The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Kyokuto-taikutsu-dojo production
Photo: Ryuzo Ishikawa
Premiere: 2010
Length: 1 hr. 45 min.
Acts/scenes: 1 act, 8 scenes
Cast: 7 (3 men, 4 women)
Japanese Drama Database
Play of the Month Play of the Month
Jan. 6, 2012
Subway by Shinichiro Hayashi 
Subway by Shinichiro Hayashi 
This play is the winner of the 18th (2011) OMS Drama Award. Why do people ride these trains packed to twice their capacity every day through the dark depths of the metropolitan subway system, and what are they thinking about as they ride? When people riding the subways begin to reply to this simple query and talk in depth about their life environment and their upbringings, the truths they reveal can be shocking in insane ways, even though they are people with seemingly no connection to each other.
 Now that the demographic commonly known as the “lost generation” is becoming the backbone of today’s society, what is it they seek in their lives, caught as they are in a limbo without past or future and with even the old hometowns taken from them? In what context will future generations look back on this era? This ambitious play takes on this enormous question in a light-handed way that finds a metaphor for a present day genesis in the ubiquitous “realities” of today’s urban life. This is a work of “meta-theater” in which each of the seven actors takes on four or five character roles.
A film director named Hiverly Chan has just staged the grand release of her newest film, a documentary titled Shock of the Armed White-collar Workers. The film portrays an unlikely but nonetheless shocking scenario in which the white-collar workers riding Japan’s subways are trained to respond to a certain “sound” that is broadcast in the subways and convert en masse into soldiers when an emergency arises.

The director interviews seven people who commute by subway, including an insurance company employee, a university student, an elementary school teacher, a nurse, a part-timer, a “Padonna” (a woman who hands out copies of the advertising magazine Pado) and a librarian. Each is asked how they use the subways, and when they speak in detail about the almost unbearably harsh conditions of their lives, we begin to get a picture of the realities of this working generation. We also learn that some of them have already become aware of something that appears to be that distinct “sound” in the subways.

The interviews of the seven people become long monologue scenes that take the form of an account of the seven days of creation (Genesis) interspersed with elements from the personal time and lives of the seven. The resulting accounts reveal points of connection between the lives of what were supposedly seven unrelated individuals. The university student Hashi, who wants to become a DJ, is having a relationship with the elementary school teacher Yamamura, and in the past Hashi once happened to steal the bicycle of the nurse, Mifune. When the insurance company employee Yashiro visits the “Padonna” Sera after an accident, it turns out that the nurse taking care of Sera is a colleague of the nurse Mifune. There are also coincidental links like the fact that the part-timer Sato and the Padonna Sera happen to be looking for the same video at the video rental shop Tsutaya.

Although they represent a random cross-section of society and are of different ages, genders and walks of life, they still have certain things in common. The biggest point in common is that they all live in the metropolis far from their family homes.

As the line becomes blurred between what are scenes from the movie and what is reality, a picture of typical postwar Japanese families that have lost their hometown roots emerges.
 The scene shifts to a town in the north. There is a son named Minoru who wants to make a living as a singer and his old-fashioned parents who want to stop him from such a rootless life. Minoru later changes his name to Saburo Kitajima and becomes a nationally famous singer and mainstay of the annual New Year’s Kohaku (Red and White) song gala on the national television network. His most famous song is Matsuri (Festival), a standard known by all Japanese. When Saburo sings Matsuri, the White (men’s) team almost always wins over the Red (women’s) team in the Kohaku songfest.

Matsuri is a song of victory, and the proposition is that when absorbed in the spirit of the festival (matsuri), the Japanese become invincible. The movie director Hiverly Chan claims to have discovered that the “sound” being broadcast in the subways is this Matsuri and that the word “subway” (pronounced sa-bu-way in Japanese) can be read as “the way to Sabu[ro].” The director goes on to claim that in case of an invasion of Earth by aliens from outer space, the carefully trained Japanese white-collar workers will rally to the sound of Matsuri to save our world.

Of course, this is all fiction. But, the director claims that fiction is the true reality and that reality exists for the sake of fiction. However, it turns out that the director may actually be hospitalized at present and, in fact, no one knows what is actually reality anymore.

Look to the left or to the right from the subway platform and there is only darkness. There are no landscapes to be seen. The hometowns in the minds of the people may never have actually existed after all. One thing for certain is that the subway trains always arrive at their destinations. What are the destinations our realities are leading us toward?

Born in Hakodate, Hokkaido in 1977, Hayashi is a playwright and director. His career in theater began as a co-founder of the theater company Misada Purodusu (produce) in 1998 while still a student of Kyoto University. After that he adopted the pen name Misada Shinichi and was active as playwright and director for the company. In 2004, Hayashi began studies in playwriting under So Kitamura at the Itami Soryu Shijuku school. In 2007, he quit his activities with Misada Purodusu, began writing under his real name, Shinichiro Hayashi, and launched his own production company Kyokuto Taikutsu Dojo with an operating policy of casting a new set of actors for each production.
 In Hayashi’s plays we see an attempt to paint floating mirage-like landscapes of the modern metropolis by depicting a somewhat noisy bird’s eye view of the lives of the urban populace that changes their pains and sorrows into humor with a universal poignancy.
 Among Hayashi’s important works are Yoru ni Ukabete that follows the crisp yet sad conversations of several people as they appear and then sink again into the night as they ride the ropeway with the night scenery of a city that may be Hakodate in the background (premiered 2004 as a Misada Purodusu production and was a finalist for the 12th OMS Drama Award among others); Enzui ga Giri desu. (premiered 2007 as a Kyokuto Taikutsu Dojo production and was a finalist in the drama division of the 25th Nagoya City Cultural Encouragement Awards); and Tairikukandando Gogaku Kyoshitsu - Tonpuso, a work that laid the groundwork for the latest work Subway (premiered 2005 as a Misada Purodusu production presented at the Osaka Contemporary Theater Festival Step Theater). Subway is the winner of the 18th (2011) OMS Drama Award.