Dialogue trips 'Okinawa'


POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The use of teenagers and even pre-teens to fight wars, in Africa and elsewhere, has been in the news recently, but there's nothing new about “;child soldiers.”; German teenagers of both sexes fought and died for Germany in the spring of 1945, and with “;Okinawa 1945,”; now in the middle of a two-weekend run at Castle High School, Okinawan-American playwright Alice Shikina shares the story of Okinawan teenagers drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army to serve as front-line nurses. About 80 percent died in the fighting or committed suicide to avoid being captured by Americans.




'OKINAWA 1945'

        » Where: Castle Performing Arts Center, Castle High School

» When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday


» Cost: $10 ($8 for students, seniors and active-duty military)


» Call: (808) 233-5626 or visit www.ShowTix4U.com


Shikina's protagonists—the Kakazu sisters—respond to Japan's call in different ways. Keiko, the oldest, sees it as an opportunity to show the Japanese that Okinawans are loyal citizens who support the emperor. Middle daughter Akiko wants nothing to do with the Japanese (”;The Japanese hate Okinawans”;). Yuko, 14, and a romantic at heart, is confident that “;the emperor will beat the evil Americans”; and they'll all return home soon.

The girls' mother begs that they be exempted from service. Their teacher replies that she is only doing her duty. Orders are orders.

Shikina does not shrink from showing the ugly side of the Japanese occupation of Okinawa. A wounded Japanese soldier, awaiting medical treatment in a cave, discusses in crude and explicit terms the alleged sexual proclivities of Okinawan woman, and describes Okinawans collectively as hairy primitive “;savages”; who “;don't even look Japanese.”; This doesn't stop him from trying to use Yuko as a “;comfort woman”; moments after she arrives for nursing duty.

That's only the beginning of the girls' experiences. One must use chopsticks to remove maggots from a rotting wound. Another has to probe for a bullet with her finger. Two perform an amputation using a soldier's trench knife. During a lull in the action they vent their understandable disgust at having to help countless wounded Japanese soldiers use bedpans. Finally, as American forces approach, Japanese soldiers order them to kill all the wounded men who can't kill themselves and then commit suicide.

It is a story that deserves to be told, and Shikina's three young nurses win our sympathy, but it would be stronger in the telling if most of the characters did not speak with the stereotypical overly precise enunciation that American playwrights tend to use when writing dialogue for Asian characters. Conversely, the occasional use of contemporary language—“;Deal with it!”; and “;Just do it! are two—comes across as jarring anachronisms.

Inserting random Japanese and/or Okinawan words in the otherwise all-English dialogue is also a distraction; the girls' style of speaking doesn't change when they switch from Okinawan to Japanese, so why add Okinawan and Japanese words when English represents both languages? At the least, the meaning of the Okinawan and Japanese words should be explained in a glossary in the playbill.