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Born: 1940
Function: playwright

Saito was born in Pyongyang, North Korea. After graduating from the Haiyuza theater's acting school in 1966, he formed the Jiyu Gekijo theater company with Kushida Kazuyoshi and others until becoming freelance in 1969. In 1980 he won the Kishida Drama Award for Jiyu Gekijo's production of Shanhai bansu kingu (Shanghai Vance King). Other plays he wrote for the same theater company include Kusuko (Kusuko), about the turbulent life of a court lady who won the favor of the emperor in the early Heian period (794–1185) and Tasogare no bodobiru (Twilight Vaudeville), about entertainers in Tokyo's Asakusa district in the early Showa period (1920s–1940s). Saito is highly acclaimed for his vivid portrayals of people from all walks of life, famous or otherwise, who live their lives to the full despite the difficult times. He has written many plays to premiere new venues, including Kanaria (Canary) about the changes in Tokyo seen through the life of the songwriter and composer Saijo Yaso for the opening of the Tokyo International Forum in 1997, which won the Kikuta Kazuo Theater Award. His 2006 play Haru, shinobi gataki o (Spring, An Intolerable Time) won the Kinokuniya Theater Award and the Tsuruya Nanboku Drama Award.

Photo: Ide Seiji; Bunkamura production, 1990
Shanhai bansu kingu (Shanghai Vance King)
It is the summer of 1936. Madoka and Hatano Shiro have just arrived at the port of Shanghai and go to visit their former jazz fellow Matsumoto Wataru. Another musician, Bakumatsu, performs at the dance hall run by the American Larry, and is in love with Larry’s lover Lily. Shiro and his friends help to placate Larry, and end up working in the club. Yet danger is impending as even Shanghai’s jazz paradise is increasingly affected by the Sino-Japanese War, and then the outbreak of the Pacific War. Performances are prohibited, the military draft is introduced, and drug abuse is rife. As the group of friends disperses, Madoka, left behind alone, is swathed in a brilliant vision of them all playing together in a band.

First staged: 1979
Cast: 26 (19 male, 7 female)
First staged by: Jiyu Gekijo
[Transration] Russian: available from the Japan Playwrights Association

Photo: Kurahara Teruhito
Buta to Shinjuwan/Maboroshi no Yaeyama kyowakoku (Pigs and Pearl Harbor/The Illusory Yaeyama Republic)
This play is set soon after Japan's defeat in the war. The American occupation has not extended to the Yaeyama Islands and so it is a time with no government, no police, and no local authorities. Malaria is rife among the Japanese soldiers, who have run out of food. To prevent the destruction of the islands, the islanders are forced to proclaim themselves a republic under self-rule. There is smuggling via Taiwan, emigration to Hawaii, and the civil war in China. On Ishigaki Island five years after the war, a family continues to run a restaurant in the local community. This play brings to life Japan's recent history with realistic portrayals of various experiences of the postwar period, including people whose destinies have been severely disrupted by history and politics, as well as those who have continued their lives unperturbed.

First staged: 2007
Cast: 13 (8 male, 5 female)
First staged by: Haiyuza