Yōji Sakate’s Blind Touch, the play inspired by the real-life story of Fumiaki and Akiko Hoshino, will be revived in a production directed by the author at The Suzunari, a leading fringe theatre in Shimokitazawa, from 19 March to 1 April.
Best known for such plays as The Attic and Epitaph for the Whales , Sakate first wrote Blind Touch for Theatrical Company EN in 2002. Though not a didactic dramatist, his award-winning work is nonetheless often socially and politically engaged.
Fumiaki Hoshino was a prominent Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) student activist who took part in protests in Sanrizuka against the construction of Narita Airport and in an major anti-war demonstration in November 1971 against the Vietnam War and the terms of the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. Known as the Shibuya Riot Incident, this protest turned violent and a young police officer, Tsuneo Nakamura, was killed. Many people were arrested on charges related to the incident, including Nakamura’s murder, and Hoshino was eventually detained in 1975. He was found guilty and, after a retrial, his full-life sentence was confirmed in 1987, though the evidence for his involvement with the death is primarily confession statements by other activists that were later withdrawn.
In Japan, police interrogations are notorious for their protracted nature, in which detainees are subjected to many hours of questioning without breaks or even a lawyer (and only limited recording, introduced recently). To maintain its 99% conviction rate, only very strong cases are prosecuted and results are normally ensured by extracting confessions from suspects. Numerous miscarriages of justice have been exposed, including when “confessions” were apparently supplied. Detainees often feel pressured to make a confession as their only means of ending the interrogations, since the period suspects can be held in custody without charge is long and easily extendable by re-arrests.
Hoshino has a team of supporters, the Hoshino Defence Committee, who have continued to campaign for his retrial and demand that police release concealed evidence in the case. Hoshino would marry a supporter, Akiko, from behind bars in 1986. Akiko visits him regularly, though they are only able to make contact through a transparent plastic wall — the “blind touch” that gives Sakate’s play its title.
Sakate does not name the couple in Blind Touch; they are simply referred to as “Male” and “Female”. He also takes some dramatic licence with the Hoshinos’ actual situation. In his two-hander, the activist has left prison after many years to live with his wife, who has always believed in his innocence. Blind Touch is the story of their learning to adjust to this new life together.
Hoshino is just one of many Chūkaku-ha activists tried in connection with the Shibuya Riot Incident and Tsuneo Nakamura’s killing. Yukio Okumiyama’s trial proceedings were halted in 1981 due to mental illness, and he passed away earlier this year at the age of 68. Hiroya Arakawa served his sentence and was released in 2000, but later expelled from Chūkaku-ha after he was accused of spying for police. A final activist wanted for the murder was Masaaki Ōsaka, who was arrested in Hiroshima last year after over four decades on the run. On 23 February, the deadline for Ōsaka’s pretrial arrangement procedures for his first hearing was set by Tokyo District Court for 26 March. His legal team maintains his innocence and the 68-year-old Ōsaka — who has been officially identified by a somewhat suspect DNA test — refused to give his name or address in court at the detention reasons disclosure proceedings in June last year. Tetsuya Suzuki, an alleged covert Chūkaku-ha activist arrested with Ōsaka and accused of harbouring a fugitive from 26 February to 18 May 2017, faces a two-year sentence, but his defence lawyers say that the man he was living with in Hiroshima cannot even be confirmed to have been Masaaki Ōsaka. The Osaka District Court will hand down its verdict on 27 April.