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A More Humane Mikado: Re-envisioning the Nation through Occupation-Era Productions of The Mikado in Japan1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2015

Abstract

The first authorized productions in Japan of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado took place in the early years of the post-war American occupation. A group of Japanese theatre-makers whose international engagement had been circumscribed by the war were involved in these productions – first a 1946 American-led version for occupation personnel, and then an ‘all-Japanese’ version in 1947 and 1948. For these artists, The Mikado, a foreign operetta that was simultaneously ‘about Japan’ and not, offered a way of rebuilding post-war Japanese theatre, and, in doing so, imagining new possibilities for the nation. Through The Mikado they performed a ‘cosmopolitanism at home’, a mode of engagement with the international from within the borders of one's own nation.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2015 

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References

2 Dower, John, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999)Google Scholar.

3 ‘Atarashii kikageki no tenkei’ (A New Model of Comic Opera), Yomiuri Shinbun, 10 July, 1981, evening edition, p. 9.

4 Nagato's name is not included in the Ernie Pyle Theater production programme; however, Japanese critics reference her involvement. She threw the weight of her opera company behind the Tokyo Theater version, and provided much of the funding for the later Hibiya Public Hall version.

5 Koreya, Senda, Mōhitotsu no shingekishi (One More History of Shingeki) (Tokyo: Chikuma Shōbō, 1975), pp. 141, 144Google Scholar.

6 Breckenridge, Carol A., Pollock, Sheldon, Bhabha, Homi K. and Chakrabarty, Dipesh, eds., Cosmopolitanism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Delanty, Gerard, The Cosmopolitan Imagination: The Renewal of Critical Social Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cheah, Pheng and Robbins, Bruce, Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.)Google Scholar In her reading of J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, Sarah L. Townsend similarly offers the term ‘cosmopolitanism at home’; her theorization of the term, describing people who have never left Ireland, emphasizes the imaginative aspects of cosmopolitanism in envisioning a world beyond one's own. My usage, describing artists who either spent significant parts of their careers abroad, or were notably engaged with foreign art forms, instead offers the concept to describe individuals who attempt to share their vision of, and relationality to the world, with their countrymen and women. Townsend, Sarah L., ‘Cosmopolitanism at Home: Ireland's Playboys from Celtic Revival to Celtic Tiger’, Journal of Modern Literature, 34, 2 (Winter 2011), pp. 4564CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Although Itō's plans for this organization had support from the government and the Army, the dire state of the war limited his ability to realize them; only one production was presented before US firebombs destroyed the institute's office and rehearsal space.

8 The term ian (‘comfort’, ‘solace’) was used to describe many activities aimed at uplifting the troops, from theatrical performances to sending care packages. That the same word was used for comfort women (‘ianfu’) reveals the banality with which the system of forced prostitution was organized.

9 When the operetta premiered in 1885, two different companies tried to offer a version in Japan, but were prohibited from doing so. However, in 1887, a version titled The Three Little Maids from School played in Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki. In 1923 ‘A Gilbert and Sullivan Vaudeville Entertainment’ offered a list of songs that match the operetta's in Kobe. Both of these seem to have been aimed at the expatriate community living in foreign enclaves. For more information see Masumoto Masahiko, ‘Gaikokujin gekijō to “Mikado”: nihon de jōen sareta japonisumu’ (Foreigners’ Theatres and The Mikado: Japonisme Performed in Japan), in Sasaki, Hideaki, ed., Ibunka he no shisen: atarashii hikakubunka no tame ni (Looking at Foreign Culture: Towards a New Comparative Literature) (Nagoya: Nagoya Daigaku Shuppankai, 1996), pp. 5976Google Scholar.

10 Leiter, Samuel L., ‘Performing the Emperor's New Clothes: The Mikado, The Tale of Genji, and Lèse Majesté on the Japanese Stage’, in Leiter, Samuel L., ed., Rising from the Flames: The Rebirth of Theater in Occupied Japan, 1945–1952 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009), pp. 125–71Google Scholar; Lee, Josephine, The Japan of Pure Invention: Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010) pp. 187217CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Hiroshi, Eguchi, ‘Kikageki “Mikado” Ānīpairu gekijō jōen’ (The Comic Opera Mikado, Ernie Pyle Theater Performance), Engekikai (Theatre World) 4, 8 (October 1946), pp. 4041, here p. 40Google Scholar.

12 Ibid., p. 40.

Ibid

13 MS, ‘Mikado no Koto’ (About the Mikado), Nihon Engeki (Japanese Theatre) 4, 8 (September 1946).

14 ‘Tennō tōjō no kikageki Mikado’ (The Comic Opera in which the Emperor Appears: Mikado), Massezu (The Masses) 1, 1 (December 1946).

15 Eguchi, ‘Kikageki “Mikado”’, p. 40.

16 Leiter discusses this incident in detail, including rumors that GHQ felt The Mikado was too risky for the Japanese to put on, as well as the possibility that Tōhō, the rival entertainment conglomerate to Shōchiku, had intervened. Inose Naoki suggests that Britain, tired of US domination of the Allied Council for Japan, used the copyright issue to needle GHQ. Naoki, Inose, Mikado no shōzo (The Effigy of Emperors) (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1986, 1991), pp. 581–2Google Scholar.

17 Ōtaguro Motō, ‘Gilbert and Sullivan “Mikado” wo chūshin toshite’ (Focusing on Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado), Mikado programme, Tokyo Theater, printed 6 June 1947, pp. 12–13, Waseda University, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Senda Koreya Archive, J9.

18 Itō Michio, ‘Kikageki no koten toshite no “Mikado”’ (The Comic Opera Classic The Mikado), Mikado programme, p. 14.

19 Ibid.

Ibid

20 Nagato Miho, ‘Jōen ni saishite’ (On the Occasion of the Performance), Mikado programme, p. 18.

21 Ibid.

Ibid

22 Upon entering the Nagato Miho Opera Company's repertoire, The Mikado was frequently produced, including a charity production in 1970 held at the National Theatre in Tokyo – the first time a Western opera had been performed there. At first, Nagato's version used a libretto that hewed tightly to the original English, in order to provide Japanese audiences with a sense of the historic operetta. However, by 1970, Nagato's company had inserted the slang and contemporary social commentary that have become a characteristic element of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. ‘Kokuritsu daigekijō de hatsu no opera’ (The First Opera at the National Theatre), Yomiuri Shinbun, 18 February 1970, evening edition, p. 5. For information on other more recent productions see Lee, The Japan of Pure Invention, pp. 187–217; and Enbutsu Sumiko, ‘The Mikado in the Town of Chichibu’, East, 38, 6 (March–April 2003), pp. 6–11.

23 See Chambers-Letson, Joshua Takano, A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America (New York: New York University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Inose, Mikado no shōzo, p. 577.

25 ‘“Mikado” to be Given in Japan’, New York Times, 29 January 1948, p. 27.

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