Review of HANA ICHIMOMME
A Solo Play by Ken Miyamoto
Performed by Seiko Tano
Review by Stefan Matthew
Through July 13th
In Bertolt Brecht’s Messingfkauf Dialogues the German translates as “Der Messingkauf” literally as “the purchase of brass.” This is not an homage to the abstract equivalence of that fine metal; rather, Brecht as “The Philosopher” is interested in raiding the theater for what is useful, like a brass-merchant who doesn’t care that the metal he melts down comes from some musician’s cherished instrument.
THE PHILOSOPHER: Oh, I’ve got nothing against feelings. I aggress that feelings are necessary if representations, imitations of events from people’s social life are to be possible; also that such imitations simulate feelings. The only thing that worries me is whether your feelings—more specifically your efforts to stimulate certain particular feelings—square with your imitations. You see, I’m afraid I must stick by my point that my main interest is in these events from real life. So let me stress once more that I feel I’m an intruder and an outsider in this building with all its mysterious practical bits of apparatus; like someone who has not come in to enjoy a sense of comfort and would have no hesitation in generating discomfort, as he has come with a quite particular interest whose particularity cannot be overstressed. The particularity of my interest so strikes me that I Can only compare myself with a man say, who deals in scrap metal and goes up to a brass band and buy, not a trumpet, let’s say, but simply brass. The trumpeter’s trumpet is made of brass, but he’ll hardly want to sell it as such, by its value as brass, as so many ounces of brass. All the same, that’s how I ransack your theater for events between people, such as you do more or less imitate even if your imitations are for a very different purpose than my satisfaction. To put it in nutshell: I’m looking for a way of getting incidents between people imitated for certain purposes; I’ve heard you supply such imitations; and now I hope to find out if they are the kind of imitations I can use.
The question of the representation and the work of sorrow, key to Ken Miyamoto’s “Hana Ichimomme”, expertly played by the beautiful and poised Seiko Tano, is elaborated on by Brecht:
THE PHILOSOPHER: If we observe sorrow on the stage and at the same time identify ourselves with it, then this simultaneous observing is part of our observation. We are sorrowful, but at the same time we are people observing a sorrow—our own—almost as if we were detached from us, in other words like people who aren’t sorrowful, because nobody else could observe it so detachedly. In this way we aren’t wholly dissolved in sorrow; something solid still remains in us. Sorrow is hostile to thought; it stifles it; and thought is hostile to sorrow.
THE ACTRESS: It can be a pleasure to cry.
THE PHILOSOPHER: Crying doesn’t express sorrow so much as relief. But lamenting by means of sounds, or better still words, is a vast liberation, because it means that the sufferer is beginning to produce something. He’s already mixing his sorrow with an account of the blow he has received; he’s already making something out of the utterly devastating. Observation has set in.
In the spirit of the above dialogue, I’m going to “ransack” Miyamoto’s play and Tano’s expert performance for “what I can use”. The play tells a back-story of a famous Japanese children’s song whose lyrics “If I win, I’m happy, Hana Ichimomme…If I lose, its frustrating, Hana Ichimomme”—Hana signifying a girl and “Ichimomme” to sell for a meager sum—it echoes a sorrowful history of traffic in children as survival during World War II. Producer Toshi Hirano, Ken Miyamoto, and actress Seiko Tano vitalized the Bank Street Theatre and demystify the happy tune, providing its historical origins and devastating prehistory.
“Sounds and words”—David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” as vast liberation, the production of something. The question does the play allow for or shut down observation….
Projection of the words in English from the Japanese iteration on the screen and the exposure on stage of the two masterful musicians speaking back to each other in a perfect point and counterpoint contribute to a Brechtian reading of this work. Is the screen a Brechtian tool to interrupt identification, easy absorption into the sadness of the action so as to shut down critical faculties, or is it just a matter of expediency? The repeat screams of the Mother who sells her child to provide for another child who dies shortly thereafter certainly interrupts the kind of distance needed to ask tough questions of this important production (a production that deserves to be seen, discussed, and re-seen, so hurry up!!!)
The main question I was left with was—Where is fascism located in this representation?
Let me explain…
The play’s script smartly stages the consequence and delusions of the idealization of Manchuria, as a locale “between heaven and earth.” Tano’s character constructs a whole mythology of her family as affluent professionals, only to disclose the fact that it is an initial lie—she comes from more humble, peasant roots. There is constant mention of the leader, and the pomp and ritual associated with fascism (or the US marines, for that matter). But we are wrapped up in the beautiful music, the sparse and reasoned setting design, the impeccably acted performance, the tidal wave of sadness in the action. Does that aggregate effect bury my main question?
I don’t think so.
Tano’s character’s daughter Nadeshiko, performing chore labor at a well, refuses to turn around and acknowledge her mother, to heed her call, when she returns to visit her. Instead her little girl’s future lies with her new home in China. The Mother refuses in the end to rationalize her choice to sell her child. “Everything I told you was a big lie”, she repeatedly asserts. I read the mother’s “choice”, “decision” as allegorical. It’s a way not just to locate fascism in the play, but as a way to locate a discourse of responsibility. Of cause and effect, pertaining to cause and effect as a philosophical discourse, American’s are particularly bad at heeding. Instead, we drop atomic bombs on men, women, and children and claim innocence any time our countrymen suffer.
The playwright mentions September 11, 2001 in the production program. Tano’s character cries out “Japan made a big mistake but we are the ones who clean up afterwards.” What a complicated distillation of the main theme of this work–
It resonates with the fact that it is often the workers, the poor people, the regular men and women who pay for the mistake of the leaders. It also houses in its acceptance both a self-critical streak as well as an affirmation of responsibility, a proud claiming of the facing of and looking straight at the chickens coming home to roost. Go see “Hana Ichimommme” and listen carefully, listen critically. Learn to clean up your own messes.