Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

The Return of Shimazaki Komako

Posted in Uncategorized by bourdaghs on the July 29th, 2010

Greetings from Shinjuku, Tokyo. I arrived in Japan two days ago for a workshop at Waseda University. After that ends, I’ll hang around for another week or so, doing a bit of research, a bit of visiting family, and a bit of music spectating (more on that later).

In the meanwhile, I’m reminded of how Shimazaki Komako (1892-1979) had a way of surprising people by turning up when least expected. She was the model for the heroine in Shimazaki Toson’s scandalous 1919 novel Shinsei (New Life), in which the middle-aged novelist confessed to a shocking affair with his own niece. She gave birth to his child, after which her family shipped her off to colonial Taiwan to avoid the scandal.

Toson probably thought she was out of his life for good at that point. But she suddenly reemerged in 1937 when she fell seriously ill and, lacking any financial resources, ended up hospitalized in a charity ward. The media had a field day, dredging up the old scandal and contrasting Komako’s current plight to her uncle’s wealth and fame. Novelist Hayashi Fumiko took an interest in her at the time and wrote about her, and Komako herself ended up publishing an account of her life in a popular woman’s magazine, taking her uncle to task for the hypocritical way he had portrayed her and their relationship in the novel.

I wrote about all of this at some length in my book, The Dawn That Never Comes. I was under the impression that, once I’d published my account, Komako was out of my life. But she wasn’t done with me, apparently.

On the plane ride to Japan, I started reading the recently deceased Inoue Hisashi’s 2002 play, Taiko tataite, fue fuite 『太鼓たたいて笛ふいて』(Bang the drums, blow the pipes), a kind of Brechtian musical based on the life of Hayashi Fumiko, tracing her collaboration with Japanese militarism in the 1930s and her eventual self-critical awakening in the 1940s. Inoue has Komako appear as a key character: he re-imagines the nature of their relationship, having the two women meet in 1935, prior to Komako’s illness, when she was still an activist in leftist political movements. In Inoue’s script, Komako becomes a figure for the conscience of Japan as Hayashi slides into problematic complicity with fascism.

Inoue’s play was first staged just about the time time I finished writing my book. I’d thought I was the only person fascinated by Komako when I wrote about her. But according to the afterword in the Shincho Bunko edition of the play that I’m reading, Inoue had been thinking about her for years: in 1969, he submitted a scenario for NHK’s morning serial drama based on Komako’s life, only to have it rejected for being too dark in tone.

Where do you suppose she will turn up next?

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