In May 2022, Mika Eglinton and I translated the play Biome for a production by the Umeda Arts Theatre (Osaka) staged at the Toshima Arts and Culture Theater in Tokyo from the 8th to the 12th of June 2022.
The play was written by playwright and director Ueda Kumiko and it was directed by Takashi Isshiki. The production starred Kankuro Nakamura, Mari Hanafusa, Yuta Furukawa, Yoshihiro Nozoe, Sei Ando, Songha, and Rei Asami.
Biome revolves around a boy called Rui (Nakamura Kankuro), who is born into a family of politicians and is expected to follow in that lineage. It soon becomes clear, however, that Rui is no typical boy. He sleeps outside under a big black pine tree, talks to an owl and has an imaginary friend.
Rui’s father, Manabu (Songha), is too engrossed in his political career to find time for his family. Rui’s mother, Reiko (Hanafusa Mari), struggles with depression and finds refuge in the questionable teachings of a flower therapist called Tomoe (Ando Sei).
Meanwhile, Reiko’s father, Katsuhito (Nozoe Yoshihiro), a retired politician, devises a plan with Manabu to “take care” of Rui and preserve the family’s political lineage. Katsuhito’s loyal housekeeper Fuki (Asami Rei) and her gardener son, Noguchi (Furukawa Yuta) become pawns in his game.
This dysfunctional family is watched over by the inhabitants of the unusually large garden: an old black pine tree, a towering sequoia, English roses, Japanese gentians and various other flora who form a noh-like jiutai (chorus) and comment on aspects of the human machinations.
The play is a meditation on the drives that tear humans apart, particularly the death drive. The trees and plants speak of states of change rather than states of death; they observe rather than opine; and remember rather than forget. The humans, in contrast, battle for the status quo, for self-preservation at all costs, even if it means losing a loved one or destroying a home.
The contrast between plant and human worlds helps amplify the play’s satirical take on theatrical tropes of family, fate and fortune. There are undertones of noh plays such as Sakuragawa, Asukagawa and Sumidagawa, all of which feature mothers driven to states of madness; there is a nod to Lady Macbeth and her infamous sleepwalking scene; there are also resonances with Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.