A hospital patient scarred in the atomic bombing has a keloid scar on his back; he has a strange desire to show it off to people on the street as a way to win applause. His nephew tries to persuade him to stop him and convince him that hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) are neither loved nor hated nor frowned upon by the rest of societyE#92;hibakusha are simply treated with gentle tolerance, and should thus do their part by being strong and not drawing undue attention. Zou plays on the tension of silence. In the contrasting feelings of these two characters, we get a sense of the ostracism faced by hibakusha, and, by extension, the existential anxiety that underlies the human condition. When it premiered in 1962 as the inaugural production of the Jiyu Butai (free stage) theatre company, Zou sent shock waves through the Japanese theatre world. It offered a vivid look at people living out a quiet existence while dealing with profound isolation and anxiety, using a novel style to portray the terror and suffering of the atomic bombings.
Betsuyaku Minoru wrote Zou at age 25. It is the best known work from his early period, and is still performed regularly. Looking at the state of Japan and the world today, its themes seem just as relevant as at the time of its debut over 45 years ago.
Directing Zou will be Fukatsu Shigefumi. Fukatsu directed the debut and revival productions of Kishida Kunio's Doin Sowa, and Mishima Yukio's Yoroboshi (from Modern Noh Plays) at the NNTT to high acclaim. He brings the fresh perspective this work deserves in these modern times.
A man comes to visit his uncle in the hospital. The patient is a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. People on the street would cheer when he stripped to the waist and showed the keloid on his back. But it seems his condition has deteriorated and he is now in the hospital. As the two talk, it becomes clear that the younger man is also a hibakusha.
Man : Don't you think it's better just to die quietly?
Patient : Not me. I want to be killed before I die.
Man : Why?
Patient : I don't know. I want to live with passion!
The patient hopes to recover and go back to showing off his keloid in the streets, but his nephew says he should bide his time without drawing attention. At the center of this work are two people and their different approaches to life. They and the various people around them, including the patient's wife, the doctor and nurse; give us a glimpse at the issues facing the hibakusha and the wider issues of the world around them.
Eventually, the nephew too falls ill and enters the hospital in the bed next to his uncle. Contrary to the uncle, who is determined to stay active, the nephew's wish is to wait quietly for death to come. One rainy day, the uncle makes up his mind to head out into the streets.