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Play of the Month Play of the Month
Feb. 8, 2020
Nina’s Cotton by Takahiro Fujita 
Nina’s Cotton by Takahiro Fujita 
This play depicts the life of famed Japanese stage director Yukio Ninagawa, who passed away on May 12th of 2016 at the age of 80. It was written by playwright and director Takahiro Fujita (leader of the company Mum & Gypsy), 50 years younger than Ninagawa, at the request of Ninagawa himself based on interviews about his life in theater, beginning with his childhood and then his emergence on Japan’s underground theater scene in the 1960s and his ensuing career in commercial theater. Originally, Ninagawa intended to stage and direct the play himself, but that was never realized before his death. So, the play remained unseen until its premiere in 2019 as a drama reading for multiple characters directed by Ninagawa’s former directing assistant, Sonsho Inoue.
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Prologue
In front of a group of lost old people, a mature man in the prime of life, then a boy, and then a young man appear. Beginning with the words, “The world is me. I am the world,” the mature man begins to talk about the memories of the Man (Yukio Ninagawa). Then a mysterious entity named “Nina” appears and speaks to him, saying, “Close your eyes? and, “Try remembering?” In silence, the mature man slowly leaves.

Chapter 1
Near the end of World War II, in April of 1945, a big Allied incendiary air raid burns Akabane. He young man watches as the opposite shore of the Arakawa river is engulfed in flames. The red becomes the flames of an iron foundry.
As the young man begins to talk about the boy Ninagawa, who was born on October 15th, 1935 in the ironworks town of Kawaguchi, the town appears as it did at that time. We hear descriptions of the Ninagawa clothing store that his parents ran and memories of his classmate, who was Korean.

Chapter 2
The boy, who has a hard time getting used to the downtown district that he grew up in, ends up going to the Kaisei Middle School in Tokyo. Whenever he meets his childhood friends who went to the local middle school in their old neighborhood, the boy can’t escape the guilty feeling that he was the only one who managed to get out of the neighborhood.

Chapter 3
There are recollections of the [Korean] classmate, Momozono. He was a good student, but his family was poor, and we learn that he fell from a cliff and died while attending a night high school.

Chapter 4
In high school, the young man intended to go to art college, but he became absorbed in the “New Theater” movement that was emerging at the time. He went to see Juro Miyoshi and said that he wanted to study theater. Miyoshi’s answer was, “If you really want to do theater, come back after you have watched it well and seriously.”

Chapter 5
After failing the art college entrance exam, the young man decided to become an actor. He entered the company Gekidan Seihai, where there were famed theater veterans like Isao Kimura, Eiji Okada and Takeshi Kurahashi, and there he also met the actress Tomoko Mayama, who later became his wife, and the playwright Kunio Shimizu.
In 1960, the student demonstrations against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan reached the peak of their ferocity, but the treaty was signed. That same year, when the young man acts in Shimizu’s play Ashita soko ni Hana wo Sasou-yo (Tomorrow let’s put flowers there) that expressed the frustrating impatience of the times, he felt he had found the theater he wanted to do.

Chapter 6
The mature man talks about the 1960s when theater shown like a beacon, using expressions like, “Theater comes like a blast of hot wind,” or “I am waiting for that one moment, this one moment.” But beneath his words is a sense that in spite of being there at the time of that hot wind, he had missed his chance for those special moments.

Chapter 7
The setting shifts to 1967, and the young man reminisces about the period when he quit the company and started his own company Gendaijin Gekidan (Modern People’s Theater company) to stage theater works written by Shimizu.
Then there is a restaging of the legendary play Shinjo Afururu Keihakusa (Such a Serious Frivolity) that premiered at Art Theater Shinjuku Bunka in 1969 directed by Ninagawa and capturing the feeling of the times with images like a long line of people waiting for something unknown.

Chapter 8
The Modern People’s Theater company was disbanded after their performances of Karasu-yo, Ore-tachi ha Tama wo Komeru (Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets). With his theater friends the young man forms a new company “Sakura-sha.” Later a young man he didn’t know put a knife to him and said, “Ninagawa-san, can you talk about your hopes now?” For him, there were always a thousand knives in every audience. So, he decided never to lose the courage to stand in such a dangerous position. And with that determination he disbanded Sakura-sha. From 1974, he entered the world of commercial theater.

Chapter 9
The setting changes to the Ninagawa’s home. Asked how he made a living through the 1970s, the young man answers, “As my wife’s handler,” and goes on to talk about that time. The scene shows how Ninagawa’s wife Mayama was working and he staying home to care for their children.
“It has finally come to this.” In 1985, he entered the Edinburgh International Festival. In 1987, the first Ninagawa production was staged at London’s National Theatre, and the narrative turns to his overseas productions.

Chapter 10
The mature man comes out in a wheelchair. He talks about his discomfort with aging and the decline of his physical condition and sensibilities. Before his eye extend the scenes of memories from his lifetime.

Epilogue
In front of a group of lost old people, a mature man in the prime of life, a boy, and a young man appear. They talk between themselves about their memories. Eventually the mature man alone is left, and then the “Nina” entity appears. The two emerge from the darkness, searching for the bright flash, that moment when theater shown like a beacon.

Profile:
Profile: Born in April 1985 in the city of Date in Hokkaido. Fujita is playwright and director. He majored in Theater in the Comprehensive Culture Course of the Literature Department of Obirin University. In 2007, he formed the theater company Mum & Gypsy. New casts and staff are gathered for each production and its performances. The works are characterized by multiple “refrains” of the symbolic scenes. In 2011, at the age of 26, his trilogy Kaeri no Aizu,Matteta Shokutaku, soko kitto Shio Furu Sekai won the 56th Kishida Drama Award. Since then, he has actively created works in collaboration with artists from a variety of genres, while also working with participants of all ages regardless of their theater experience. Fujita created a theater production of the Machiko Kyo manga cocoon (2013, 2015) inspired by the young girls who were inducted into the final war effort in Okinawa at the end of WWII. In 2016, that work won Fujita the Best Director Award of the 23rd Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix. Besides his theater works, Fujita is also known for his essays and novels and collaborative manga works, and more.
Mum & Gypsy website:
http://mum-gypsy.com/
 
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