By: Sep. 11, 2014
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Reviewed Tuesday 9th September 2014

The focus of Yasukichi Murakami - Through A Distant Lens is the Japanese-Australian photographer, Yasukichi Murakami (1880-1944), who came to Australia as a teenager and spent the rest of his life here, first in Western Australia, then to the Northern Territory, initially in Broome and then Darwin. As well as marrying twice, and having nine children by his second wife, he was well known as a photographer and became a part of Darwin high society. Then he was arrested and imprisoned in Victoria as a suspected spy, the day after Pearl Harbour, and he died there. His photographs were impounded by the authorities and subsequently lost.

Another Japanese born photographer and performer, Mayu Kanamori, devised and wrote this piece that tells Murakami's story, and of her search for his photographs that were taken in Broome and Darwin. This fascinating and very informative production, which features Arisa Yura in the role of Kanamori, is under the direction of Malcom Blaylock. Kanamori blends her tale of her search for the lost photos, the story of Murakami, the story of the Japanese in Darwin, and an imagined conversation between Murakami and herself. Kuni Hashimoto plays the role of Murakami.

Her search led her to meet some of Murakami's family and descendents in both Australia and Japan, and the fortunate discovery of a number of his photographs that he sent to Japan for his family there to see what life was like in Australia, as well as some of himself and his family and friends. These photos taken by Murakami, as well as photos and videos of those meetings, also appear in this performance.

There is far more to this production, though, as Mic Gruchy's projections of video and of photos by Murakami and Kanamori add a powerful visual element to the stories, with a lighting design by Luiz Pampolha is invaluable if defining the different times and locations. There is also a marvellously atmospheric musical score provided by composer and performer, Terumi Narushima, with In a Pentagonal Room by Clocks and Clouds (Narushima with Kraig Grady), as well as live acoustic music performed by her on a range of instruments, including a hammered and bowed timbral, and a microtonal end blown flute, produced from a 3D printer.

Arisa Yura does an excellent job as Mayu Kanamori, displaying all of the enthusiasm for the subject and the excitement at every clue that she finds, and every step leading forward in her search. Kuni Hashimoto is equally as good as Yasukichi Murakami, guiding Kanamori in her quest to discover more about him and, at the same time, commenting on her photographic style and techniques. There is a lovely rapport between the two actors that lifts this well above being just a documentary. The material is dealt with reverentially and never becomes maudlin.

We even hear of another side of Murakami, the inventor who came up with a new design for the diving helmets used by the pearl divers, to reduce the risk of drowning, and of his quiet acceptance that somebody stole his idea and patented it themselves.

This multimedia work carries the audience along on Kanamori's journey to find the lost photographs and to discover who Murakami really was, and what sort of a life he led. There was certainly a lot of discussion in the foyer after the performance and it is to be hoped that this work gets to tour extensively around Australia and, in translation, to Japan. It is a worthy production.


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