An extraordinary comedy writer and a modern-day popular writer. A man of knowledge and fountain of wisdom. An observer of the times. A pro-Constitution pacifist, activist and intellectual.
Hisashi Inoue, who died last Friday at age 75, was all these things--and more. But there was just one thread that tied his many activities together, and that was his determination to rely on his own eyes and head to deliver his messages to his audience in simple language.
Inoue's novels and plays deal with profound subjects, but all are easy to read and understand. That was because he focused on the core or essence of each subject, refined it with great care and chose the most appropriate language and style in which to package his product.
To make this possible, Inoue collected every bit of research material he could lay his hands on, pored over the materials and thought them through. He expended tremendous time and energy in his quest to establish his own paradigm of history and the workings of the world.
Such a fastidious approach to his profession was not unrelated to his background.
Born in 1934, Inoue was 5 years old when he lost his father, a leftist activist. He was 10 at the end of World War II, and spent his boyhood in an atmosphere of postwar liberalism. His home of many years was a Catholic institution for children, where he lived until he graduated from senior high school.
Inoue began writing and submitting his works to literary contests in hopes of winning prize money. He got his training as a skit writer at a strip-tease joint in Tokyo's Asakusa district. He also wrote scripts for TV shows when television was still in its infancy as a mass communication medium.
And when he debuted as a playwright, he chose comedy as his genre, even though it was still considered out of the mainstream in the theatrical world.
Anything but an Establishment elite, Inoue was a writer born from the undulating waves of populism of his era. And precisely because of this, he understood the necessity of depending on his own eyes and using his own head to learn from history, lest he make the mistake of getting caught unawares and being swept away in a surge of some "wrong" wave of history that might again engulf the nation.
In particular, Inoue persisted in questioning what World War II had been really about.
"Yami ni Saku Hana" (A flower blooming in the dark) is a play about Class B and C war criminals, and its protagonist is a young World War II veteran. A line in this play goes: "It's wrong to forget what happened. It's even more wrong to pretend to forget."
From 2001 to 2006, Inoue worked on a series of three plays written for New National Theatre, Tokyo. Collectively known as "Tokyo Saiban Sanbu-saku" (Tokyo war crimes trial trilogy), the plays deal with the issue of war responsibility of ordinary Japanese citizens.
Inoue called the Tokyo tribunal "a flawed gemstone." But despite the flaw, he evaluated it highly for enabling the Japanese people to learn their nation's hidden history from classified government documents submitted to the tribunal.
In part of the serial run of the three plays at New National Theatre, Tokyo, Part One of the trilogy started last Thursday. Inoue died the following day, right after the curtain came down on the play amid thunderous applause.
"If we continue to disrespect the past, the future will eventually disrespect us," Inoue commented concerning this play. These became his final words for the public.
Inoue's entire life was spent creating a vast "universe of words." The constellations that shimmer there will continue to entertain us. They will also be our guiding stars as we journey through life.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 13