A recent court-themed musical staged in Tokyo was, to say the least, an audacious dig at the contentious state secrets law scheduled to take effect in December.
Set several years after the law’s passage last December, the musical, performed last week in Nakano Ward by the social theater troupe Musical Guild Q, offered what its adviser said was a “fairly realistic” sneak peek into how the first-ever trial of violators of this law would play out.
At the same time, it was also an attempt to sound the alarm about what critics of the law say is an attempt by the powers that be to retreat into a more controlled society like the one that existed during the Pacific War.
“The chief purpose of the musical was to alert the audience to the likelihood that after the law takes effect, even information that is vital to their everyday life can be unjustly taken away from them,” said veteran lawyer and rights activist Yuichi Kaido, who served as a special adviser for the show.
On trial during the musical, which is titled “The Secret Garden,” is a group of nine ordinary citizens.
Prosecutors accuse the defendants of an organized attempt to obtain information that directly concerns national security.
Lawyers meanwhile take the highly unusual approach of demanding that the trial be immediately terminated, arguing that the law, which they say significantly undermines citizens’ right to information, is unconstitutional in the first place and thus the charges against their clients are invalid.
The judges turn a blind eye to this claim, determined to avoid setting too unconventional a precedent.
The apparent judicial dysfunction here is no scare-mongering fantasy, but something “decently probable,” Kaido argued.
The musical revolves around a magazine journalist who, along with his friends, one day sneaks into a fictional rural nuclear plant seeking clues into the suspicious suicide of his engineer father, who worked at the facility.
At the end of their search, the team discovers a massive plutonium-armed nuclear warhead hidden deep inside the plant — an obvious violation of Japan’s long-held pledge to not possess nuclear weapons.
Feeling burdened with the chilling gravity of the state secret they have stumbled upon but at the same time obliged to disclose it to the public, the protagonists choose to get arrested on purpose in the hope that the judiciary will do the right thing.
And so the audience is gradually clued in to what the musical’s writer calls the secrets law’s “inseparable” connection with nuclear power, and its ulterior motive to help achieve Japan’s transformation into a nuclear weapons-capable nation.
Critics and grass-roots activists often express concerns that the government might be wishing to use the law to hide from the public its effort to ramp up Japan’s military capabilities.
“It’s obvious the law was devised as a way to hide military secrets,” said the musical’s writer, Koki Tanaka. “Granted, the musical is fictional, but I don’t think the possibility is zero that Japan is desirous of gaining nuclear arms capability.”
At the end of the musical, the phalanx of citizens who stood up to expose the nuclear secret are all sentenced to six years in prison for violating the law.
The judges who handed down the guilty verdict, however, appear uncertain about their decision.
One of them adds in frustration: “As long as this law continues to exist, your actions must be considered illegal” — despite, that is, the moral integrity of what the defendants had tried to do.
“The implication is that under the law our natural desire to pursue information will make us criminals,” Tanaka said.
Still, lawyer Kaido says he hopes that a worried citizenry will continue to protest and do everything possible to show the government they oppose the law even after it takes effect on Dec. 10.
“I don’t want people to succumb to the law’s pressure, but continue to fight for their rights to access information they have every right to know about,” he said.