Thread Hell is an avant-garde play written by Kishida Rio that has been recently translated into English from Japanese by Tsuneda Keiko and Colleen Lanki. The English language worldwide premiere of the play took place in April of 2013 at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There is a belief in Japanese culture that there is a red thread connecting people who are meaningful to each other. That thread can twist, bend and fray, but will not break on its own. This thread not only connects people, but it can be used to manipulate the person on the other end. This play is about people abusing the threads of connection that they have with others and the effects that their actions have.
The play takes place in a silk spinning mill in Tokyo in 1939 that was run by men. In addition to selling thread during the day, this particular thread house also sold the bodies of their workers at night. The women spend all of their days spinning silk and none of them seem to be able to remember their lives prior to their days in the thread house. Then a woman, named Cocoon, appears out of the ocean who seems to have no memories whatsoever. Gradually, the women begin to remember instances in their lives, such as accidentally killing a dog, murdering a lover, and getting their first tattoo. The men in charge notice the women have begun to think for themselves and have become increasingly difficult to control. Cocoon realizes that her purpose for appearing at the thread house is to kill her mother for stealing the family register and therefore taking her identity. Unfortunately for Cocoon, none of the women can remember whether they were ever mothers. Once it is revealed who Cocoon’s mother is, Cocoon breaks the red thread of relationship that she had with her mother by killing her.
The men in the play have names such as Rope and Cord, demonstrating the authority that men had at the time. All of the women’s names are of icons used on cards in a traditional Japanese game, such as Wysteria and Mist. The assignment of the women’s names to different playing cards displays the ability to manipulate such fragile creatures for one’s personal gain.