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“The Night of the Milky Way Railway” performed in Tainan

Every summer since 2007 Kenji Miyazawa’s play “The Night of the Milky Way Railway” has been performed in Prunus Hall, at J. F. Oberlin University’s Planet Fuchinobe Campus (“PFC”), in the form of a collaboration between students and members of the local community. In March, for the first time this project was taken overseas, to Tainan in Taiwan.

Daisuke Inoue (right)

Two years ago, Professor Xu Ruifang of the National University of Tainan watched a performance of the play at PFC. Deeply impressed by it, she thought to herself, “I’d like to try something like this with the students and residents of Tainan,” and she started working with the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Tainan’s city government to bring the idea to fruition.

Professor Masao Nōso (left) and
Professor Xu Ruifang

Auditions were held last December. Roughly 100 people took part, 30% of them students from the National University of Tainan and the other 70% residents of the Tainan area—and even people who had flown in from as far away as Hong Kong just for the auditions. At the end of the auditions, 23 people, ranging in age from 13 to 58, were chosen to participate.

In mid-March this year, four people flew to Tainan: the director, Professor Masao Nōso of the College of Performing and Visual Arts; the lighting director, Assistant Professor Kim Yonsu, also of the College of Performing and Visual Arts; dancer and choreographer Daisuke Inoue, a graduate of the Theater and Dance Program who has participated in the Prunus Hall performances for all ten years since they began; and set designer Kenji Hamasaki. Rehearsals took place from March 16 to March 23, from morning to evening every day for eight days.

After this intense, concentrated period, four performances were held from March 24 to March 26 at Tainan Municipal Cultural Center’s performance hall. Tickets for the 880 available seats sold out quickly. Just as in Japan, the performances were praised for their highly original staging, which included a pool of water on the stage, seating on all sides of the stage, and more than 20 musicians accompanying the actors.

The performances took place in Chinese, a language that Professor Nōso doesn’t speak. Was this an obstacle? Professor Nōso explains, “Because I can’t speak Chinese, the actors had to communicate their feelings to me directly through their actions and expressions. Giovanni’s loneliness, for example, or Campanella’s suffering had to be conveyed without relying on words. The Chinese that they were speaking sounded melodic to me, as though it were part of the music that the musicians were playing.”

“I’ve heard that Kenji Miyazawa’s works are popular in Taiwan, though of course not as popular as in Japan,” Professor Nōso continued. “Even when I read ‘The Night of the Milky Way Railway’ in Japanese, some parts are hard to understand. I worried about whether those parts would be understood by the audiences in Tainan, but we received rousing ovations. Thanks to the dreamlike quality of the staging and the content of the source material, I’d say we were successful.”

These performances sowed the seeds of a relationship between J. F. Oberlin University and the National Tainan University, and there are already plans to strengthen that relationship.

The performances were covered by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, and their report (in Chinese) can be seen on CNA’s website.

For more information, please contact J. F. Oberlin University’s Office of Public Affairs at 042-797-9772.