Yasukichi Murakami: Through a Distant Lens

Lynne Lancaster

An intimate, visually delightful show about a hidden part of Australian history.
Yasukichi Murakami: Through a Distant Lens
Image: www.griffintheatre.com.au

'We take so many photographs. How do we know which ones are important, which ones matter'

This is an intimate, visually delightful show, with three excellently acted, delicately nuanced performances. There is a passionate glow about the show that draws one in.

Under Malcolm Blaylock’s deft direction, the set is simple with white drapes on a slightly curved background using a projection screen and a single lacquered Japanese table/bench. Composer Terumi Narushima’s elegant soundscape includes birdsong and traditional Japanese instruments.

Written by Mayu Kanamori, a photographer herself, Through a Distant Lens starts in the present day, and we first meet young, beautiful Mayu (wonderfully played by Arisa Yura: full of enthusiasm), who is fascinated by Murakami's work and troubled by how little of it remains. We learn that after Murakami and his family were labelled as "enemy aliens" during WWII, most of his photographs and negatives were "accidentally" lost.

Born in Japan, Murakami was a when he arrived in Northern Australia to work in the burgeoning pearling industry. Taking menial work at first, he quickly secured a permanent job with a Japanese storekeeper in Broome in 1900. A year later, Murakami's employer died and five years after that, he married his late boss's widow, Eki. Older than him by 15 years, it was Eki who introduced Murakami to the photography and portraiture business and it is through the few surviving images he captured that remain that give us a link into those times.

While Mayu photographs Murakami's gravestone in the Japanese cemetery in Cowra (Murakami died in captivity in 1944), his ghost (played by Kuni Hashimoto) appears and the play contains musings on the nature of immortality, collective amnesia, the need for recognition, and the changing face of photography itself.

The large heavy camera with tripod combined with the need to take time with photography - ‘breathe, see and listen’ - contrasts today’s instant photography and saturation of digital images.

Co-produced by Performance 4A, Through a Distant Lens is a somewhat hybrid combination of monologues (usually addressing the audience) and dialogue scenes blended with documentary elements and video content that are quite cinematic and fluid in feel. While the focus is constantly on Murakami, his experiences are quickly shown to also represent that of thousands of Japanese Australians of that era .

An eye opening show and a valuable thought provoking reminder of the formative influence of Asian peoples on Australian culture rarely acknowledged.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Yasukichi Murakami: Through a Distant Lens
by Mayu Kanamori

Griffin Theatre

Director: Malcolm Blaylock
Dramaturg" Jane Bodie
Composer, Sound Designer & Musician: Terumi Narushima
Visual Designer: Mic Gruchy
Lighting Designer: Luiz Pampolha
With Kuni Hashimoto, Yumi Umiumare, Arisa Yura

10 - 21 February 2015

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.