An Unforgettable Moment
(Wasuregataki koto domo)
by MATSUI Sumako (松井 須磨子)
MATSUI Sumako (1886-1919) was an actress who became famous for her portrayal of heroines in Western plays, such as Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. She starred in a 1914 film of Tolstoy’s Resurrection which featured her singing “Katyusha’s Song” (above), a massive hit at the time considered by many to be the first example of modern Japanese popular music due to its marriage of Western music with Japanese. Matsui and the director of her troupe, SHIMAMURA Hogetsu, had a long-term love affair and shortly after his death from Spanish flu in 1918, she hanged herself.
When I think of my teacher, I am in despair. He has experienced great pain. In no more than the time it takes to sigh, he fell into illness. It is unforgettable for me, for I was at his side to see it all.
From the very beginning, he had the idea that we should lead a troupe and attempt to go to the West. We would go from Dalian to Russia, and from Russia on to America, he said. This year I went from Dalian to Vladivostok, so next time we’d start out in America and try working our way back. If I did a tour on my own, he told me that it would be just the two of us, and when we came back he’d like me to go to acting school and study for a few years, but when I remember those moments it makes me terribly sad as well. At other times he would gather together so much material in order to create a script to take to the West, but that too has become no more than a sad momento to everyone.
He died on the 5th, around 2am, they say. At that very moment, without the slightest idea, I was at a dress rehearsal at the Meijiza Theatre. At that thought I become utterly speechless, overcome by the wretched, sad thought.
When I left his house, it was on the afternoon of the 4th. At that time, he didn’t appear to be especially in pain. Naturally the idea that this would be the last time didn’t cross my mind in the slightest. He said to me, “Give this rehearsal your all, for me,” to encourage me. Those words have become something that I will not be able to forget until the end of my life.
The dress rehearsal at the Meijiza, in full dress and wig, was exceedingly slow. I wanted to get it over with quickly and go. When I finished the rehearsal I had promised him I’d do, it was nearly 2am on the 5th. Rehearsal ended, and while I was taking off my costume and wig, I was told that he had taken a bad turn and to please return there quickly. Without a moment’s delay, as if in a daze I got into the rickshaw waiting by the stage door and went back to his home. I had not the slightest idea that he had already passed away. Thinking that he was simply lonely and awaiting my return I did not feel anxious on my way there. Yet I became sad and tearful. The rickshaw pulled to a stop at his door, and at that moment my heart swelled and I started sobbing. I called out to him as I entered the house. I thought he must not have truly taken a turn for the worse, so on the stairs I quieted myself and wiped away my streaming tears as I walked up to the room on the second floor where he had been resting, but it was too late. I have no words to describe my feelings at that moment. Just as if someone behind me had suddenly choked me, I stopped breathing. I truly could not speak for sadness at that moment. By the time I had arrived there he had already begun to turn cold as ice. I want to go back somehow and change everything, I thought. I had not thought that he would already be gone. And at that thought, the tears I cry are very sad indeed.