Act 1, Scene 1: It is April of the year 1971. The 4th-grade students of Class #3 at Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward Kusunoki Elementary School are each spending their free time after school as they like. One of the schoolboys turns to the audience and begins to speak, introducing himself as Koki Mitani and then introducing his friends by their nicknames.
The boy named Hori is a studious type, but his grades are never very good, another is a dinosaur geek whose nickname is Dote
because of his chubby and flabby (dote-tto-shiteiru
) body. There is the problem child nicknamed Gotama, because her face resembles that of Buddhist paintings of the Buddha Shakyamuni, and then her side-kick and advisor nicknamed Jizo because of his face that looks older than his age, like a roadside stone statue of a Jizo (patron saint of travelers). Despite being a girl, “Aniki” (big brother) is the class leader, and then there is the boy nicknamed Repeat because he always repeats people’s words and gestures. The narrator (Mitani) is called Hojorin (training wheels) by his classmates, because he alone still has training wheels on his bicycle.
Into the room comes a new student named Jo Katagiri and their teacher’s helper and class president, a girl nicknamed Souri (prime minister). Souri explains that these eight classmates who always stay to pass time together after school are known as the “Super Eight.” The new student, who everyone has decided to call by his name, Jo, avoids making any clear answers when asked about his home and his family, but he is a type who always cares when an argument breaks out between the classmates and finds a way to intervene and help solve the issue. When the eighth member of the Super Eight, the popular child actress Hime shows up, Jo doesn’t pay any special attention to her. In fact, there seems to be some kind of ulterior motive behind his lack of attention.
As an intermission act, Dote gives his opinions about the skin colors the dinosaurs would have had.
Act 1, Scene 2: It’s after school on a day in July. In the 4th-grade students of Class #3, a discussion is going on about what their class should do for the “Attraction Contest” day when the classes compete against each other to put on the most interesting attraction, and it is decided they will do a play.
As he and Souri had planned beforehand, Hojorin proposes that their play be his translation of The Little Match Girl
that he has titled “The Little Watermelon Girl.” It is decided that Hime will play the part of the match girl and the eager Hori will play the boy who is her counterpart, but since the script isn’t ready yet they begin to ad lib through a rehearsal.
However, lacking any aptitude as an actor Hori is soon replaced by Aniki in the boy role. But, after a great performance by Jo, who jumped in suddenly in a song and dance scene, Jo replaces Aniki in the boy role.
After school. Jo reveals the secret there is someone in the class from a criminal’s family, but Aniki and Hojorin restrain him. What’s more, Aniki, who is feeling disheartened after losing her part in the play, says something unsettling: “In order to be someone that people can rely on, you need to have a bit of bad in you.”
Meanwhile, Gotama and Jizo are conspiring to steal some of the deep-fried bread for tomorrow’s lunch from another class. Overhearing this, Jo presses Gotama and Jizo to join in the conspiracy with him and Aniki. As they talk about the plan, Aniki has a change of heart when she hears that they plan to sell the bread they steal. When Souri comes over to see what is going on, Aniki says something that makes her realize what they are planning, and this causes the group to lose their trust in Aniki.
Seeing Aniki hurt by this, Hojorin worries about her, and Jo makes a show of sympathy. When Aniki leaves the room, Jo seizes her seat and laughs fearlessly, saying that it was all a trick he used to replace her as the leader of the class.
Act 2, Scene 1. It is after school on a day in November. Jo has become the leader of the class, and he has rejected the nickname Chinge-san (pubic hair) that Hojorin had given him because of his kinky hair.
It is a day of a test on Chinese characters. Hime, who always get a perfect score of 100 on her tests in all of the subjects, has made a simple mistake and only gotten 95. Thinking, “If only I could fool my parents,” Hime asks Jo to doctor her test answer sheet to make it look like she got a perfect score. Jo seeks help from Gotama’s crafty mind to doctor Hime’s answer sheet, and in return Gotama asks Jo’s for help in getting the class’ seating changed the way she wants it.
On the same day, Dote finds a dinosaur tooth in a construction site near the school and it makes him the darling of the media. But in fact, the tooth had been planted there by Jo and Gotama.
After coercing Repeat into running as a candidate for class president for the third semester, Jo tells Souri that if she wants to remain as class president she will have to change the seating order, and thus he succeeds in getting the order Gotama wants.
The new order seats Gotama where she wanted to be, next to Hojorin, who she has a liking for. As the two talk, Gotama confesses that the reason she does naughty things is to distract herself from her fear of leaving this world. Hojorin tries to discourage her from being naughty by saying, “I will help you get over your fear.”
Gotama’s plan for doctoring Hime’s answer sheet is to switch it with that of Hori, who got 100 on the test, and then changing the name. As Jo is trying to convince Hori and Hime to switch their answer sheets, Gotama comes in with Souri, having changed her mind about making the deceptive switch. In an over-acted display of apology, Hime says, “It’s all my fault.” But then, on her way home she jumped into the river and let her book bag float away, test sheet and all.
As an intermission act, a short skit of Repeat winning the third semester class president election is acted out.
Act 2, Scene 2. After school on a day in March of the next year. The word is that reporters and cameras from the media are gathered in the neighborhood of the school. They have come to report on an incident that happened four years ago. It has been revealed that the dinosaur tooth was a fake and Dote has been called to the teachers’ office.
Dote returns to the classroom accompanied by the new class president, Repeat. As if nothing had happened, Dote keeps mumbling from his vast store of knowledge about dinosaurs. An impatient Hojorin presses Gotama to confess that she had been the culprit behind the fake tooth.
But the incident that had actually caused the media to gather was the murder of Hori’s father by her older brother. Jo urges that they should just walk boldly in front of the reporters to get where they are going, but Aniki tries desperately to stop him, saying, “No one should get involved.”
As the two are about to leave the classroom, Aniki blurts out all she knows about the true Jo: the fact that it was him who tipped off the press about the whereabouts of Hori’s family, that at his former school he was a quiet kid always alone that everyone thought of as a pitiful loser, that he was a big fan of Hime and that his nickname used to be Chinge-san.
Passing in front of the crushed Jo, Gotama heads to the teachers’ office to confess everything she has done. Dote charges past saying the reporters are here because they want to hear about dinosaurs. During the commotion, Aniki orders Jizo to lead Hori out by the back exit.
When she returns from her confession, Gotama presses Jo to go and apologize too. Aniki gently admonishes the crying Jo to go and do the right thing, and Repeat leads him off to the teachers’ office.
Epilogue. Hojorin tells the audience that after graduating from elementary school his family moved away to Fukuoka and he knows nothing about what happened to these classmates after that. To the sound of Dote’s voice talking about dinosaurs in the background, the scene of the after-school classroom fades out, and with it the nostalgic memories we all have somewhere in the back of our minds.
Playwright and director. Born in Tokyo in 1961, Koki Mitani graduated from the theater course of the Department of Arts of Nihon University. While in university, in 1983 he got together with fellow students to form the company “Tokyo Sunshine Boys.” With a strong focus on comedy, he has written many well-made plays with clearly depicted characters. In addition to theater, he has written the numerous screenplays for the television, and a good number of his representative works have been made into movies, such as Twelve Gentle Japanese (premiered 1990), taking its situation from the coming introduction of a jury court system in Japan; Warai no Daigaku (University of Laughs) (premiered 1996), a play about the cat-and-mouse game played between a light theater playwright and the censors during World War II (adapted in English translation by Richard Harris as The Last Laugh and performed in the UK and Japan in 2007); the human drama Ryoma no Tsuma to sono Otto to Aijin (Ryoma’s Wife, Her Husband and His Mistress) (Premiered 2000), about the life of the widow of the late Edo period hero Sakamoto Ryoma. Mitani made his debut as a film director in 1997 with Radio no Jikan (premiered 1993), a comedy he wrote in his theater company days about the slapstick goings-on during the recording of a radio drama, since then he has continued his activities as a film director as well. His theater company Tokyo Sunshine Boys has suspended their activities for 30 years as Mitani announced after their 1997 production Tokyo Sunshine Boys no Wana. His awards include the 4th Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix “Best Play” award for Warai no Daigaku, the 3rd Tsuruya Namboku Drama Award for Matoryoshika (1999), the 45th Kishida Drama Award for his first musical Okepi! (2000) and the Akimoto Matsuo Award of the 7th Asahi Performing Arts Awards of 2008, among others.