‘Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape’ at The Kennedy Center

Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape, a new work written and directed by renowned Japanese visual artist Miwa Yanagi, made a brief Washington D.C. premier this past weekend at The Kennedy Center. The newly constructed show marks the opening in the series, Stories of War, presented by the Japan Society commemorating the 70th anniversary of WWII. Yanagi’s excellence in creating visually stunning art is clear, but the storyline is lacking in this production.

Cast members of 'Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose's Last Tape.' Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Cast members of ‘Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape.’ Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

For the most part the visual designs of Ms. Yanagi are stunning. There are five young Japanese women who play the announcers of the famed, “Zero Hour” radio broadcast (Ami Kobayashi, Hinako Arao, Sachi Masuda, Megumi Matsumoto, and Aki). Each woman is adorned in simple white blouses and full black skirts, with a hat meticulously covering the tops of their heads. History tells us that the story of Tokyo Rose is really an American folk tale, that really the identity is an amalgamation of up to 12 different women who were apart of the broadcasts. Yanagi uses the costuming to portray that one of the women should not be distinguished from the others, that in fact these women were pawns of the men who developed the propaganda schemes. That is until their true identities are revealed and their hats are removed one by one.

Yanagi’s sophisticated set is also stunning. She uses a simple white canvas and a small round set piece that can be converted to 5 desks and chairs and moved easily across the stage by the five women. The only flaw in the design were the hard to read subtitles, which were visually pretty but lacked the function of a subtitle as much of them were hard to read.

The story of Tokyo Rose is a very interesting one. A young Japanese American, who is arrested for treason after WWII, eventually pardoned by President Carter after it is slowly revealed she was merely a pawn in a much a larger game. However, instead of highlighting the struggle of the young woman prosecuted for treason, the focus of this piece was on the men who put her there. Daniel Yamada (Yohei Matsukado) is a Japanese American soldier sent to investigate and find the true Tokyo Rose and Toshiya Shiomi (Sogo Nishimira) the technical director and producer of the broadcast. The two played a literal game of chess throughout the show, highlighting the figurative chess game that they played with each other. The story was very hard to follow at times, but the most poignant of scenes came at the end of the show where the two men are in their 90’s and they show their regret and the final end to the game they have been playing for 60 years. The two men give very strong performances throughout the show and easily show the range of playing very young then much older men.

The real Tokyo Rose.
The real Tokyo Rose.

There were two other stand-out performances of the evening. First there was that of Ami Kobayashi, who played Jane Yoshiko Sugawa. Kobayashi played the lead announcer, her voice was beautiful. She assumed the part of the Vancuver/Japanese announcer and is the most refined of the five women. The other is Hinako Arao, who played the young Japanese American announcer, who was simply a typist and resisted the call to announce on the show, but was forced to only to be manipulated by the press and be tried for treason as she is named to be the “Tokyo Rose.”

In all it Miwa Yanagi’s concept is beautiful, the story of Tokyo Rose is fascinating. However, the script was laboring and did not capture the spirit of its heroine. I would have liked to see the focus on Annie, or even all of the women (instead of in the visual design) and story of the men who wronged her.

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with no intermission.

Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape played on February 6 and 7, 2015 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC.. For a list of upcoming events at The Kennedy Center,  go to their performance calendar.




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