Jill Shearer‘s Shimada is a play which will have painful overtones for some while enlightening many others with its take on prisoner trauma and economic rationalism.
Eric, the central character, is a survivor of a Japanese prisoner of war camp. But the war is long gone, he’s outlived his mates and the company he helped found is now looking at selling out to a Japanese business.
Shimada takes place in Northern Queensland in the office of the bicycle company that’s on the rocks and also in a Prisoner of War camp in an unspecified jungle in World War Two. The flashbacks are Eric’s and the reader/audience gets a strong sense of the constant battle in his head as the past and the present vie for prominence.
Eric becomes convinced that Toshio, the Japanese businessman who has come to buy the company, is actually Shimada, the officer who tortured he and his friends in the PoW camp. Shearer leaves us guessing whether this is in fact the case or whether it’s a trick Eric’s memory is playing on him.
TOSHIO: I too have memory, Mr Dawson. My wife. Akiko. First wife. First … [He stops.] I leave her with parents. Yes, I was in service. We were all in service. Millions. [He stops again.] First wife. Young. Very young. Small. [softly] Like lotus. So many years ago, but like lotus. Like blossom. I leave her with parents. [Pause] I leave her in city of Hiroshima.
ERIC: Blood will have blood, Shimada.
TOSHIO: But people of Japan do not live with those memories, Mr Dawson. People of Japan live … in future!
For a while, the play seems as if it will be an Aussie battler drama: old digger fights off takeover and resurrects family company against all odds, but Shearer has something more sombre in mind. She threads trade unionism, multinational takeovers, protectionism and racism alongside the flashbacks to the war years.
SHARYN: Can’t you see? You’re reinforcing every single thing the Japanese hear about us. Unreliability. Lack of unity.
DENNY: ‘Made in Australia.’
SHARYN: I promise you’ll be looked after.
DENNY: Looked after like my sister’s niece in Brisbane? Her place used to make office stuff. Switched over to imports. Cuttin’ costs they said. Sharks. No shortage of money when it comes to the big ones makin’ it. Just shortage of caring. Carin’ about people who’ve trusted them, worked for them for years. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Japs or our lot. Ends up the same most times. She’s on the dole now.
I came away from reading Shimada thinking about forgiveness. How long do we hold onto the past? Should we revenge our friends’ murders or mourn and let go? If blood will have blood then the cycle will never end.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 4M, 3F (includes some doubling)