Just a warning; this play deals with someone suffering what is almost definitely PTSD after living through a natural disaster, and also has themes of poor parenting and family issues. Read with discretion!
The play is set in 2005, ten years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake (otherwise known as the Kobe Earthquake), in Kobe. Something that I thought was really nice was the music that played in the house before the play started; it was all music that might have played on the radio in 2005, and it was the same soundtrack every time in the same order, giving the sense that just by entering the theatre, the audience was already being brought into the world of the play. There was no curtain and the set was visible from the start; it shows the setting of the play, a run-down metalworks factory. The windows on the top floor read "Hoshiyama Factory (星山製作所)," but the place is referred to as a ironworks factory (鉄工所) at other times. After the regular announcement to turn off all cell phones and the regular stuff, one more song played, and then another announcement happened, this time from a radio on the stage. It was made to sound like a 2005 radio show, and reminded the audience that it was 2005, ten years after the 1995 earthquake. Then, the radio show host announced the next song, and just as the song began, the revving of an engine could be hear and headlights appeared through the frosted glass back doors of the factory. The house lights remained up for a little while longer, but the show officially began at this point.
Following the car lights and engine, the slamming of a door could be heard, and then suddenly, the doors begin to slide open, being pushed open slowly by none other than Ino-chan, as the main character, Tohru (Toru? Tooru? Tōru? How do people romanize things these days?). He seems tired as he pushes one door open, then the other, before getting back into the car and driving it into the open space. There's a sofa and end table in the downstage center area of the stage, but he drives the car all the way in behind the sofa (it's a kei car/yellow plate, or a small car with a weak engine, a common type of car in Japan, so it fits). It becomes clear that the car is old and worn out; it's a two-seat flatbed with the paint chipping off in places. Tohru parks the car and then gets out, shutting the doors before turning on the light with a heavy sigh. He stares at the room as if deep in thought for a few moments, but then moves on, dumping a plastic bag on the sofa and going over to the kerosene heater on the stage left/house right side of the stage. He tries to turn it on for a few times with no avail before beginning to stroke it and finally hug it, presumably trying to coax it into being more agreeable. However, it still refuses to turn on, and he kicks it in frustration before going over to collapse on the couch. He begins to take his purchases out of the plastic bag: a box of cookies, a bottle of soda, and then a candy bar, which he opens and takes a bite of before continuing to loot through the bag for a container of instant noodles. He takes the container over to the desk behind the kerosene heater and opens it up, carefully tapping the powder out of the little packet.
At this point, the door on stage right/house left opens and an older man peeks into the room. He's carrying an expensive-looking travel bag and sneaks about a third of the way into the room before knocking over something with a loud clatter. Tohru is startled and runs to see what's happening (the car blocked his view from the desk), but when he sees who it is, he sighs heavily and goes back to his noodles. The man attempts to straighten himself and appear composed before greeting him casually, making comments about how long it's been since they've last seen one another and jovially laughing, but Tohru ignores him. He then runs over to a slightly elevated part of the workshop (I'm not sure what this is called but it seemed to be a place for doing welding/other messy or dangerous metalwork) and does a little routine. The first time I saw this, it was a tap dance, the second time, it was a kamehameha sort of fake martial arts move, and the last time, it was some sort of weird interpretive dance. At the end of the routine, he says, "It's Karafuto Ojisan!" as if expecting some reaction, but gets none. He repeats the routine and announces that he's Karafuto Ojisan one more time with no reaction again, and then runs over to Tohru asking why he won't respond. He comments on Tohru's diet being unhealthy as Tohru puts water into his instant noodles, and pokes around in his fridge and goes through his conbini bag before finally agitating Tohru enough to warrant a "Shut up!" (Ino-chan's first line in the play ;~;). Tohru grabs the bag from him and goes back to his noodles just as a second person enters through the side door, an obviously pregnant woman with a flamboyant sparkly dress and blonde hair and a suitcase, who whines to "Gorou-chan" to help her.
Gorou/"Karafuto Ojisan" introduces the woman as Hitomi, his girlfriend, and continues to pester Tohru until Tohru finally shouts, "If it's money you want, I don't have any!" (in the most precious Kobe-ben ;~~~; It was so good. He also was trying so hard to make his voice deep but when he yelled it would go up in pitch again and it was so precious, omg.) The two don't pay him any heed, however, and keep pestering him for money in various ridiculous ways, until Tohru yell that he doesn't have any money, so they should get out, and addresses Gorou as "Karafuto Ojisan." Hiromi asks why he's called that, and why 'ojisan' (uncle) if Gorou is actually Tohru's father? Tohru shouts that he's not his father, and continues trying to get them to get out. It turns out that Gorou had shut down his publishing company and he and Hitomi had spent their last money to get to Kobe. However, Tohru tells them that the ironworks factory has been shut down also, and that he works at a nearby plating factory, and since it's before his payday, he doesn't have any money. Gorou gets angry, asking why Tohru shut down his dad's factory, but Tohru snaps back that he doesn't have any room to talk because he shut down his company, and he doesn't have any money for them either way. But Gorou and Hitomi are insistent, and this ends up in a comical cycle of Gorou and Hitomi trying to get into the bedrooms of the place (through a door by the desk) to stay with him until his payday and Tohru trying to stop them. Eventually they manage to outnumber him and get in, and Hitomi start changing, effectively keeping Tohru from going back there (he seems highly alarmed by the thought of female anatomy throughout the play XD;). Gorou sits on the couch and tells Tohru to come see the souvenirs he brought from Tokyo. He has three different packages, but they all turn out to be Kaminari Okoshi, and Gorou muses about where the name came from, to which, frustrated and giving up, Tohru responds, "Like I know!!" And that is the end of the first scene!
Scene two opens up the next morning with Tohru eating his breakfast, a banana, while Hitomi can be seen through the window talking loudly and shrilly on the phone with some unknown man. She flirtily asks if it's okay to call him again sometime, but doesn't end the call, instead continuing to laugh in a way that clearly gets on Tohru's nerves. He stands next to the window and fantasizes about kamehameha'ing her (there's a lot of kamehameha'ing in this play XD;), but somehow, this only seems to make her laugh louder and more shrilly. Eventually, though, she ends the call and comes in, cajoling Tohru to give her a banana. It turns out he stores the bananas in a little basket on a remote-control pulley that presumably had some use back when the factory was active, and pretends to use magic to get it down while actually pushing the button on the remote. It was really cute. XD Having given Hitomi her banana, he goes off to collect and hang out his laundry, and Hitomi tries to make conversation, but he answers in one-word responses. She tries anyway, however, and follows him up onto the roof telling him stories about when she worked as a stripper as he hangs out his laundry. She performs and describes part of her routine for him (minus the actual stripping, obviously XD), and he ends up being somewhat alarmed by it, which she finds cute. Despite that he continues to act annoyed with her, they clearly start to bond, and she manages to make him smile and laugh for the first time in the play. However, soon, Gorou returns from town, and comments about how everything is different, and how there used to be more stores and restaurants, and an apartment near Tohru's factory. This causes Tohru to become very agitated, and he leaves the room in a huff.
Hitomi asks Gorou what's up with Tohru, and Gorou responds that he's sure it's the Tohru doesn't want to talk about the earthquake, even though it's been ten years and he should move on. Hitomi asks if anyone in Tohru's family had died in the earthquake, and Gorou respond that no one had, though his father had died two years after the earthquake. Hitomi wants to know why Tohru calls Gorou Karafuto Ojisan, and after a little while, he eventually explains how when Tohru was little, his wife, Chizuko, had moved to Kobe and not wanted to return to Tokyo, and how for a while, he had gone back and forth between Kobe and Tokyo, but they had done nothing but fight, and so finally, they were divorced. However, Gorou had continued to come to Kobe two or three times a year to visit Tohru when he was small. At that time, Tohru had called him Karafuto Ojisan, and when Gorou asked Chizuko why, she replied that it was because of a book that Gorou had given her, about Miyazawa Kenji's trip to Karafuto. This part was a bit confusing to me, as I don't know much about the book (if it even exists) or about Miyazawa Kenji (a famous author and activist in early 1900s Japan), but Gorou explained that Miyazawa Kenji was inspired for the imagery in arguably his most famous novel, Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru, by his trip to Karafuto (now Sakhalin, Russia; it's an island north of Japan). He went to Karafuto under the guise of work, but it was actually in order to attempt to communicate with his dead younger sister. Hitomi says that she gets why Karafuto is related to Kenji, but not why it's related to Gorou. Gorou explains that when Tohru was a small child, he asked where "that ojisan" (Gorou) was from, Chizuko had told him, "far, far away." When Tohru had asked where that was, Chizuko had told him, "Karafuto." When Tohru had asked where Karafuto was, Chizuko had told him, "someplace in the north, far far away." This had gone on in a cycle apparently until Tohru had accepted that Gorou was just "Karafuto Ojisan." Hitomi, for her part, was annoyed by Gorou using ridiculous voices to pretend to be both baby Tohru and Chizuko at once. XD;
At some point during all of this, Gorou asks if there are more bananas and Hitomi gets to show off her knowledge of the "magic" pulley basket. XD; And then the scene ends with Gorou talking about how he had thought that Chizuko had been happy here as Tohru looks wistfully on from the stairs, having reemerged to listen to Gorou talk, and then Hitomi going back out on the roof, saying how she loves the atmosphere of quiet, sunny Sunday mornings… but there's something about how Kobe is so quiet that it seems like it's dead. (Definitely not heavy-handed or anything there XD;)
The stage is darkened at the beginning of scene three and Gorou is wandering around the factory looking for something alcoholic to drink. He opens the fridge and announces, "Ebisu… is not here." (Ebisu is a Japanese beer brand.) He then looks in the cabinet under the sink and announces, "Bleach… is something I can't drink." XD; He eventually finds a carton of cooking sake (unsure why Tohru had this as I really don't think he did much cooking, all things considered) and settles for that, grabbing a sake cup as well and pouring himself some before turning on the radio and settling in on the sofa with a magazine. The radio announces that it's 1 am and the broadcast is about to end with a "nostalgic" song from Flashdance. Gorou talks back to the radio, saying "good night" to it, before beginning to dance around on the couch, and then eventually standing up and dancing around the room to the song. Behind him in the car, the audience can see Tohru emerge from a bundle of blankets, an incredulous and horrified look on his face as he watches Gorou twirl and leap back and forth across the warehouse. He gets out of the car and gapes, speechless, for a moment before running to turn on the lights and yelling, "What the heck are you doing?!" Gorou is startled and runs across the stage before curling up in a ball defensively and replying, "you startled me!!!"
Tohru is aggravated by Gorou's behaviour, but Gorou focuses on the fact that Tohru was sleeping in the car, asking if he did it so that he wasn't in the room next to Gorou and Hitomi. Tohru is silent as always for a while before spitting back that he always sleeps in the car, and tells Gorou to butt out of his life when Gorou tells him that that sounds really unhealthy. Tohru yells that Gorou has no right to tell him what to do, and Gorou responds that he's his father and he's worried about him. This makes Tohru even angrier, telling Gorou he's not his father and to get out. Gorou mentions that Tohru's (step) father must have been a really good person and Tohru really loved him, clearly, but Tohru shouts that he doesn't want to hear things like that from Gorou. Gorou begins to ask Tohru why he hates him so much, and if it's about what he said when Chizuko had died. He reenacts the scene playing both the role of baby Tohru and himself at once, showing how he told Tohru that his mother wasn't dead, but that she had gone searching for "true happiness" (and is annoyed when Tohru doesn't yell at him for playing two roles himself the way Hitomi had.) He explains that he had just wanted Tohru to understand that even though she was dead, she was still "alive" in their hearts and memories. Tohru does not take this well and tells him to hurry up and get out. This sort of cycle happens a bunch of times, with Gorou following Tohru around and trying to cosy up to him and Tohru shoving him away and rejecting him, until Gorou asks why Tohru thinks Gorou deserted him, and Tohru angrily shouts back at him to explain where he was when Tohru's mother died, where he was when the earthquake happened, and where he was when Tohru's father died. Gorou makes excuses, saying he couldn't show his face when Tohru's father was there after his mother died, and that when the earthquake happened he tried to call, but the lines were all down, and he heard a few days later that Tohru was unhurt from Tohru's father. Tohru demands to know why he didn't try to come, and Gorou replies that the trains were down, too. Tohru then asks where he was two years later, when his father died, and Gorou replies that he was busy with work. Obviously Tohru is not appeased by this answer, and the fighting continues until Tohru finally shoves Gorou away and runs out of the house, and Gorou is left alone and emotional after being rejected by his son.
The next scene takes place in the evening (judging based on the lighting) after Tohru gets home from work. Hitomi is cooking something using the hot water heater (there's no hot plate) and chatting about how she used to try to cook in her dressing room while Tohru is building a chair. She tells him more about her old stripping routines, which alarms him (he responded really cutely, looking shocked and confused and saying "…I just can't picture it…" XD) before offering him a taste of the soup she made in a joking and playful fake ye olde Japanese accent (sounding like the Edo period). Tohru responds also in an Edo accent, and the two have a sort of cute happy moment of joking around together. Tohru tries the soup and compliments it, saying he, the samurai lord, will give her a reward. They laugh together, and Hitomi trolls him by drinking out of the bowl and then trying to get him to drink from it again, saying "Indirect kiss~~" and making Tohru make faces, but then Tohru starts to ask her about Gorou, questioning if there isn't anything she finds distasteful about him or doesn't like about him. She replies that if she found him distasteful, then she wouldn't have come with him, and adds that she had a lot of worries and fears when she got pregnant and had to quit being a stripper, but he was there for her, and promised he'd look after her and her baby. Tohru scoffs that Gorou won't come through, and asks if he's told her about "the Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru thing." She says he hasn't, and asks Tohru to tell her, but Tohru gets all snappish and won't tell her. He says that Gorou is going to desert her, and tells her that she'd be welcome to stay with him if it was without Gorou… to which she asks if he'll look after the baby, then. Tohru makes a face and comically crumples into a ball going, "Ehhhhhh…???" and Hitomi hurriedly tells hims he was joking. They end up talking about the city, and Tohru tells her that nothing had been the same since the earthquake; before, there were lots of people and kids playing, and it was noisy and lively, but now everyone left, thinking they'd come back, but they never came back. I have to admit that when Inoo had long lines of dialogue I had a lot of trouble following them through the really thick Kobe dialect, but the gist of it was that he was upset about how Kobe had never been the same since the earthquake.
Just then, Gorou gets back; he had been trying to get into contact with various people who might help them out in their financial predicament without much luck. He asks Hitomi for a glass of water, and Hitomi brings him one and sits him down on the sofa, asking what's wrong and if he's okay. Gorou is depressed and feels like he can't do anything but run away from his problems, and that there's no way for him to find a new job. Tohru, who had quietly been sitting on the steps, suddenly laughs loudly and humourlessly, saying there's no way Gorou can find a job at his age. Hitomi chastises Tohru and tells him not to discourage Gorou, and Tohru quiets down, but still doesn't seem happy as he sits and listens. Gorou eventually wonders if he should file for personal bankruptcy, and Hitomi encourages him, saying that the only way to move forward is to quit running away and start over. They start fantasizing about opening a restaurant, but partway through, Gorou says that Hitomi will be the one cooking, to which she responds that there's no way she could do that, and he should be the one cooking, it's his restaurant! They scrap the restaurant idea, and Gorou starts to get depressed again, but Hitomi says he should just start another publishing company. Tohru antagonizes Gorou a little more, but then finally seems to get fed up, and storms to his car, grabbing an envelope and shoving it at Gorou. He explains that he got an advance, so now Gorou can take the money and leave. Hitomi grabs the envelope and leafs through the stack of bills, startled, before asking if giving them that much is really okay. Tohru replies that he lives alone and doesn't need much. Hitomi thanks him, and then Gorou grabs the money, seemingly with the intention to give it back to Tohru, but then struggles with himself and ends up thanking Tohru as well. The scene ends with Tohru silently beginning to weld the chair in the midst of the tense atmosphere.
The next scene opens with Tohru rearranging the car in the room and opening up the truck flatbed to load Gorou and Hitomi's luggage. Hitomi appears from the bedroom and wonders where Gorou is, and why it's taking him several hours to get shinkansen tickets. She postulates that he's calling people in Tokyo to say they'll return. Tohru asks where they'll stay, and Hitomi replies that they'll stay with friends until they can figure out their situation. Tohru asks if her baby will be okay, and Hitomi responds that she and her baby are both strong. Tohru brings over the now finished chair, setting it beside the trick to reveal that the decoration on the back is two cut-out characters that spell out Hitomi. She's really happy, and he cutely backs her up to help her sit in it. She worries that he'll be lonely once they leave again, but Tohru says he'll be fine returning to his original life. Hitomi actually stops joking for once and thanks him warmly… and then Gorou appears.
Hitomi tells him he's late, but Gorou doesn't seem to care much, and is clearly acting drunk. When Hitomi asks about the shinkansen tickets, Gorou says that he used Tohru's money to get drunk. Hitomi is appalled and speechless, while Tohru laughs humourlessly again, telling Hitomi that this is the kind of person Gorou is. Eventually, Gorou gives Hitomi one train ticket and tells her to go back without him; he claims he'll stay here with Tohru. Hitomi tells him not to be ridiculous, but Gorou is insistent that he can't leave Tohru. Hitomi asks what about the baby, and asks if he was lying when he said he would help her take care of it, and Gorou seems reluctant to admit that he was going against his word. But in his drunken state, he's obsessed with staying with Tohru, and eventually gets to the point of tackling him to the ground or trying to grab his legs. He claims he can't leave because he'd made a promise to Chizuko, which startles Tohru enough to listen. Gorou says he'd thought that Chizuko must have hated him, because he never once saw her smile. But then, shortly before she died, Chizuko called him and thanked him for always making her happy. She asked him to show 'true happiness' to Tohru. This eventually sets Tohru off, and he seems to go crazy, grabbing things off shelves and throwing them around, as well as punching Gorou and shoving him around. He ends up shoving Gorou onto the flatbed of the truck, demanding he recount what he said to Tohru when Chizuko had died.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this is a reference to something (Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru or something else), or if it's just something that makes more sense to a native Japanese speaker, but at any rate, Gorou, out of breath and almost as hysterical as Tohru clearly is, replies that he'd said that Chizuko wasn't dead, but had gone to search for true happiness, and just like all the stars in the sky, and the flowers without names, and the stones on the road are useful to someone, Tohru's sadness and suffering will also be useful to someone, and until Tohru can find true happiness for himself, Gorou would definitely protect him. This sends Tohru into even more of a fit, and, sobbing and choking on his own tears, he admits that when he was a child, Gorou was his hero, his smart, cool, talented Karafuto Ojisan. When Tohru was sad, Gorou had comforted him and helped him, and Tohru had idolized him. But then his mom had died and Gorou had deserted him, and the earthquake had happened. Tohru had been alone at the time of the earthquake, and watched the apartment building next to the factory collapse; he'd seen a pillar fall on a college student who'd been friendly to him, making it impossible for him to escape. Tohru had tried to help him, but the kid had told him just to escape and save himself. Next, Tohru had seen a small child getting burned alive (one of the main causes of destruction in the Kobe earthquake was fire), screaming for his mother, and Tohru had tried to help him, too, but was unable to. Everywhere he turned, there was death and suffering, but everyone told him, "It's okay, just escape," and he hadn't know what to do. In the end, overwhelmed and hysterical, he'd wound up calling for Gorou over and over, screaming, "Karafuto Ojisan!! Come and help me!! Karafuto Ojisan!! Where is true happiness?? Karafuto Ojisan!!! Please come!!!" But Gorou hadn't come. And then after that, his grandmother had died, and his grandfather had died, and his father, who had done nothing but work from early in the morning until late at night to support him, had died, and Tohru was left all alone. At night, he can't sleep, because he can hear the screams of people in the earthquake, and every time he hears something rattle or move, he remembers the earthquake and can't breathe, and so he lays in the car not sleeping every night, having flashbacks and nightmares and thinking it would have better if he had died instead, and all he wanted was for Gorou to come to him, but he never came.
Eventually, Tohru collapses under the trauma and emotion, and Gorou, also sobbing with the knowledge of everything Tohru had gone through without him, forces himself into an upright position, saying, "It's late, and I'm useless… but Karafuto Ojisan is finally here for you," and hugs Tohru, ending the scene.
The last scene opens with Hitomi climbing the stairs singing to herself and eating a banana before Tohru and Gorou emerge, carrying boxes and loading up the truck, smiling. Gorou says that he and Hitomi need to go back to Tokyo and sort things out, and the personal bankruptcy claim will take a while, but soon he'll be back to visit Tohru again. Hitomi adds that she'll bring her cute baby to show him. Gorou urges Tohru to get a better job than just working in a metal factory, but Tohru responds that his job will involve working with the internet now, and it's not really a dead end job, but either way, even if Kobe is different than before, he still wants to stay here and keep working towards the future of the city. Gorou seems to respect that, and suggests that they drink to a good trip back to Tokyo and a good future, but Hitomi says she can't since she's pregnant, and Tohru is going to drive, so he can't either. Gorou gleefully says he'll jut have to drink alone, then, and surprises everyone by pulling a beer out of the pulley basket. XD; Hitomi playfully asks if she can bring her "reward," the chair, back to "Edo" with her in the same Edo accent, and Tohru replies also in the Edo accent that she may, and the two laugh together again. All three talk briefly about true happiness, and how maybe their children's children's children will find it, but for now, they just have to keep living. Then, they get into the truck to drive to the train station, and that's the end!
All in all, it took me a few times through to understand all the deeper themes and motifs, but in the end, I really, really enjoyed this play. I'm looking for a place where I can buy the script, but I can't find one so far… so if you know of a place where I can buy it, let me know. XD; But Ino-chan's acting was really amazing, and the whole play worked really well together. I really wish that there would have been a DVD T___T; Oh well… at least I saw it four times.
A few amusing points:
☆ In the second scene, when Tohru is hanging out his laundry, the first time I saw the show, Hitomi laughingly remarks that Tohru's underwear (what we call boxers in America, but what is called trunks in Japan… basically, loose-fitting men's undershorts, which is normal in America but seen as supremely uncool and old person-like in Japan) are a bit big for him, and he replied, "They fit perfectly!!" This was cut every other time I saw it, sadly.
☆ In Osaka, in beginning of the second scene, when Tohru is kamehameha'ing Hitomi, he said "nande ya nen!" ("why the heck?!" a phrase associated with Osaka manzai comedy) along with it XD;
Whew! That took a lot to write, ahaha. I cried again just writing it and remembering the sad parts… I think I'm going to hear Ino-chan sobbing 「もうええ、速く逃げろ」in my dreams for the rest of my life… But even despite how sad it was, I really wish I could see it again! T__T That's how good it was. At any rate, otsukare, Ino-chan!