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Once upon a time there was a simple yet kind Japanese peasant. One day he went to his fields and there found a crane caught in a tangle of something. He felt sorry for her, and released her from her bounds. After a while the crane flew off.

The next morning a beautiful woman came to his door...

(Beginning of a Japanese folktale,
told by Kazuo Hohki,
paraphrased by me.)

Thus begins Kazuo Hohki's stage show "My Husband is a Spaceman". Accompanied by a violinist, a karaoke system, a digital camera, a screen, and various stage props she tells the story of Keiko.

Keiko is a Japanese OL - an office lady. All day long she makes photocopies and tea. Green tea mostly, but sometimes English tea.

Even though she is not the only person in the office, somehow she always ends up sitting at the desk nearest to the tea machine.

One evening after work, while trying to avoid snogging couples in a park, she finds a duck caught in a tangle of something. She feels sorry for the duck and releases him from his ties. However, he is too weak, so she takes him home to her tiny Tokyo flat. She's always wanted a pet.

When I was little my imaginary boyfriend was a space monster. He'd come to my bedroom at night. He was ugly, but so sweet. And I love him because I know that only I could truly understand him.

Keiko has always been a supporter of interspecies relationships. She would keep the duck as a pet.

Then I went to my bedroom and closed the screen between me and him.

The next morning the duck has disappeared, probably flown out of the window.

A little later Robin, an English anthropologist rings her door bell.

They fall in love, get married, Keiko moves to England, where not everything turns out the way she has expected.

Without giving too much away, this is Keiko's story.

On performance and story telling:

They are dying out now but in Japan we used to have the "Kamishibai Ya" (travelling paper theatre man). When I was growing up in Tokyo a man used to visit our town on a bicycle with a stack of pictures for illustrating his stories. We gathered around him in the field or any empty space, and paid him a little money in exchange for some cheap sweets and a show. He had a little wooden frame to hold his paper illustrations, and he told us stories as he went through each picture, sometimes accompanying them with music played on a simple instrument like an accordion or violin or flute.1
This "Kamishibai Ya" setting had everything of the theatre - shared experience from live performance - except the theatre itself, or stage, not even a seat! It was very direct and simple. We were absorbed in the man's story telling and the illustrations in the wooden frame in the middle of the field.1

Imagine a black box stage. Now, on the left you have a violinist behind his note stand. In the left half of the stage stands a black screen, on the right half a large white screen. Before the black screen there's a large suitcase, before the white screen a little digital camera on the floor. And amongst all this the story teller Kazuko Hohki tells, sings and mimes Keiko's story.

I was amazed by this performance. It contained this strange mix of high and low tech. Having been in a number of 'cross-cultural' relationships myself, many of Keiko's moments remind me of similar moments in my own life, and touch me, and sometimes even moisten my eyes.

I'm finding it difficult to describe the rest of her show. Imagine story telling, digital animation, karaoke, stand up comedy, musical performance, origami, paper puppets, and bonsai models of houses, all wildly mixed together. There's smiling self-irony, winking humour. That's her performance. That's her loving portrait of life as a Japanese wife in London.

It was this mix between familiar (for me) Western technology (digital camera, microphone, amplifiers) and language (English), and exotic Japanese story telling tradition, as well as the modern tale of a hybrid Japanese-English marriage, that appealed so much to me.

What I want to do with my own story telling is to revive this form of primitive theatre but using video and digital animation, as well as paper and frame. I want to keep the naiveness and rawness which Kamishibai Ya had, to achieve the similar excitement I experiences from his stories.1

She's definitely succeeded in that. During the whole performance I felt like a kid again, being read to from a childrens' picture book, but this time with animated pictures, real music and voices, and a real woman on stage. Almost like Alice in Wonderland, I felt drawn into the picture book, experiencing Keiko's real life story.

My Husband is a Spaceman

Created and performed by Kazuko Hohki
Directed by Arlette George
Directorial and script editing help by Tom Morris, David Woods
Music by Clive Bell, Christopher Koh and Tim Hope

I saw Kazubo's performance last night in the Schlachthaus Theater in Bern, Switzerland. Research has shown me that "My Husband is a Spaceman" was first performed in 2001. I'm therefore not sure if there are still performances of it in the UK - but if ever you find she's performing near you - go, you will have a delightful evening.

Paraphrases are from my memory and the quotes marked by 1 are from what Kazuko herself writes in the performance leaflet.

There are also a few websites you may want to look at:

About the performance:

About Kazuko Hohki:

Kazuko Hohki's personal website (careful - contains some very 'colourful' web-design):

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