Voices From Hiroshima (2009)

Presentation of little-known plays about the atomic bombings by Japanese award-winning playwrights

The Face Of Jizo by Hisashi Inoue, translated by Roger Pulvers
The Elephant by Minoru Betsuyaku, translated by Roger Pulvers
The Head Of Mary by Chikao Tanaka, translated by David G. Goodman

Directed by Sonoko Kawahara
Hiroshima Project at Ohio Theater

The Face Of Jizo

PROLOUGE from “THe FACE OF JIZO” by Hisashi Inoue

(translated by Roger Pulvers, published by Komatsuza, 1994)
Hiroshima. Nagasaki. When these two are mentioned, the following opinion is increasingly heard. “It’s wrong to keep acting as if the Japanese were the victims. The Japanese were the victimizers at the time in what they did in Asia.” The second sentence is certainly on the mark. The Japanese were the perpetrators of wrong throughout Asia.

As for the first sentence, however, I remain adamant that this is not the case. This is because I believe that those two atomic bombs were dropped not only on the Japanese but on all humankind.

The people exposed to those bombs, scorched as they were with the fires of hell, represent all people around the world in the second half of the 20th century. We are all unable to escape the presence of nuclear weapons.

For this reason, it is not out of a victim’s mentality that I write about this. Feigning ignorance of the human catastrophe that occurred in those cities would constitute, for me as one person among the more than six billion on the Earth, the immoral choice.

In all likelihood my life will be over when I have finished writing about Hiroshima and about Nagasaki.

*JOZO = A Buddhist term referring to a Japanese divinity who works to alleviate suffering and the guardian of unborn, aborted and miscarried babies.

The Elephant


by Roger Pulvers
Minoru Betsuyaku was born in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in 1937. After the war he lived mainly in Nagano, where he went to high school. While a student at Waseda University in Tokyo he was, with director Tadashi Suzuki, a leading light at the student group “Free Stage.” In 1966, he and Suzuki formed the Waseda Little Theater, which featured his plays.

Betsuyaku has written over 120 plays, in addition to essays, children’s stories, criticism and the screenplay for the animated feature film of the Japanese classic Night on the Milky Way Train by the early 20th-century poet and children’s story writer Kenji Miyazawa, whose works inspired Betsuyaku.

Betsuyaku’s plays have been performed by many theater troupes, mostly notably the Bungakuza, En and the Hyogo Prefecture Piccolo Theater with which he has been associated in recent years.
His plays often have an eerie, poetic quality, with characters who miscommunicate with each other in a manner suited to a non-committal fashion of Japanese conversation. Put together Beckett, Pinter and Kafka and place him in Japan, and you get a writer with a style seen in the brilliant, menacing and compelling plays of Minoru Betsuyaku.

The Elephant, written in 1962, was his first—and has been his most sustained—hit. Set in Hiroshima, “that town,” it tells of the indomitable spirit of a hibakusha, or radiation victim, who does not want people to forget what happened to him there…in a world where everyone else wishes to relegate it all to the past.

The Head Of Mary


by David G. Goodman
Japanese playwright. Three concerns run through his work: his deep fascination with Roman Catholicism, his quest to express Catholic theology in Japanese dramatic dialogue, and the sense of absurdity born of the realization that this might ultimately be impossible.

Tanaka’s fascination with Catholicism originated in his upbringing in Nagasaki, Japan’s
most Christian city, and developed with his study of French literature at Keio University in Tokyo, where he matriculated in 1923. Of the French dramatic literature he studied, Tanaka was particularly impressed with the plays of Charles Vildrac. Tanaka attended the inaugural performances of the Tsukiji Little Theatre (Tsukiji Shôgekijô) in 1924, but he identified more strongly with the vision of the playwright Kishida Kunio, who advocated a less theatrical, more spiritual kind of theatre. Kishida was inspired by the devoutly Catholic French director Jacques Copeau, with whom he had studied in Paris in 1921-22. Although Kishida never espoused Christianity, his plays, which focus on the inner workings of the human spirit, suggested to Tanaka a way to pursue his religious and existential questions through the medium of drama. Tanaka joined Kishida’s Modern Theatre Institute (Shingeki Kenkyûshô) in 1927; he was a regular contributor to Playwriting (Gekisaku) magazine, which Kishida established in 1932; and he joined Kishida’s Literary Theatre (Bungakuza) when it was founded in 1937. Tanaka’s wife, the playwright Tanaka Sumie, and their children were baptized in 1952. He himself formally converted to Catholicism in 1989.

Tanaka’s career as a dramatist began in earnest after the war. Catholic themes were apparent from the outset, but Tanaka struggled to find a way to express these in a Japanese setting. His well-received 1953 play Education is set in France with a cast of French characters. It was in The Head of Mary (1959), a play about Catholic survivors of the atomic bombing of his native Nagasaki, that Tanaka finally found a way to make his theology credible in a Japanese context. The play is widely regarded as his finest work. Even after his death in 1995, however, his widow continued to complain that the Christian dimension of the play had never been understood in Japan.

The sense of absurdity that characterizes many of Tanaka’s works comes, in part at least, from his sense of the incommensurability of Christian ideas and Japanese language and culture.


The Face of Jizo on May 11th
Written by Hisashi Inoue
Translated by Roger Pulvers
with:Diana Chang, Glenn Kubota, and Brian Park.

The Elephnat on May 18th
Written by Minoru Betsuyaku
Translated by Roger Pulvers
Directed by Sonoko Kawahara
with:Brian Nishii, J.Ed Araiza, LeeAnne Hutchison, Anna Foss Wilson, Daniel Neer, Ted G. Gorodetzky, Jeffery Mills, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg

The Head of Mary on May 25
Written by Chikao Tanaka
Translated by David G. Goodman
Directed by Sonoko Kawahara
with:Ikuko Ikari, Anna Foss Wilson, Daniel Neer, Ted G. Gorodetzky, Brian Nishii, Michael Whitney, Esra Gaffin, Jan Mizushima, Diana Chang, Thadd Krueger, and Brian Park
Lights: Christina Watanabe

Directed by Sonoko Kawahara
Lights: Christian Watanabe

The Voices form Hiroshima is made possible by the support of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Japan Foundation.