Insecurity and simplicity are two of the words one could use to sum up Girl X. A performance piece directed by Suguru Yamamoto of the Hanchu-Yuei collective, Girl X seeks to portray the emotions and social disparity of Japanese society after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
Staged at Black Box, DPAC from 16 – 18 May, the hour-long piece was presented by Kakiseni in collaboration with Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian version was later staged at Festival Belia as part of the collaboration.
The Japanese performance cast comprised only two actors, Sachiro Nomoto and Kazuki Oohashi. The performance is entirely in Japanese but had English subtitles for its Malaysian debut.
Starkly set and dark, the stage is only lit up through the flickering of the projector. The scene opens with thoughts of an unborn foetus being projected onto the screen. It begs to be killed, to not be born into the world in which it is not ready for. One immediately notes the heavy undertones that will later carry on throughout the entire performance.
“I made this piece in 2013, almost exactly two years after the earthquake and I wanted to encapsulate the mood or the atmosphere at that time in this piece,” says Suguru. “The first thing I wanted to portray was a sort of claustrophobia and a sort of devastation felt by many young people at that time.”
Sachiro plays the character of Ryota, a salesman of radioactivity protective gear. Kazuki’s character remains nameless, but is known by his nickname “bacterium”, given to him by Ryota. Both are connected through Akemi, Ryota’s sister, who used to date Kazuki’s character before she got married. Akemi is an invisible presence binding the two, and we understand her character through their thoughts.
“I didn’t want to make a direct reference about what happened at the nuclear power plant because then that would just make it a historical piece rather than a piece that was on its own”
Watching Girl X, there are no direct references to the 2011 disaster which struck Japan. The story unfolds with Ryota eventually revealed to have a perverse personality while “bacterium” seems to be filled with self-doubt and awkwardness. “I didn’t want to make a direct reference about what happened at the nuclear power plant because then that would just make it a historical piece rather than a piece that was on its own,” the director explained.
Family values and ties are a significant theme that intrinsically bind the characters together. Sachiro offered his own perspective on playing Ryota. “I feel that family is very interesting because the closer you are the more you get hurt and you can kinda hurt each other in a way as well,” he said.
With just a simple projector and a small usage of props to enhance certain moments throughout the play, the actors carried the emotional burdens of the play. However, both did so successfully. They interacted fluidly with one another, whether through direct interaction or through shadow play or contrasting physicality of movement. Meanwhile, the melodic beat of the music was very much in tune with the actors movements and expressions, bringing the mood from dark to light and vice versa with ease.
For the Malaysian adaptation of the same play, Gadis X, Ayam Fared took the helm as director. The performance had been prepared with Suguru in workshops. “He immediately understood the true essence of this piece and we get along quite well together,” said Suguru of the Malaysian director, better known as an actor in the local industry. “Working with Ayam has been a great pleasure.”
The localised version had Ghadafi Meliki and Kirin Muhamad reprising the roles of Sachiro and Kazuki respectively. Although performed entirely in Malay, the essence of the script was retained and did not differ greatly from the original. Both actors also showed similar mastery of the technicalities required.
One of the noticeable changes was the location of the park where the characters were first introduced. From Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, they were now in KLCC Park, a location which was much more familiar and identifiable to the Malaysian audience.
It seems that the change was effective as it managed to garner peals of laughter from the audience when locations visible around the park such as Chili’s were described by the characters. This in itself gave a sense of intimacy and brought the audience closer to the story.
In fact, Suguru is of the opinion that Gadis X bears close resemblance to the original production despite the difference in language. Granted, the prose might have changed slightly during the translation from Japanese to Malay but Gadis X did not feel lacking in emotional impact, especially during key moments of the piece.
Towards the end of Gadis X, a disco ball was used to project the illusion of rain enveloping the room. The light shimmers off the ball onto the wall, surrounding the audience. A mirror reflecting red lights also mimicks sirens for both versions of the piece. While these effects might feel a bit gimmicky to some, I thought it helped to draw the audience into the scene more, almost like a 3D immersion.
All in all, both Girl X and Gadis X made for entertaining and thought provoking theatre to watch. The “X” is a metaphor. It could be anyone: you, me or them. The plot is such that it the audience can easily grasp the themes of distrust, fear and hope, able to transcend across communities and time despite the initial inspiration for the piece. The two performances captured the essence of simple and effective storytelling at its best.