Sep 10, 1990
"Japanese Tale of Longing"
By JOHN ROCKWELL, September 11, 1990
All of this has been turned into prose by Makoto Ooka, a poet, and set to music by Maki Ishii. The entire project was inspired by Michiko Akao, who is a virtuoso on the varied forms of the yokobue, or Japanese transverse flute, and was recited by Kayoko Shiraishi, a well-known actress. Yasunori Yamaguchi played elaborate onstage percussion; Akio Jissoji was the director, and the lavish lighting, sets and costumes were by Sumio Yoshii, Hiroshi Tomi and Takayuki Mori, respectively. The trouble for a Western viewer was that Mr. Ooka provided lots of text, and apart from projected synopses before each scene (which duplicated material in the program), there was no semi-simultaneous translation by supertitles. Thus despite Miss Shiraishi's seemingly powerful oratory, what she was saying remained mostly stylized vocal grimaces in the traditional Japanese manner, devoid of denotative meaning.
That left the look of the production - which was intermittently effective, though compromised by the mechanics of the musical performance - and Mr. Ishii's music. Miss Akao played admirably, as did Mr. Yamaguchi, and the mostly instrumental score proved a characteristic blend of Japanese traditionalism and Impressionist sound-color in the manner so many modern Japanese composers cultivate. But without a clearer notion of what twists in the tale were being conveyed at any given moment, the performance devolved for this listener into exotic atmospherics.