It doesn’t have to be all true to be the life of Akihiro Miwa

by Nobuko Tanaka

Special To The Japan Times

“Miwa has carried on being a true monster (kaibutsu), whereas many amazingly talented freaks have gone back to looking and behaving normally after enjoying a brief boom in popularity,” said dramatist Hideki Noda at a press conference last month for “Miwa,” his play based on the real-life 78-year-old chanson singer, actor and director Akihiro Miwa.

Now probably better known for his yellow hair, stylish cross dressing and charismatic TV persona, Miwa may be a tongue-in-cheek “monster” to 57-year-old Noda, but for many of Japan’s youth, his fascinating life and rise to fame has made him a popular idol.

Born in Nagasaki, Miwa was 10 when the U.S. atom bomb exploded 4 km from his home on Aug. 9, 1945. For a few seconds afterward, he said, there was an absolutely still silence — then came the most awful deafening roar.

A few years later, he left Nagasaki for Tokyo, where he supported himself by singing. By 17, the fair-faced youth had become a cabaret professional in the relatively glitzy Ginza district. There, he caught the eye of writer Yukio Mishima and dramatist Shuji Terayama, who soon had him acting in plays as well. And, though it was not socially accepted and a taboo subject to discuss, Miwa publicly “came out” as a homosexual.

Miwa’s life has been full of drama and compelling experiences, yet this is the first time he has consented to an artwork being based on his past.

“Many cartoonists and writers have sought permission to create works about my life,” he said in a video message to the press conference. “But I’d already written my autobiography, so I said no.”

But it was a call from a fellow Nagasaki native that changed his mind.

“When Noda — who’s such a naughty boy (laugh) — told me he wanted to create a play about my life story, I was immediately itching to see what he would do,” he said. “I was sure it would be a spectacular fiction and an absurd and crazy drama — so I agreed.”

Noda is known for his powerfully imaginative works, which, while often witty, frequently draw disturbing connections and toy with space and time. It’s not surprising then that the director chose to cast actress Rie Miyazawa as Miwa, rather than an actor, explaining, “If a man played the role it would be bound to be mannered.”

Why did Noda make that call to Miwa in the first place?

“I’ve always been amazed how Miwa can instantly seize the essence without being swept along by others’ opinions. He grew up near a red-light district in Nagasaki and says that seeing all kinds of people there gave him a great insight into human nature,” explained Noda. “I wanted to write about his roots and to present postwar Japan through that boy’s eyes.”

“Miwa” runs from Oct. 4 to Nov. 24 at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space outside JR Ikebukuro Station. Standby tickets are available every day. It then tours to Osaka and Fukuoka till Dec. 8. For details, call Noda Map at 03-6802-6681 or visit www.nodamap.com or www.geigeki.jp.