The Cocktail Party

By Tatsuhiro Oshiro

A play by Okinawa’s most celebrated writer, The Cocktail Party is centered in Okinawa in 1971, though the plot is framed by opening and final acts that are set in 1995 in Washington, D.C. In 1995, the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum was embroiled in a controversy over an exhibition to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War Two. The Smithsonian planned to display the Enola Gay, replicas of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, and the scenes of the aftermath. American veterans groups vociferously protested the plans, arguing the exhibition did not give appropriate emphasis to the “unconscionable” attack on Pearl Harbor, and to the argument that America was compelled to use atomic weapons to avoid loss of American lives if US troops were forced to invade Japan. The protestors also alleged that the exhibit would imply that the US had committed crimes against humanity by using an atomic weapon.

The play concerns the period when the Okinawan archipelago was an American protectorate. The US military presence was enormous, and Okinawans were governed by American martial law. In the course of the story, an Okinawan man’s daughter is raped by an American GI. Seeking justice, the father discovers the disparity between martial law and equal protection under the law that Americans pride themselves on upholding. The perpetrator of the rape is immune from the Okinawan courts; in fact, the perpetrator is able to file a criminal suit against his victim for injuring him during the assault. The Okinawan father appeals for help from each of his friends: the Chinese lawyer, whose country had been “raped” by the Japanese; the Japanese reporter, whose country had been decimated by American atomic bombs; and the American intelligence officer, whose country governs Okinawa as a militarized colony, but who wishes to foster international peace.

The play was written in Japanese in 1995, and adapted extensively from Oshiro’s 1967 novel of the same name, for which he received Japan’s highest literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. The play was translated into English by Katsunori Yamazato, and the world premier was held in 2011 at the Hawai’i Okinawa Centre and at Orvis Auditorium on the University of Hawai’i campus. The plays was directed by Tim Slaughter

Following the performance, a panel including author Tatsuhiro Oshiro, Katsunori Yamazato, and Frank Stewart led a discussion on the issues that arise in the play. This portion of the program was sponsored by the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, with support from the “We the People” initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Manoa Foundation.