Musical based on executed journalist’s story

February 1st this year marked two years since Japanese journalist Kenji Gotō was executed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. On January 28, Imaginary Line, a musical based on his story, was performed at Kuon Christ Church (in Asagaya, Suginami-ku,) as part of a gathering called, “Indigo Blue Shamal—Two Years On.” The musical was written and directed by Sakura Baba and produced by Sakura Presents. It debuted in Osaka last year, but this was its first performance in Tokyo.

Baba crafted the musical’s lines and scenes using information that Gotō had shared with her personally. Dancing and gospel songs at key points throughout the play increase the impact of the message. The story revolves around Gotō’s freelance work as a war correspondent and his interactions with local people in conflict zones. In the musical Gotō arrives in one such area to conduct interviews, but a sister at the local church refuses to be interviewed. While Gotō tries to persuade her of his best intentions, Akira, who had tagged along with him to pursue his ambition as a journalist, wanders off on his own, only to stumble upon the “imaginary line” that journalists must not cross.

Gotō’s reporting style

Following the musical, Baba hosted a live interview with Gotō’s friend Kazunori Kurimoto, a videographer and documentary director whose book, Message of Life from Journalist Kenji Gotō (Hosei University Press), was published last December. “An imaginary line separates fiction from reality. A journalist can wield a camera and record something as a bystander, but Gotō’s reporting style was to intentionally cross the imaginary line, and become involved with his subjects rather than just looking on unattached. Either he felt that there was no such thing as the imaginary line, or he considered it as something that should be crossed.”

Kurimoto shared stories from Gotō’s time on the field. “When he was in Liberia, he witnessed the burial of children who had been killed in the conflict. Their bodies were put into a square hole in the sand, piled up on each other as if they were trash. He could never forget that scene, and shed tears every time he recalled it. But that was exactly why he continued to return to conflict zones.”

Gotō’s final field report

When asked why Gotō entered ISIS territory, Kurimoto answered, “That was the main question I asked myself when writing the book. This is only speculation, but I think he went, assuming that he would be captured. He was a Christian and was driven to share his message, even if it cost him his life. I was deeply shocked when the YouTube video of him kneeling in the wilderness was posted. It was his final field report, and his greatest. In the video, Gotō looks directly at us with a powerful gaze. I think he was confident in his faith that God was always with him, even to the very end.”

“I feel that what happened to Gotō raises the question of whether we can change or choose our own destiny. What was Gotō thinking in his final moments? Was he searching for a way out, or had he accepted that this was the will of God, whose power surpasses human understanding? In the gospel of John we find the parable of the grain of wheat. I think that, like the grain of wheat, Gotō’s death was meant to bring forth much fruit.

From Christian Shimbun, February 19, 2017
Translated by Hiromi Kiuchi

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