On a US naval vessel in the South Pacific, the seamen listen to the Radio Tokyo (Japanese government run international broadcasts). They especially like the program “Zero Hour” in which they can listen to popular American music and the talk of the female announcer. Daniel says there are actually six female announcers on the program. This night the announcer is the one he calls Rose. We hear her voice say: “Greetings, my fellow orphans in the Pacific. How are you today?”
The scene shifts to New York in 2006. Now old, Daniel lives alone with his large archive of taped recordings. The radio announces the death of Annie [Oguri], who was found guilty of treason in the Tokyo Rose Trial, stripped of her U.S. citizenship and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After serving six years in prison, she was later exonerated by presidential pardon in 1977 and her citizenship reinstated.
This evening Daniel is receiving a special guest. It is Toshiya Shiomi, a recording technician Daniel met sixty years earlier at Radio Tokyo who was involved in the recording of the Zero Hour programs and would later be on the opposite side in the Tokyo Rose Trial of Annie. Shiomi has come from Japan to see Daniel. The two had continued to play chess games by postcard correspondence all these years and Shiomi has come to play the last of the 100 games they had promised to play.
The scene is now Tokyo in September of 1945. There is a rush of American reporters coming to Radio Tokyo to look for the person popularly known as Tokyo Rose. The reporters have decided that the woman of U.S citizenship named Annie must be Tokyo Rose.
Shiomi is getting rid of program tapes. Five announcers including Jane Sugawa come in. Daniel, who is there to investigate about the propaganda broadcast, gives the five announcers a one-page text and orders them to read it in turn. After listening to them all he realizes that the announcer he calls Rose is not among them, so he surmises that there must be another announcer.
A day before. In a room of the Imperial Hotel, a group of reporters surround Annie and are trying to get her to sign an exclusive contract as the real Tokyo Rose.
The scene returns to Radio Tokyo. Saying that the sixth announcer has a strange voice that he has never heard before, Daniel tries to force Shiomi to tell him who the real Tokyo Rose is. Leading Daniel to the recording room, Shiomi shows him their latest German-made tape recorder and explains that the voice of the sixth announcer was pre-recorded and that he has no way of getting in contact with her.
Noticing a chessboard nearby, Daniel asks Shiomi to play a game of chess with him. There first game ends with a decisive win by Shiomi.
The scene goes back to 1943. In the recording room Shiomi is using his own voice to experiment with the tape recorder’s voice conversion function and create a different voice quality. Gradually, the voice he produces gets very close to that of Tokyo Rose.
During the War, Radio Tokyo had regularly intercepted American shortwave broadcasts and recorded them. Then Japanese American typists had made transcriptions to submit to the Japanese military. In the play, alternating scenes portray the process of the typists being commandeered to act as announcers for Zero Hour broadcasts and Shiomi continuing to hide the identity of Tokyo Rose through postwar interrogation by the FBI.
The year is now 1948. After being convinced to sign a contract as the real Tokyo Rose, Annie is incarcerated Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison, but she is eventually released. Having kept her American citizenship throughout the War, Annie asks to be repatriated to the U.S., but the media criticizes her severely.
When Annie is put on trial in San Francisco, Daniel takes the stand as a witness for the defense. He uses the Zero Hour tapes as evidence to prove that Annie was not Tokyo Rose and tries to propose that there must have been another announcer.
Shiomi takes an opposing stand as a witness for the prosecution, and despite Daniel’s plea to the jury to listen closely to the tapes to see that it is not Annie’s voice, she is found guilty nonetheless.
To a background of jazz music, the stage is filled with a mix of the voices of Annie, Daniel and Shiomi.
He scene returns once again to 2006 in New York. The chess game between Daniel and Shiomi continues. Bringing out his Zero Hour tapes, Daniel says that even after the two of them are gone the voices of the program’s women announcers will live on. Daniel had managed to get hold of the same type of tape recorder that had been used at Radio Tokyo during the War.
The game has turned into a seemingly endless deadlock. Daniel says that the two of them should go on competing forever, while listening to the voices of Annie and Jane and the others. Shiomi replies that he has been winning all this time just for the purpose of ending the competition. And, when Shiomi says his final “Checkmate,” it comes out in the voice of Tokyo Rose.
Born in Kobe City. Completed the research course of the Graduate School of Arts of Kyoto City University of Arts. Yanagi held her first solo exhibition in Kyoto in 1993. Later she won attention with a series of composite photograph works titled Annaijo no Heya (Room of the Guide Ladies) that showed groups “elevator girls” [uniformed department store elevator attendants] placed in a variety of urban spaces. She went on to win international acclaim with works including My Grandmothers, a photograph series creating visual portrayals of young women who take on the role of themselves 50 years from now and Fairy Tale, in which young women take on the roles of girls and old women in fairy tale settings, making use of special effects in photographic images that deal with the subjects of gender, aging, life and death and oppressed personalities.
Since 2010, Yanagi has begun undertaking projects in theatre, introducing historical fiction plays based on detailed research of the process of Japan’s modernization in the 20th century and staged them in a style that makes innovative use of “guide ladies,” as symbolic of social repression, in roles as choruses or narrators, achieving a new form of theatrical expression. With her 2013 work Zero Hour – Tokyo Rose, the Last Tape
, in addition to doing the scriptwriting, directing and stage art herself, Yanagi has created a full-scale theatrical production by enlisting the collaboration of other professionals, including the design the theater sets by Torafu Architects company, the “Formant Brothers,” who as researchers in the composition of the human voice have created voices for use in the play, and her now signature “guide ladies” as performers.
In 2009, Yanagi was selected as a representative for the Japan Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. In 2012, she became a professor in the Arts and Crafts Department of Kyoto City University of Arts.