Thursday, June 11, 2009
kairei: book, film, and stage production
In December of 1832, a Japanese sailing vessel called the Hojunmaru set sail from the village of Onoura with a cargo of rice and a crew of 14. It was headed for Edo (present-day Tokyo), but was destined never to reach it. Crippled by storms, the ship drifted across the Pacific Ocean for fourteen months. Only three of the crew were left alive when the ship finally reached the northwest coast of North America. All this was merely the beginning of events that would throw the Edo government into turmoil and change the course of history in the Pacific region. In 1981, Asahi Shimbunsha published Miura Ayako's historical novel Kairei, which was about these very events. The novel was influential in raising interest in those long-forgotten castaways (a man and two boys) who had been at the center of them. In the summer of 1984, while I was visiting the Miura's home in Asahikawa, Ayako asked me to consider translating Kairei into English. A film version of Kairei (a joint effort by World Wide Pictures and Shochiku Co.) was scheduled to be released very shortly, and it seemed good sense to make the English translation of the novel available to the public as soon as possible. It didn't quite turn out that way. Background research alone took the better part of a year. I visited many of the locations mentioned in the book. I studied reduced-scale models of ships of the same type as the Hojunmaru. I met and interviewed the only living relative of Otokichi, the central character of the novel. It took two years to translate the book, and it was another seven years before it was published. In 1993, the same year my English translation of Kairei was published under the title Hidden Ranges, a Nagoya-based theater group produced Nippon Otokichi Monogatari (English title: Global Drifter Otokichi), a musical based on the life of Otokichi. They have performed it several times in Japan and certain overseas locations significant to the story.
Here are some more links for info on the events described in Kairei.
Otokichi:a life lost and found
The Otokichi Saga- A Postscript