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Friday, Sept. 26, 2008

Which way blows the wind?

This weekend at Kawasaki Arts Center sees the keenly anticipated return of "Atomic Survivor — Vanya's Children," a powerful gem of a social-documentary drama not seen — but much talked about — since it premiered in six performances only at the 2007 Tokyo International Arts Festival.

Atomic Survivor
Going nuclear: Cast members in "Atomic Survivor — Vanya's Children" act out incidents from Japan's accident-prone nuclear industry. © KOHEI MATSUSHIMA

Written and directed by Hatsumi Abe, 37, the play comprises several episodes related to nuclear-power plants in Japan. In her research, Abe interviewed nuclear workers and other locals in communities in the prefectures of Fukushima and Ibaraki and in the remarkably affluent village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture, which is home to several such plants.

In explaining her motivation for choosing this subject, Abe is on record as saying: "Theater is a mirror of the world. As dramatists, when we try to represent the world, it is important to get close to the essence and present it effectively to the audience."

Certainly, in this memorable and accessible work, Abe draws expertly on her theatrical technique to convey — with superb wit at times — a serious message about the potentially catastrophic contradictions facing those who benefit directly from the nuclear plants all over this small, earthquake-prone country.

Sometimes, she has her actors explain the workings of these places using children's toys and simple paper crafts, while sometimes they act out incidents from Japan's accident-prone nuclear industry in entertaining, school-play-type sketches. As well, Abe includes video footage of actual reports from Rokkasho village, and re-created images of village meetings in which — in scenes echoing Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"-like forgotten small-town people — she says a lot, succinctly, about the half-truths and untruths people can be made swallow just for a bit of extra small change.

Of course, it's not only those villagers who have had a nuclear industry imposed on them with barely any informed debate — but everyone on these islands whose lives or death may one day depend simply on which way the wind blows. That's one reason why this play's return has been so keenly anticipated by many — though it's a shame they haven't got it together to include English subtitles this time round.

"Atomic Survivor — Vanya's Children" runs Sept. 27 and 28 at Kawasaki Art Center, a three-minute walk from Shinyurigaoka Station on the Odakyu Line. It then tours to Hokkaido and Fukushima. For more details, call Kawasaki Arts Center at (044) 955-0107 or visit kawasaki-ac.jp/ or scs-site.net/ (Nobuko Tanaka)

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