Saturday, January 23, 2016

+51 Aviacón, San Borja - Sydney Festival

+51 Aviacón, San Borja written and directed by Yudai Kamisato.  Okazaki Art Theatre (Japan).  Sydney Festival About an Hour at Carriageworks, Redfern, Bay 17, January 21-24, 2016.

Performers – Masahiko Ono, Wataru Omura, Mari Kodama; Set Design – Yudai Kamisato; Sound Design – Masashi Wada; Lighting Design – Ryoya Fudetani; Dramaturg – Hinako Arao; Surtitles Translation – Aya Ogawa.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 22

This is a complex study of the place of socially critical theatre in modern times as the conceptual structures of left-wing / right-wing and Labour / Capital seem to be breaking down.  Kamisato takes his own family history intertwined with his imagined relationship with Seki Sano, the pre-WWII Japanese new theatre movement dramaturg who was driven out for ‘thought crimes’ and became the ‘Father of Mexican Theatre’ – an important figure in the left-wing anti-Capitalist theatre of South and Central America.

The complexity in the story comes about from the migration of Japanese within Japan and especially to and from the Americas mainly since the 1930s, resulting largely from the conflicts with and the influences of the USA.  Kamisato was born in Lima, Peru, where his grandmother from Okinawa still lives, while his father returned to Okinawa, and Kamisato to Tokyo.

The essence of the play is about how the modern day director of an Art Theatre in Tokyo, challenged by his family’s experiences in Okinawa, the one-time US base, and challenged again by his visions of the ghost of Seki Sano, can come to terms with visiting the emigrant Japanese community still mentally living in the past in Lima.  Where does Kamisato belong and what kind of theatre should he make today?

His attempt to fathom this out is, of course, the very piece of theatre he shows us.  Movement in action, yet often held in stillness, has been a core element of Japanese drama for many centuries, while the forms of the shapes of the actors’ bodies in this modern Art Theatre are oddly angular and seemingly distorted.  Then movements also become highly disturbing to watch.  The modern world is not a pretty place, nor a place of dignity.  And so we are taken finally to the grandmother in Lima, unable to ever return to her origin in Okinawa in the physical or emotional sense, yet whose grandson, no longer able to return to his origin in Lima, must leave her alone in her old age as he must search on – perhaps through some kind of spurious New Age ‘spirituality’. 

It’s a sad ending, for a play which certainly cannot be fitted into the old left-wing / right-wing boxes.  It’s about changing cultures, geographically as people migrate to escape or for a better future, and chronologically as the generations shift away from past identities.

+51 Aviacón, San Borja is an intelligent, sensitive exploration of not just this theatre director’s life, but of all our lives in the modern world.  It’s a very worthwhile example of cross-cultural experience, highly suitable for the Sydney Festival, and should be followed up with more work from Yudai Kamisato being brought to Australia.