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No-No Boy (play)

2010 play by Ken Narasaki based on John Okada's classic 1957 novel . While the play largely followed the plot of the novel, the decision to change the ending to a "happy" one proved controversial.


After an introductory montage centering on the loyalty questionnaire and the chaos it causes, Ichiro Yamada returns to Seattle, having served a jail sentence for draft evasion. On the way, he is accosted and spit on by Eto, an angry Nisei veteran. Back home, Ichiro finds his mother has gone mad, believing Japan has won the war, and that his younger brother Taro hates him and is eager to enlist as soon as he turns eighteen. He goes to see his friend Freddie, a " no-no boy " who had been released from Tule Lake and finds him living an aimless, hedonistic life. Ichiro then runs into Kenji, a veteran and war hero who has lost a leg. At a bar, Eto harasses Ichiro, and Taro lures him outside where Eto and others start to beat him; Kenji breaks up the melee. Afterwards, Kenji takes Ichiro to see Emi, the wife of a war buddy who has apparently abandoned her to sign up for another tour of duty. They stay the night, with Kenji sleeping on the couch and Kenji telling Ichiro to sleep with Emi. Later, Ichiro goes with Kenji to Portland for medical care. Kenji, knowing he is dying, sends Ichiro back with his car, telling him to return it to his mother and to take Emi out dancing. After brief visits with Kenji's mother and Emi, Ichiro returns home to find Taro storming off to enlist on his eighteenth birthday. His father reads his mother a letter from her sister in Japan begging for food, including a personal story only she would know to prove it is really her. After going drinking with Freddie, who has vowed to seek a fresh start, Ichiro returns home to find that his mother has killed herself. At her funeral, Ichiro leaves and runs into Emi, who tells him her husband has divorced her and encourages him to ask her out. As Freddie prepares to leave for L.A., Eto accosts him and the two fight with knives, both stabbing the other. Ichiro tells his father is going out dancing.

Momotaro, a Japanese folk tale, is used as a framing device throughout the play. In its premiere staging in 2010, projections of scenes from the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans are used in flashback scenes.

Productions and Response

Playwright Ken Narasaki obtained theatrical rights to No-No Boy in 2008. In an essay titled "Tackling No No Boy," Narasaki wrote of the core issue he faced in adapting the book, that "the book, written in the first person, takes place mostly in the introspective Ichiro's mind." In doing the adaptation, he combined some characters, and trimmed some scenes. Noting that the "book also ends on a plunge into despair," Narasaki opined that he thought it "possible to end this play on a note of hope, rather than despair." Given the classic status of the novel, he also wondered "How much change is sacrilege? How much change constitutes a desecration?"

The first public readings of the play took place in October 2009 in Southern California. Aided by a $20,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program , the show premiered at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica, California, on March 27, 2010, directed by Alberto Isaac, closing after a three-week run.

The Pan Asian Repertory of New York staged a second production of No-No Boy . After staged readings in November 2012, it debuted at the Studio Theatre on Theatre Row for performances on May 14 to 18, 2014, and June 22 to 25, 2015, directed by Ron Nakahara. The Pan Asian Rep toured the show in June 2016, with performances at the Burke Theatre in Washington, DC; the Studio Theatre; and Flushing Town Hall in New York.

Mainstream reviews of the play were generally positive. In the L.A. Weekly , Paul Birchall calls it a "compelling drama" whose "production never overplays its emotional hand, opting instead for an understated melancholy that is both elegant and searing." Jennifer Ta of the Daily Bruin Calls the performances "moving" but finds fault with some technical aspects of the staging of the 2010 version. Reviewing a 2016 performance in Washington, D.C., John Stoltenberg calls it "an extraordinary and essential play." [1]

However some Asian American admirers of John Okada's novel objected to changes playwright Narasaki made to the plot, in particular the changed ending. Playwright Frank Chin wrote that "we should not fxxk with the end as written. Okada isn't the same rewritten, and Narasaki knows he's violated the work he claims inspired him." Journalist and filmmaker Frank Abe noted that "... it is well-established that much of No-No Boy ’s power and authenticity lies in its furiously violent and tragic ending. Okada cuts to the bone. He holds nothing back, and most importantly he tries to please no one." According to Abe, the "hopeful, happy ending of the stage adaptation cheapens the work. It's now mush." He goes to to implore audiences to "[r]eject this adaptation for what it is: a bowdlerizing of the work of John Okada." In his response to such criticism, Narasaki noted that neither Chin nor Abe had seen nor read the play and went on to cite the difficulties of adapting a work that largely takes place inside the head of the protagonist. "I did not change the ending to 'fxxk with No-No Boy ,' I changed the ending because, in my opinion, the book's ending simply would not work onstage, either practically or dramatically," he wrote. He later wrote that many of Okada's relatives had come to see the play and that "none expressed any misgivings about the adaptation." [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. Paul Birchall, L.A. Weekly , Apr. 1, 2010, ; Jennifer Ta, Daily Bruin , Apr. 15, 2010, ; John Stoltenberg, "Review: 'No-No Boy' at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre," DC Metro Theater Arts , June 20, 2016, , all accessed on Mar. 27, 2017.
  2. Frank Abe, "Stage Adaptation of 'No-No Boy' Violates John Okada's Novel," Discover Nikkei , Apr. 29, 2015, ; Frank Abe, "How Happy Ending in Stated 'No-No Boy' Bowdlerizes Okada's Novel," Discover Nikkei , Jul. 22, 2015 ; Ken Narasaki, "A Response to Frank Abe's Article," Discover Nikkei , Apr. 29, 2015, ; Ken Narasaki, "A Response to Frank Abe's Opinion," Discover Nikkei , Jul. 22, 2015, , all accessed on Mar. 27, 2017.
Media Details
Date Opened 2010-03-27
Date Closed 2010-04-18
Location Miles Memorial Playhouse
Writer Ken Narasaki
Director Alberto Isaac
Producer Darlene Miyakawa
For More Information

For More Information

No No Boy 2010 Blog: .

Narasaki, Ken. "Tackling No No Boy." Discover Nikkei website, Aug. 31, 2009. .

———. "Vox Populi: Sons and Fathers." Rafu Shimpo , March 11, 2010. .

———. "Dare to Be Naive." Discover Nikkei website, April 1, 2010. .