Tomohiro Maekawa (translated by James Yaegashi), a play that takes place in distant future. A new species, the Nox, has formed through genetic mutation. This species has superior intellect but cannot go out into the sunlight and is nearly infertile, often having to buy babies from humans and force them to become Nox. Meant to serve as an allegorical commentary on racial tensions as well as ethical issues attached to the recent biotechnology development of gene editing, this play is unique in its setting and interesting in examination of what makes a "superior" species, as the Nox and the humans each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The third and last play in the volume is Yoji Sakate's 8 Minutes, translated by Aya Ogawa, which employs a time-loop temporal structure. One man is forced to experience the same [End Page 263]eight minutes at a train...