Stage becomes an outlet to express Japan's shame

By Wu Jiao and Gong Fei (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-12-13 07:11

Making a movie about the Nanjing Massacre has been a tough job for producers, as it is difficult to capture the complexities of the incident, portray the scale of the massacre and convey its cruelty.

It is harder still to tell the story in a stage play, with just two actors.

Yet, Yoshiji Watanabe and Kazuko Yokoi, a husband-and-wife team with the Japan Imagine 21 company, have achieved this feat through unceasing reflection on their family's involvement with the war.

Through researching the diaries of missionaries and soldiers, reading books, articles and interviews with victims, as well as listening to oral histories, the couple in their 50s have found a compelling way to tell the story.

In their two-hour play, December Hell, the Sorrow of Nanjing, Watanabe and Yokoi portray all the characters and deliver the narration as well.

Watanabe knew since he was a child that his father served as a military official in the Manchukuo (a Japan-controlled puppet state) army, in Northeast China, and killed many Chinese who were against the invasion.

"My father put a gun under his pillow every night for fear of assassination," Watanabe says.

His father, who had been photographed by the Americans ordering the slaughter of Chinese soldiers, was sentenced as a class C war criminal at the end of World War II.

"I felt guilty in a mild way since I began to understand the world. Not only me, the whole family had to shoulder a kind of guilt," Watanabe says.

Neighbors despised them, he says, as they did not want to be reminded of wartime guilt in the years of rebuilding after World War II.

The family tragedy also included endless quarrels between the parents. The father also had nightmares. "It was a cursed family And I was living in horror."

Watanabe left the family and went to Tokyo after graduation in an attempt to shake off the feeling of disgust he felt. He says his mother was affected by depression.

Yokoi, meanwhile, realized that her husband was suffering and as a result, began to question her own family's role in the war. She found her father profited from the war, though he didn't participate directly.

The couple made their first visit to Southwest China's Chongqing in 1991. There they heard a siren commemorating the Japanese air raids in Chongqing and this intensified their sense of guilt and determination to explore the suffering.

The two then mingled their personal experience into a drama to reflect on and examine the history of the Nanjing Massacre.

In the play Yokoi asks her husband: "Does guilt only exist in my family?"

Experts say this epitomizes the feeling of many Japanese families who have been living in the shadow caused by their war criminal ancestors.

"This husband-and-wife team are among the few individuals in Japan who view this era of Japanese history in a critical manner and are willing to publicly voice their criticism," says Zhang Lianhong, a professor at Nanjing Normal University who has studied the war for decades.

Their drama has impressed audiences outside of Japan.

"It is an extremely difficult task to tell the story of the Nanjing Massacre, but Watanabe and Yokoi, through trial and error, unbelievable strength and confidence, and tremendous passion, have made it possible," says one of the audience members in Nanjing, Luo Cucu. "I want the drama to be broadcast on TV so that more people will come to see that many Japanese families are undergoing an internal struggle."

The play was staged in Japan this year, but was not popular and depended on donations.

"I hope more Japanese will see it and promote communication in a profound way, instead of superficially," producer of the play Kazuaki Tanahashi says.

(China Daily 12/13/2007 page19)

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