FUKUI — A local cable TV station quietly removed a high school drama club’s anti-nuclear play from its annual theater festival broadcast after deciding the content was too sensitive to air.
The performance proved controversial for expressing sentiment against nuclear power plants and for historical reference that uses a derogatory phrase referring to people with disabilities.
Normally, the cable company broadcasts all plays performed by local high schools during the annual Fukui Prefecture Fall Drama Festival, but when it aired the festival performances last December, one was conspicuously absent.
The play in question, entitled “Hanako of Tomorrow”, was performed by Fukui Norin High School, a public school specializing in agriculture and forestry.
It depicts the story of how Fukui Prefecture became home to many nuclear reactors and explores the mixed feelings of locals about the facilities through exchanges between two schoolgirl characters.
Nuclear power generation is a major industry in Fukui, home to the largest number of reactors of any prefecture in Japan, including those undergoing decommissioning.
The play was one of 12 entrances to the festival, held between September 18 and 20, all of which were performed without an audience due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When officials from the Fukui Norin school told members of the theater club after the festival that their play could not be shown, they were devastated that hardly anyone from the wider community could see it.
“A play only becomes a play after it has been seen by an audience,” said one member. “I was so disappointed.”
Another member expressed his utter disbelief.
The screenplay was written by Toru Tamamura, a former drama club advisor, and it was chosen over other options by club members in a vote in July.
“I found it very interesting because the play contains a lot of jokes while addressing the historical theme,” said a member of the Tamamura script. “I didn’t know anything about nuclear power plants before, but I learned a lot from this play. “
But a day after the school performance, an official from the broadcaster approached the organizer of the festival, the drama committee of the cultural association of prefectural high schools, to ask if he could broadcast the play despite the use of ‘a discriminatory term.
The term is a derogatory reference to people with disabilities and was used in the play to explain why the prefecture originally wanted to attract nuclear facilities.
The pejorative was used in a 1983 speech by the then mayor of Tsuruga, which houses four reactors, in favor of building a nuclear power plant based on the economic needs of the region.
Using the term, the mayor said, “Some children might be born with a disability due to the effects of radiation, but we should attract a nuclear facility so that we can receive state subsidies.
The mayor’s comments have been criticized as scandalous.
Tamamura, 60, defended his decision to include the offensive term in the play.
“I have included the expression to faithfully reproduce what the mayor said,” he said. “I covered his comment in the context of a review and I have no intention of discriminating” against people with disabilities.
Advisors from the association’s drama committee discussed Fukui Norin’s play on September 20 and October 8.
Yoshihide Shimada, who heads the theater committee and is principal of Maruoka High School, said he had raised concerns about its broadcast to the broadcaster.
“If the play were to be shown as is, the students who acted in the drama and the teachers involved could face criticism and slurs,” he said.
But, he added, he also indicated that it would ultimately be up to the broadcaster to decide whether or not to air the piece.
CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT SPONSORS
The television company gave a different story.
The broadcaster decided in October to air all dramas except the production of Fukui Norin.
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, a TV company official cited a specific request made by a representative of the drama committee advisers not to air it.
Shimada said committee advisers and company officials understood during their interviews that it would be difficult to broadcast the drama.
The broadcaster said it would have considered the possibility of showing the work and censoring the discriminatory term if the committee had made such a request.
One of the officials who attended the September 20 meeting of the drama committee advisers said during Asahi’s interview that “one participant called for caution, citing the possibility that a company linked to the nuclear industry may be among the sponsors of Fukui Cable TV. “
The official also said that another pointed out that the cultural association of prefectural high schools receives support from an electricity company.
But Shimada denied that the play’s anti-nuclear theme is a problem.
He said the drama committee raised concerns with the broadcaster over the use of the derogatory term in the play.
The Genden Fureai Foundation, created by Japan Atomic Power Co., the operator of a nuclear power station in Tsuruga, annually subsidizes events organized by the cultural association of prefectural high schools.
In fiscal 2021, the foundation provided 600,000 yen ($ 5,200) in grants to the association.
After the broadcaster’s decision not to air the school drama, Tamamura and others launched an online signature campaign against him in November and released the script online.
More than 10,000 people have signed the petition.
The association’s drama committee decided in December to allow only school officials and members of drama clubs associated with the festival to watch Fukui Norin’s play through a website.
(This article was written by Hayashi Yanagawa, Kenji Oda, and Kazuhiro Nakata.)