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
(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
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
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
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
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