New Plays 日本の新作戯曲
First Performance: 1927
Performance time: approx. 60 min.
Acts / Scenes: two act
Cast: 6 (3 men, 3 women)
The first act opens on a summer evening in Meiji 37 (1904) in the parlour of the home of Major Uji, who has been issued with a directive to leave to serve in the Russo-Japanese War. On stage are his servant Ota and his wife Suzuko, who are busying themselves with preparing for his departure tomorrow, organizing his military bags and doing a thousand other tasks. Major Uji arrives and summons his groom Tomokichi, and tells him he wants him to accompany him to the battlefield. Tomokichi, however, is unwilling and avoids giving him an answer.
The reason he is unwilling is certainly not because he’s afraid of battle, he says, but rather because his wife Kazuyo is begging him not to go to war. Kazuyo is such a strong-minded woman—once she sets her mind on something she won’t hear a word anyone else has to say. Tomokichi implies that there was even some sort of incident when they got married, with Kazuyo threatening to kill herself. But, the Major reminds him, that’s what women are like—they’ll say such emotional things. Calling Kazuyo in, the Major tries to persuade both of them: Tomokichi will never lose his life in battle, he says, as there’s very little likelihood that they’re unlikely to go anywhere near places of any danger. But Kazuyo refuses to change her mind. Losing his temper, the Major storms out of the room, telling them that from now on he is cutting all ties with Tomokichi. Kazuyo proceeds to explain to Suzuko in her own defence that for her loving someone means that a single day of separation is more than she can bear.
In the second act, the time is around midday the next day, and the curtain opens on Tomokichi and Kazuyo’s quarters. Their household goods have all been strapped up into bundles: everything is clearly ready for their departure from service. Suzuko, having safely seen off her husband, tells Kazuyo that she and Tomokichi needn’t hurry away; they should stay till they know where they will go next. Whatever she may be expected to feel in her position as the Major’s wife, in her heart of hearts, it seems that Suzuko sympathises with Kazuyo.
Just then, Tomokichi returns from divisional headquarters, and tells them that he has just seen all the other men who are accompanying their officers to war, and he has decided that he will go to fight too, after all. This Tomokichi, it appears, is a man who can’t stick to any decision. Major Uji’s wife, Suzuko, leaves, relieved to learn of Tomokichi’s intention. Tomokichi tells Kazuyo he’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid that would cause him to die; but he must go—he is determined to go to fight, he can’t bear to be poked fun of by everyone else for being a coward. In reply Kazuyo says: “You think it’s such an admirable thing to go to war. But, can’t you see that not going to war is admirable too? If you don’t go to war, you won’t have to kill any of your fellow human beings.” She will not be able to live, she says, if she has to pass one single day without him. “Believe me, I mean what I say,” she pleads, “Do you want me to kill myself, to prove it, this very instant?”
Tomokichi is now at an utter loss—should he go, or should he stay? The manservant Ota comes back to the house in order to accompany him to the division, and at his urging Tomokichi proceeds to change out of his ordinary clothes into his military uniform. Bitterly disappointed, Kazuyo leaves, saying she is going to inform her mistress of her husband’s decision. A few moments later, Suzuko comes in and tells them that Kazuyo came to see her but left almost as soon as she arrived—at which point Suzuko’s maid rushes in with her face as white as a sheet, with the announcement that “My mistress … It’s too awful, my mistress. Kazuyo has… has thrown herself in the well!” The play ends as, in a frenzy of anguish and grief, Tomokichi screams, “No! No! I take it back! I won’t go. I won’t go, really…!”
Kunio Kishida (1890-1954)
Playwright, director, critic, novelist. Born in Yotsuya, Tokyo, the eldest son of an officer in the Imperial Army, Kishida attended military preparatory school and went on to join the Japanese Military Academy, and was subsequently appointed sub-lieutenant and stationed as commissioned officer in Kurume. However, his love of literature got the better of him: despite his father’s opposition he left the army and entered the Faculty of Letters at Tokyo Imperial University. In 1920, he went to study abroad in Paris, where he encountered European modern drama—Ibsen, Chekhov, and Strindberg, among others. Taking lessons as an apprentice at the little playhouse founded by Jacques Copeau, the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, Kishida came into contact with the “Drama Purification Movement”, a theatrical movement that sought to cleanse the stage of all artificiality, flourishing in France at the time. On his return to Japan, he attracted considerable attention with the publication of plays such as Furui omocha (Old Toys, 1924), and Chiroru no aki (Autumn in Tirol, 1924). Opposed to proletarian drama, Kishida advocated literary value in plays: in 1937 he founded the Bungaku-za theatre company with Mantaro Kubota and Bunroku Shishi and others. Kishida argued that a script has to consist of words, beautiful words; and that the playwright should therefore write pieces that encourage the audience to listen to words much as they listen to a piece of music.