Nostalgia – Ishinha (Japan)

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

11/03/2009 - 15/03/2009

Auckland Festival 2009

Production Details

Nostalgia is a magnificent production from Japanese company Ishinha which promises to be one of the Festival’s most memorable experiences. The extraordinary Osaka-based company is renowned for their epic, visually astonishing productions that blend movement, theatre, dance, voice, and music with a unique contemporary Japanese sensibility. Nostalgia tells of the passion, joy and heartbreak experienced by Japanese immigrants to South America at the dawn of the 20th century.

International Tour Producer Michiko Aoki.
Presented in association with THE EDGE
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE,
Wed 11 – Sun 15 March, Tickets: $45 – $85
Bookings: THE EDGE Ticketing Service
09 357 3355

Beautiful extravaganza could have more tender moments

Review by Janet McAllister 13th Mar 2009

There’s no doubt about it: Nostalgia is spectacular.

With a well-drilled cast of 26, an array of clever sets and a great use of space, Japan’s Ishinha company presents "people at the mercy of the turbulent [20th] century" with visual panache. Their dance theatre piece with surreal edges follows two immigrants to Brazil – a Japanese man and a Portuguese woman – through revolution, persecution, flight and war.

Nostalgia has the high production values, detailed costumes and dramatic plot points – birth, death, rape – of a rock opera. The cast shouts in rhythmic call-and-response style (in Japanese) over the repetitive electronic soundtrack composed by Kazuhisa Uchihashi in a style reminiscent (to western ears) of Philip Glass.

But in spite of the optical extravaganza, something is missing … [More]


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Less than the sum of its extraordinary parts

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 12th Mar 2009

NOSTALGIA is a grand marathon 2-hour performance by Japan’s highly regarded Ishinha theatre company. It is the first part of a trilogy called Wandering With ‘Him’: The 20th Century, in which director/writer Yukichi Matsumoto symbolises the history of the 20th century in part by using a 4-metre high giant to show how ‘fat’ mankind has become in many regards. A timely resonance given the role greed has played in the current global economic downturn.

NOSTALGIA (Trilogy #1) draws inspiration from the 1908 Japanese immigration to Brazil, while also seeking to illustrate the experiences of immigrants in general.

Along the way we meet Japanese immigrant Noichi (Taro Fujiki), who falls in love with a Portuguese immigrant Ann (Yoshiko Oishi). Together they befriend local boy Chikino (Yoshizumi Iwamura) and we follow the highs and lows of their journeys from Japan to Brazil, through South America, then north to New York.

The giant (and his floating bowler hat) drift in and out of their travels, signifying the encroaching future and a changing modern world. Their journeys span decades and significant political and social events are referenced through props, choreography and costumes along the way. There’s a lot going on and sometimes the character’s story is eclipsed temporarily.

There is no denying the discipline, skill and visual impact of the large, uniformed Ishinha ensemble cast. Neither is there any doubt as to the impressive effect of Matsumoto’s meticulous hand, as he uses his unique theatre style called Jan-Jan Opera to play out the story on expansive minimalist sets.

Yet at the end of the epic journey, divided neatly into 13 labelled sections, regrettably, I felt somewhat flat.

Having said that, there are several moments during the evening, when Matsumoto’s key elements – ensemble chant and stylised movement; mesmerising sound-scape (a mix of live and pre-recorded from music composer/player Kazuhisa Uchihashi, with sound direction by Mitsuru Tajika); abstract yet striking set design (Theatre designer Takeshi Kuroda); and clean sharp lighting direction (Asako Miura) – all come together to create an unforgettable theatrical experience. 

The stand out for me is Scene 9: JUNGLE GYM, when ten or so cast members perch high within a 3-dimensional, 5-metre high metal box of metre wide squares, move and ‘speak’ with such bird-like conviction, that I am totally transfixed.

In general, (though perhaps slightly over-used as a reoccurring motif), I enjoy the ‘Pac-Man’-like, robotic, intricate choreography and movement, using the full cast, as we can fully appreciate the precision and dexterity of the ensemble working as one to make a strong statement.

Throughout the journey, lighting by Miura is excellent. At times he chooses slow, subtle colour changes across the full stage and cyc to affect a mood, as in PLAYGROUND BY THE SEA, the opening scene. Other notable moments include his cold boxed lighting of the processing cubicles the immigrants are shoved into when they first arrive in Brazil (becoming just another number during a scene called PHYSICAL EXAMINATION); and the colour, warmth of rural Brazil, then later, the fiery uprising and unrest: slow to burn at first then climaxing perfectly with Takenori Sato crackling sound effects (SEVEN TEMPO SAMBA).

Technically, the cyc-screen across the back of stage is used with mixed success. For example, during the JUNGLE GYM highlight, words appear that are unnecessary and distracting, given the incredible vision created by the ‘perched birds’ in front of the screen. On a practical note, most of them are also unreadable, even from A Reserve, given that there is a monumental steel-cube in between the audience and the screen. The few words I can see if I really stretch, include, "Is it a mineral?" "Plant?" "Gas?" Gratuitous and disappointing.

Earlier in the journey, a contemporary dance sequence is mirrored on the cyc-screen. I wondered if recording the exact same movement on a beach and replaying it as the company dances in the foreground, compliments or competes with the on-stage action.

Another dubious addition at the beginning of journey is a voice-over translation as one cast member yells out … well, I’m not sure what was said as English and Japanese received simultaneously is an audio train-wreck.

Overall, the reason NOSTALGIA is ultimately less than the sum of its extraordinary parts for me, is that while most scenes ‘show’ me an idea, event, or sentiment, for the most part, while it is impressive to watch, few scenes involve me or move me on an emotional level. I feel little empathy or engagement with the key characters, as the Jan-Jan technique is repetitive and very stylised.

Several times I disengage from the story telling due to the detached, methodical and at times, heavy-handed way in which some parts of it are told. At times NOSTALGIA disintegrates into cliché or even farce. For example, the death and destruction caused by civil unrest and war, is depicted by cast members running across stage with dismembered body parts. Legs and arms covered in fake blood draw a snigger from those around me. When money rains from the roof as our characters approach capitalist America, I wonder why such an obvious device is chosen for this highly theatrical Festival show.

Perhaps this work simply tries to communicate too much. Certainly without reading the recent Listener article and all the programme notes, I’m convinced audiences will not fully benefit from everything Ishinha and NOSTALGIA has to offer, despite the promise in the Festival programme that this work "transcends language".

Last night the reaction of those around me was mixed. Some marvelled at the skill and rhythm of the cast and loved the strong statements Matsumoto made through epic presentation. A few walked out before the journey finished. Most seemed to appreciate and enjoy the visual highlights, yet few people I spoke to, or observed, seemed to have been totally gripped by the story overall.

Such diverse reactions are inevitable when Festivals choose to back theatre that is different and dares to take risks.


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