MINAMISOMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Writer Miri Yu is one of many people whose lives have been deeply affected by the March 2011 disaster that hit the Tohoku region.
Four years ago, the winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1997, moved to Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled nuclear plant.
Last year, Yu revived a theater group she headed before receiving the prize in order to produce plays that illustrate the experiences of disaster victims, and a play she wrote on the topic will be performed in Tokyo on March 15 to 17 featuring drama club students from Fukushima’s Futaba Future High School.
The play, “Seibutsuga” (“Still-life Painting”), is the first such work.
Yu has opened a bookshop and a theater in Minamisoma’s Odaka district, where she lives, which is located around 20 kilometers from the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government lifted its evacuation advisory for the district three years ago.
The bookshop and theater are designed to be a gathering space for people who have returned home following the lifting of the evacuation order, Yu said.
The first performance of “Seibutsuga,” directed by Yu, was held at the theater last September.
Initially, Yu had not planned to bring the play to audiences outside Fukushima.
But she changed her mind after realizing that “few people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area see the disaster as their own problem, and that tendency has become stronger each year.”
She felt there was a special significance to performing the play in Tokyo, she said.
“Seibutsuga” was originally a play that Yu wrote when she was 21 about high school students’ adolescence.
In the remade version, Yu gathered accounts of the disaster from Futaba Future High School students and incorporated them into the characters.
There were students who recalled their houses being swept away by the tsunami and being bullied at their new schools after the disaster.
“At the time, the students were in the second to fourth grades at elementary school, and some of them still find it difficult to come to terms with the emotions they experienced,” Yu said.
“They need an outlet that can bring out their sadness and suffering, and they can do so through acting, by saying the words out loud,” she said.
Early last month, the actors were rehearsing a scene in which students in the play shout the names of the towns they were born and raised in.
Given their experiences, their emotional words carried a great deal of weight.
One of the actors, Mio Tsurugai, 18, is a third-year student at the school. Her house in the town of Tomioka was demolished after being badly damaged by the disaster, and part of the town remains off-limits due to its proximity to the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
When her character discusses her feelings in the play, “it doesn’t feel like they’re lines,” Tsurugai said.
She used to think of the disaster as something that is “covered with sadness only,” but said her perspective has shifted since she started to perform in the play.
“The disaster was an experience. I’m now able to feel that the experience is something that has made me what I am now,” Tsurugai said.
The play has a girls’ version and a boys’ version that will be performed alternately.
“Each person’s voice and personal history can’t be lumped together because each is different and special,” Yu said. “That’s what I want to stress in the play.”