Hello, Goodbye is essentially a slapstick comedy, however, like most humour in Japan it also uses multi-level wordplay to both confuse and amuse. This overview has been put together from the viewing experiences of a number of fans with varying levels of Japanese skills, and is certainly not intended to be exhaustive - just to give an overview of what happens in the play and what all the excitement has been about. So yes, plenty of spoilers ahead.
After the synopsis, are a set of unofficial photos that were available.
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The play takes place in the foyer area of a reception hall where the funeral ceremony preparations for novelist Kumagai Sougen are taking place. They are overseen by his son, Kumagai Ango (Koyama) who is greeting guests, though he does not appear to be particularly sad himself, and his mother, who while performing her duty as chief mourner, does not accept the death of her husband. In fact, her goal as the play opens is to take the body home and bury him in the backyard, rather than go through with the next day's cremation.
Meanwhile, hiding in the bathroom is Kazuo, Ango's friend since middle school, and ex-husband of Ango's now girlfriend Mizuki, also a schoolfriend. Kazuo, however, has not really come for the funeral, his goal is to reconcile with his lost love. But until the opportunity presents itself he is trying to stay hidden.
Complicating things further is the appearance of a mysterious woman and her daughter. At first she seems to just be the major inspiration for one of the dead author's novels but it is fairly quickly revealed that she was also his mistress and that her daughter is Ango's surprise half-sister.
Many concepts in this play work on a number of different levels and the motif of the meat, used on the publicity material, is one of them. Meat was the favourite food of the dead novelist, and as the play opens, his wife is still taking him plates of it - partly because she is not dealing well with his death.
It is also a motif that the father was a 'carnivore' (having had a mistress for 20 years) whereas Ango, his son, is most definitely a 'herbivore', and still unmarried. It's also pretty clear that his relationship with Mizuki is not a particularly physical one as he consistently avoids any attempt from her to embrace him.
Ango detests the meat and it's masculine, aggressive (and parental) associations, and doesn't eat it. In fact, when he tries to eat it in the play, the smell and the taste are so repulsive to him that he ultimately runs off-stage to throw up.
If you're not familiar with the Japanese concepts of men as 'carnivore' and 'herbivore' you can read some articles here => 1, 2, 3.
And even though Ango and Mizuki are 'dating', that situation arose when Kazuo left and disappeared from both their lives. Ango was there to comfort Mizuki as a friend, but she's keen to move their relationship to the next level, and if they were to get engaged then she could have a more official role as part of the family during the funeral ceremonies.
Mizuki has been concerned that Kazuo has returned and is stalking her, so even though she doesn't want to see him, she's keen to believe, so she's willing to listen when he says he has come to reunite with someone. She is shocked though when Kazuo tells her clearly that she is not the one he has come for. Ango walks in on them and tells Kazuo to let them be so that they can just have normal lives. This sparks a confrontation and Ango and Kazuo have a fight - in an impressive piece of action and choreography.
This scene ends, like many, with Ango despatching people from the scene by the use of the elevator on set, which the audience believes takes guests upstairs to the funeral function.
After dealing with Mizuki and Kazuo for the time being, Ango is next confronted by his newly found younger sister. In a cute bonding moment, Ango gets down on one knee and offers her his back for a piggy back ride. She accepts but rather than climbing on his back, she climbs onto his shoulders and the two of them do a few laps around the stage before making an exit.
The confrontation between wife and mistress also comes to a head in a physical, rolling around the stage fight, both of them wearing formal black mourning kimono.
Ango returns as they reach an understanding and call a truce. After they depart, Ango is alone with Mizuki. He tries to evade her but she sticks close, telling him she's sorry about everything with Kazuo but that he's the one she wants to be with. That all she wants is for to them to be together and start a new life.
Ango is still hesitant, but he tries to convince himself that he could that. He could get married and start a family with her. He could try.
They are interrupted by Kazuo who gets into another argument with Mizuki. The fighting is beginning to distress Ango who keeps calling for them to stop. Kazuo finally speaks up and makes his point. He says it isn't easy to live a lie and Ango wouldn't be happy because he can't change the way he is and that he shouldn't deny the power of love.
To prove his point, Kazuo slides onto the seat behind Ango and wraps his arms around him. Ango melts into his embrace and the way the two of them are pressed together, Kazuo nuzzling at Ango's neck, leaves no doubt about the nature of their relationship.
Mizuki is totally shocked. She had no idea. Kazuo is shocked that she didn't know. He had assumed that when she'd said earlier that she knew why he was there, that she meant she knew about him and Ango.
At this point, one of the funeral directors, who used to teach of all of them in middle school, asked the burning question - how long? How long had Ango and Kazuo been a couple? The answer stunned Mizuki even further - since middle school.
Mizuki is totally dumbfounded and is guided to the door, while Ango and Kazuo re-establish their bond by staying close, hugging and speaking quietly to each other.
The other characters return to the stage as the mistress and her daughter take their leave. The mother tells the mistress that she can come to the cremation but the mistress says it isn't her place.
The mother returns to the ante-room where her husband's body lies and Ango and Kazuo sit together and Kazuo lays his head across Ango's lap. They share another intimate moment as Ango strokes Kazuo's hair and thigh, poking at his cheek before joining their hands on his knee.
Their ex-teacher makes a final comment as he leaves the stage, saying it was a good thing he stopped teaching because he had no idea about their relationship.
Now, alone Ango and Kazuo enter the elevator to go up to the main function, pausing to adjust each others clothing into alignment.
As the elevator doors close, Ango's mother reappears, this time with the corpse on her back. She's going to bury him in the backyard after all.
Once she disappears, the elevator dings and opens on Ango and Kazuo in another embrace. Ango motions to Kazuo to wait, and then strides to the table with the plate of meat. He picks up the meat and assumes a manly stance. He eats the meat with no effort, striking a boxing pose to demonstrate that his herbivore days are behind him.
He turns and makes the pose at Kazuo, who puts up his own fists in return. The play finishes as the newly confident Ango returns to the elevator and pulls Kazuo to him for a kiss - just as the elevator doors close.
This was definitely a play that the audience enjoyed greatly, with the excitement certainly ramping up after Ango and Kazuo's true relationship is revealed, and during all the moments they have during the remaining time of the play. And it was obvious at early performances that Koyama was hoping the audience would enjoy it, but still a little unsure about fan reaction. It only took a few shows for him to be sure that the fans were loving it.
Koyama's physicality and comedic timing were both excellent. And a play like this requires a lot of hard work and effort for all the cast to be in the right place at the right time, especially during the highly choreographed fight scenes and other chaos that ensued.
At the press conference on the opening day, Koyama said that he thought people would want to see it again, and the twist at the end explains why. It does play out differently when you know from the start that Kazuo is attempting to reconcile with Ango. So it's also no surprise that Koyama has been asking audiences to keep the secret of the play, and it seems for the most part they have.
However, the final performance has finished, so below are photos that definitely better illustrate some of the things that are happening in the play.
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