Prologue to The Face of Jizo


Takezo and Mitsue from The Face of Jizo

The Mainichi is holding an international essay contest on the theme of Inoue Hisashi’s play, “The Face of Jizo,” for young people. To commemorate this contest, we have asked the play’s translator and long-time friend of the late playwright to write about him. We publish that here, together with Inoue’s prologue, the first part of the play and profiles of both playwright and translator.

Details of the essay contest and information for participants may be seen here.

A Work of Great Universal Value


More than eight years have now passed since the death of my dear and wonderful friend, Inoue Hisashi. We who love his literature and theatre often ask ourselves what he would have said and written about events that have taken place in the interim.

Hisashi was a writer totally committed to the social dialogue. Like the two foreign writers he admired most, Charles Dickens and Bertolt Brecht, his stories and plays, whether on historical or contemporary themes, never strayed far from what we commonly call “issues.”

This does not imply that he was a political writer. Particularly in Japan the term “political” – often incorrectly, in the cultural context, mistranslated seijiteki – connotes meanings akin to “ideological,” “tendentious” and “polemical.” Hisashi took sides; but he was careful to depict the “bad guys” with understanding and compassion. He was not a writer in the tradition of the Western left. Oe Kenzaburo is much more in that mould.

In fact, both writers took up the issue of Hiroshima. But Hisashi’s approach is purely character-driven.

In June I saw a production of “The Face of Jizo” at the Haiyuza Theatre in Roppongi (where, back in 1984 I directed Kishida Kyoko in Strindberg’s “Miss Julie”). This production, directed by Uyama Hitoshi, who has been associated with the play since its premiere, and performed by Yamazaki Hajime and Ise Kayo, was absolutely wonderful.

Mitsue in the play is just 23 years old; and Ise is 37. Yet she sheds years and the trappings of sophistication to present the most moving interpretation of the heroine that I have seen. Despite years of familiarity with this play, I wept at the end … for the first time. This production brought home the fact that “The Face of Jizo” essentially tells a story about a father-daughter relationship. Their being together in Hiroshima when the bomb drops adds a tragic context; but it is Takezo’s dire wish for his daughter to find happiness in the wake of tragic circumstances that drives the narrative.

Literally translated, the title of the play would be “Were I to Live with Father” or “If I Lived with my Father.” Needless to say, these don’t work as titles in English. Unfortunately, the title “Life with Father,” which would have been a good one, had already been taken up by the soppy American soap of the early 1950s.

But this is what the play focuses on: the everyday highs and lows of a sweet and innocent daughter living with a difficult and cantankerous father who dies … and comes back to life to help her find happiness.

The play is written in Hiroshima dialect, a dialect quite linguistically far from Hisashi’s native one in Yamagata. The use of dialect gives the dialogue between Takezo and Mitsue authenticity in time and place.

Hisashi was one writer in Japan for whom dialects play a major role in their work. Naturally, the dialects of Tohoku predominated, for it was these that he knew best and had the most intimate relationship of childhood with. But it wasn’t always Tohoku.

NHK broadcasted his drama “Kokugo Gannen” (The First Year of the National Language) in 1985. A year later he morphed it into one of his most successful plays.

The Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus for more

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