A friend kindly extended invitation to this ‘contemporary opera’ that he was going to. It was a Dutch production but apparently based on a Japanese story. I have been working on ‘The Other’ conceptual project on the street for some months now, and it has a little to do with the world on the other side of that surface. So any inspiration could be useful. So I decided to go.
There is always a danger involved with experiencing something you know the original of. It is particularly problematic if you are a kind of person who appreciates authenticity, delicate sensitivity and minimalism in communication.
Take the recent film “Norwegian Wood” for example. It is based on the biggest hit by the writer Haruki Murakami. It is a very emotional piece, but also of a man who is introvert. A lot of things happen inside his mind, seen from outside by only a subtle body language, his actions, or what he does not do. In the language of visual design, it is the ‘negative space’ that does the work. In a way it is in line with the traditional Japanese aesthetic that appreciates the shadows and what you can visualise in invisible. The film was beautifully done, by a French-Vietnamese director, and succeeded in telling the story by plot. But it completely disregarded the fundamental value of the story that made Murakami’s books translated and published in thirty- or forty- odd languages (or more by now). It is about the interpretation, which itself is the expression of the artist (or the film producer), and I don’t want a Harry Potter made out of a beautiful book (as in, it is the same as the book). But failing to or choosing to pick up on the fundamental led to that film becoming something totally unrelated to the original story. According to some article I saw somewhere Murakami gave a total freedom on how the film is made. And he may not be unhappy about how other people saw his world at all. But as a fan, that was a disappointment. There are ‘inspired by’ and there are ‘based on’; the film should have been labelled as the former.
Another example, though I could have used this (and save you the reading), is a meal at a Japanese restaurant. Is the meal by the name the same as what you know? Well, sorry, I AM a judge here. What a poorly trained chef attempts as a typical everyday meal is a disaster. But a ‘fusion’ restaurant’s strange mix of unorthodox ingredients can be a pleasure I would gladly come back to, not as something authentic, but something that is original, hence authentic, well executed and above all, inspiring.
Regent Theatre (snap with my old iPhone 3GS)
Anyhow, having that kind of experience, I think I should be prepared to see this as the ‘fusion’, not the translation. So I hit a reset button before walking in to the beautiful entrance hall of the Regent Theatre on Collins Street with friends. My friend kept reminding me that this was based on a Japanese film, but surrounded by tall Dutch people, I was just managing to keep my expectations towards the Dutch side of the scale.
So how was it?
I think the fatigue got the better of me. I had a very busy week – started off sick on Monday, coming home late on the following nights photographing for a customer, shooting on the street, having dinner in town with street artists… As soon as the light was dimmed and the orchestra started to play delicate opening tunes, I was half way there.
To be honest, well, I felt it was just way too much ‘talking’. If you say ‘that’s what Opera is’, well, maybe I’m not for it. But it’s bit like those people who always have to speak louder than other people so they feel heard – not only when you want to emphasise but all the time. It was a bit like that. The emotion was not so well punctuated, but it felt like it was always at the peak. Despite the fact that the play utilises sound effect, motion film projection on the back wall, they relied heavily on ‘speaking’. While the projected film was well integrated to the figures on the stage in some parts of the play, giving much more depth than the number of people who actually appear on stage; in most part, it felt like there were two things going on. You’re reading something on the laptop, and look at TV for a moment to see the development of the football game, and come back to Facebook on iPhone. That kind of thing.
Why I started about Japanese authenticity – well, after seeing this play on Friday night, on Saturday I watched the Japanese film that is apparently the baseline for this play. After Life, or ‘Wonderful Life’ in the original Japanese title, was an interesting film. According to the film director’s website, it won the grand-prix and/or best script at Nantes, Buenos Aires and Torino, among others. Shown in 200 cinemas across US and 20th Century Fox is making an American re-make of it (Why do Americans keep doing this? You just cannot make a better one than the original so appreciate the original art so you can nurture your senses exposed to real things… Look at “Wings of Desire” becoming “City of Angels” and “Pricilla” became what was that stupid long titled film? or the ‘movie’ as they call it.)
Where was I? Yes, so I found out, the day after, that the film was pretty successful and many people watched it. I watched it, and it was VERY Japanese. Similar to how Murakami leaves you with that memory of emotions, this was that. And shouting and screaming all the time is just not going to do. It was also the cynical that makes the cold reality feel even colder, without being pessimistic or negative in communicating it. But I’m afraid none of those proven communication skills were employed in this play. Or, I should say, maybe they were not part of the culture where this form of art came from, and after taking the plot, the fundamental part was abandoned, again.
I thought people were quite generous in applauding as much as they did. I am sorry but I did not put my hands together at the beginning. My bad to come in tired and falling asleep half way, but I wouldn’t tick a box for ‘recommend to friends’. As for the original film, I hope you have a chance to see it for yourself. Maybe it is not to your taste – it is a human drama, without any sound effect and big climax. But it is a nice story. I am looking forward to checking out the other films by this director – there seem to be half a dozen others that were also critically received in the international film community. After Takeshi Kitano, that’s another Japanese film director I now chose to follow.