Singapore Arts Festival Blog


Interview with Yukichi Matsumoto of Ishinha by Rui An
May 19, 2011, 2:07 pm
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The performance by the Osaka-based theatre group, Ishinha, When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched just ended its spectacular run at the festival on Tuesday evening. In this interview, we speak to writer and directer, Yukichi Matsumoto on the performance and its connections to memory, place and the body.

When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched by Ishinha

When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched by Ishinha

Q: In investigating migrant histories, the production brings together the dual elements of history and place, which together are responsible for engendering our sense of home. How does the production engage with the differing notions of home today, particularly in a time of increased mobility and intercultural exchange?

Yukichi Matsumoto (YM): It is true that the means of mobility and intercultural exchange have changed a lot after the World War II. Before the war, people used boats for transportation. Moving through boats took more time and widened distances. It is beyond our imagination how long it used to take. That was why the Japanese emigrants then felt a strong sense of nostalgia for Japan. They built shrines and Japanese gardens and named the local flower ‘Nanyo Zakura’, after ‘Sakura’, the national flower of Japan, to create “small Japans” in the places they lived. They were aware of their Japanese identity which they had never been conscious of when they were back in their hometown.

Today, we do not build shrines anymore even when we live outside of Japan, but we are still aware of our identity when we are abroad. This production draws from both the past and present to express the ways of people’s movement across borders. I predict people will continue moving like this in the future.

Q: How has the local and regional histories and geographies of the place (both Singapore and Southeast Asia as a whole) figured in this re-staging?

YM: The islands of Southeast Asia are included in the show as part of the Sea of Asia or the South Sea Islands. The islands of the Philippines and their village called Barangay under Spanish occupation is representative of the story of the South Sea Islands. The local histories and geographies of the region are expressed in the lines and the design of the stage sets.

Q: In speaking of the experiences of Japanese migrants in the region, there is a rather unsettling tension involved given Japan’s involvement in the Second World War. Are these tensions processed and presented in the work in any way?

YM: I have heard that this place is the site of a hard-fought battle between Britain and Japanese troops. There are some feelings of nervousness when I think of Singapore’s memories of World War II. Therefore, it is meaningful and important for Ishinha to perform at this memorial place in Singapore.

This production mainly focuses on the life of Southeast Asia before the World War II, however, many young Japanese who carried hopes and dreams along with them to Southeast Asia were also shattered by the war. The stories of two Japanese emigrants will be performed.

Case 1: Mr. Momojiro Yamaguchi worked hard for 30 years to open a Japanese restaurant and a little Japan in Saipan, but his efforts were destroyed by a general attack by the Americans.

Case 2: Mr. Kinjyuro Matsumoto emigrated to the Davao Island in the Philippines to cultivate Manila hemp. He married to a local lady and raised a family there, but his family was torn apart after Japan opened an attack on the Philippines.

Q: How do the elements of architecture, light and shadow come into play in this work, noting that you are drawing from the existing landscape of Singapore? How does the iconic and spectacular nature of this urban landscape interfere or interact with the set design, particularly since the production was last staged in Inujima, a small, remote island in Japan?

YM: It is very interesting that the view of the stage was stretched vertically by the city skyline. A movie screen and a stage of theater are usually composed within a 3 x 4 ratio, but this is more like 10 x 1. Furthermore, it is also exciting to see a remarkable contrast of the skyscrapers of Singapore and the olden Asia scenes on the stage:

  • Lifelessness and life
  • Artificial and natural
  • Straight lines and curves
  • Verticality and horizontality
  • Heaven and ground…

These contrasts convey stronger impressions and give depth to the vision that is presented to the audiences.

Q: The movement for the production is devised by the actors instead of a choreographer, which brings us back to the personal in the form of the body. How is the movement devised such that this personal dimension is brought out?

YM: Ishinha is particular about creating dance with our bodies. Everyone has a different body and each body responds differently when it dances. We try to create our own unique movements which are comfortable for us to perform. This production is based on the point of view of the unsung emigrants. Therefore, it is very personal and is not written based on or related to the national historical charts.

Ho Rui An