This paper first addresses the general academic inertia in the research on Japanese theatre during the Fifteen-Years War (1931-1945). A few shingeki-centered studies have emphasized the government's repression of theatre, but more detailed, evidence-based examination (rather than emotionally charged accusations based on limited experiences on the part of “victims”) will reveal the complex and complicated situation in which Japanese theatre was bogged down from 1931 through 1945.
Second, it redefines Ozasa Yoshio's argument that the “National Theatre” (kokumin engeki) concept was not a detestably successful example of the nation's cultural control but a failed enterprise broadly supported by theatre practitioners who were encouraged by the nation's first attempt to support theatre. The National Theatre concept was so abstract and vague that government official, critics and scholars, shingeki people, and production companies could put their different ideals and plans on it, with the result that it failed to provide a unified vision of the National Theatre, whether it was based on shingeki or kabuki.
Third, it proposes a new perspective on mobile theatre. The “uncontrollability” of theatre arts was most tellingly reflected in the realities of Japanese mobile theatre during World War II. These realities should be further examined not only by excavating unfound documents told by the performers and the leaders of the mobile theatre, but also by exploring the experiences of audiences in villages and factories.
Lastly, the paper concludes that unlike the Nazi Theatre, which Japanese government official and scholars set an example of, Japanese theatre during the Fifteen-Years War was not so organized or unified that the government could control its broad activities. Although research on the influences of the Nazi theatre policies on Japan's National Theatre concept should be continued, they are expected to be limited ones.
KISHIDA Kunio (1890-1954), “Japan's finest prewar playwright” (J. T. Rimer), published a great deal of critical writings on shingeki (the modern Japanese theatre) in order to improve it. In 1936 he began to write as “a fundamental manoeuvre” on Japanese society or culture in which the theatre itself is born and fostered. It was a time when Japan was getting deeply involved in the war with China, which was leading to the Pacific War. Kishida, well versed in European culture, proposed that, in order to defend his country and win the war, traditional Japanese virtues must be revived as “her own humanism” and “culture as strength” be built. His only wartime play Kaeraji-to (I Shall Not Return, 1943) was written for Nihon idô engeki renmei (Japan Mobile Theatre League) based on this conviction.
In the play Kishida tried to create “humanism” through the protagonist's way of living/dying so that it would have a universal truth. Despite his “patriotism,” however, the army authorities claimed that the play ridiculed the Imperial Army and they rebuked the magazine for carrying it. Consequently, it was revised as an “authorized script” by an unknown person for the Theatre League's first performance in Tokyo. This paper compares the two versions and makes it clear how Kishida's “play as strength” was diluted.
Since the mid-1920s, agitprop troupes were established in Japan under the influence of the Russian Revolution and the international socialist movement. Performances took place not only in theatres but also in public spaces such as factory grounds, where the agitprop troupes performed critical social sketches for workers who hardly went to the theatre.
Among these Japanese agitprop troupes, the “Mezamashi-Tai (Alarm clock troupe)” was especially remarkable. The Japanese actor Koreya Senda, who had studied and worked in an agitprop troupe in Germany from 1927 to 1931, became a troupe member in 1932 and promoted its development according to his experiences in Germany. The performances of the troupe included montages of short dramatic pieces, sprechchor and musical pieces. The troupe also performed in front of regular audiences. Their performances created a new theatrical genre. They were simply constructed and the agitprop effect was preferred to artistic perfection. The Mezamashi-Tai became very popular, but it had to close its operations in 1934 under the pressure of the national security law. Some of its former members worked in governmental theatre organizations until 1945.
The activities of the “Mezamashi-Tai” have hardly been researched yet because of their political message and of their “non-artistic” form. However, the approach of the Mazamashi-Tai contained elements which in the meantime have become characteristic features of many theatrical performances since the 1970s until today.
Kokumin Engeki which means the National Theater was a popular concept with journalism, the academy, and the goverment, in Japan under WWII. We associate Kokumin Engeki with Japanese wartime nationalism and fascism. The government promoted the Kokumin Engeki contest from 1941 to 1944, but it is the strangest thing that the some plays of national policy were rejected or defeated. As a matter of fact, the state powers and academic authorities didn't have the distinct concept of Kokumin Engeki. This thesis is about the confusion of the Kokumin Engeki contest as seen in the participating plays of FURUKAWA ROPPA's company and his diary.
More than 100 new “overnight pickle” (ichiyazuke) war plays were staged on kabuki programs between 1931 and 1945. The themes of these plays invariably supported government war aims and policies. Further, the plays refute the usual description of the kabuki repertory as wholly classical: contemporary events were regularly dramatized on kabuki stages down until 1944-1945. In support of the war, kabuki producers entertained elite government guests, raised war funds to purchase armaments, purged “immoral” plays, gave “morale” (ian or imon) performances to military and industrial audiences. And, most important, they staged newly composed war plays (sensôgeki). Three plays written late in the war are examined here. In Gôda Toku's Honolulu City (Honoruru-shi, 1942), issei and nisei living in Hawaii demonstrate their loyalty to the Japanese Empire by wildly cheering as Pearl Harbor is bombed. A mother in If to the Sea (Umi yukaba, 1943), by Kikuchi Kan, stoically accepts news that her eldest son has died in a naval battle in the Pacific. Ten Thousand Cheers for the South Seas (Nanyô banzai, 1944), a dance play, was written by Kimura Tomiko to propagandize for the government's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitoa Kyoei Ken) policy.
Japan was under the wars between 1931 and 1945 (the Fifteen Years War). This paper attempts to see various aspects of kabuki and other plays at that time of Japan through the famous magazine “ENGEI GAHOU”, Graphic Magazine of Plays, which was the most popular theatrical magazine and reflected most moderate opinions at that time. We will find many interesting movements of theatrical world of Japan at the war age.