A simple interior. A table, two chairs, a vase with two flowers reaching upwards. A curtained window. A fan blowing. There is also a flashing lightbulb highlighting a medium-sized rock, which hints at the earthquake in Japan central to this tale. Like this still life, the inner lives of three inhabitants are what are scrutinised in chelfitsch’s Times Journey Through A Room.
This show, by famed Japanese theatre director Toshiki Okada, is part of the ASIA TOPA Festival currently on in Melbourne. The festival brings work from far off places to show us other experiences of living.
In Times Journey Through a Room, a cast of three tell the story of a couple’s lives both before, and after, the 2011 Fukushima earthquake. The husband is confined to the marital apartment. The ghost of his ex-wife, Honoka, eloquently recounts the history of this catastrophic event, and her subsequent death from asthma afterwards. His new partner, Arisa, travels to meet him there. The three lives intersect only at the end, when Arisa enters the apartment.
In the dream space where this play is situated, Honoka, as ghost-wife, talks us through the events of the day, after it, and leading up to her death. Dismissing niceties, her storytelling hypnotises and the audience listen as if watching a dream.
The key theme of this work is that tragedy shatters and forces change, that there is beauty in transformation. She tells her husband, ‘I am so glad the earthquake happened…we were able to start over…. everything I see [now] looks beautiful’. She compares their lives beforehand to mere sketches for living, with no connection to others or deep meaning. Themes of permanence and transience are central to this mediation of where meaning is located in life.
The musical tones of the Japanese language, with simple two-lined subtitles above the stage, make for an easy 75 minutes. The colour of the two tall flower stems highlight the life to come for the new couple as they embrace living in the ‘now’. The cast perform unceremoniously, honouring the script.
As with all things Japanese, the beauty of life is in purity. The elegant choreographed movements of the actors are subtle, nuanced, barely perceptible. So, too, the script. The stripped-back discourse and elementally slight movements all keep the audience in a trance, hungry for resolution. The story is gentle and evocative. It leads to closure and rebirth, so unlike the ruptures of the calamity which created fissures on impact.
It is a delight to have contemporary Japanese work shown in Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne, and as part of Arts House’s experimental programming. Dip your toe in 2017’s rich art!
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Time’s Journey Through A Room ran 9-12 February at Arts House, North Melbourne.
Asia TOPA runs January to March 2017. View the full program.