Korean-Japanese playwright explores bordersLooking at his short hair and baggy, casual clothing, it is hard to believe Korean-Japanese playwright Jung Eui-shin’s age. The playwright, 48, might have the appearance of a neighborhood friend, but his status in Japanese culture is secure. In 1993, he won the most prestigious award in Japanese theater, the Kishida Kunio Drama Award.
Last year, he received a Japanese Academy Award for his work alongside director Choi Yang-il on the Korean-Japanese film, “Blood and Bones.” It is rare for a Korean-Japanese residing in Japan to receive such attention in mainstream Japanese culture.
Jung once again visited Korea recently for a new project, “The Heart of an Annindofu,” which he wrote and directed. It is playing in Korea in two venues. At the Arco Theater in the Daehangno area, Japanese actors are performing the play, and in Daehangno’s Studio 76 theater, Korean producers and actors are performing the same piece.
“In Japan, annindofu [sweet tofu served with apricots] is like any other dessert, just like yogurt and pudding,” said Jung. “The story is about a couple who have been married for seven years and who decide to get a divorce on Christmas Eve. They talk about their life together over tofu, instead of the usual cake. The tofu, because it has an expiration date just like instant food, asks the viewers whether love has an expiration date as well,” said Jung.
The playwright has a mixed background. His father came from Nonsan, South Chungcheong province, and moved to Japan at the age of 15, and his mother’s ancestry was Korean-Japanese as well. As a boy, the playwright grew up around Osaka, in Hijime.
“My hometown was always filled with the smell of alcohol, with people throwing up after binge drinking. I couldn’t understand it back then,” he said.
He grew up poor. His parents made a living by collecting recyclable items. Those harsh circumstances led him to the fantasy world of literature, and he would read the used books and magazines that his father brought home. He also made a cinema, in which his mother worked as a cleaning lady, his second home. “I would always tell my younger sibling stories before going to bed. The main subjects were usually ghosts and goblins so they would say that they were scared but at the same time, listen closely with curiosity. I think that was the beginning of my storytelling,” he said.
He calls himself a “man on the borders.” “I naturally got interested in minority stories as I was a product of neither Korea nor Japan. I think my work has connections to the stories of illegal immigrants, the poor or gays. When I was young, it was hard to accept the fact that I did not belong anywhere, but as I got older and accepted that this was my fate, my shoulders were lightened a little.” He is often cited by Japanese critics as one of the best writers to create a humorous situation from harsh realities.
Jung is planning to write a play for 2008 to celebrate both the 10th anniversary of Japan’s New National Theater and the 20th anniversary of the Seoul Arts Center. He said he plans to write about a meat restaurant owned by a Japanese-Korean.
by Choi Min-woo