the black hole of injustice

caroline wake witnesses the plight of chika honda

A LARGE SCREEN UPSTAGE DISPLAYS A SILENT SKY, CLOUDS SKIMMING BELOW, THE COLOUR LIKE THE “BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH” THAT COMPUTERS DISPLAY BEFORE CRASHING. AS CHIKA HONDA: A DOCUMENTARY PERFORMANCE UNFOLDS IT BECOMES INCREASINGLY CLEAR THAT THIS COLOUR IS UNCANNILY APT, FOR THE ARREST, PROSECUTION AND INCARCERATION OF HONDA IS THE STORY OF A SYSTEM MALFUNCTIONING AND A LIFE CRASHING AS A RESULT.

The eponymous Chika, a Japanese tourist who was jailed for over a decade for allegedly importing heroin into Australia, emerges through a collage of images and interviews, live music and movement. Most of the images are stills taken by the show’s producer, photographer and narrator Mayu Kanamori, who regularly visited Honda during her imprisonment and who sits on a stool in front of a microphone for the duration of the performance. Other images include archival footage of the initial police interview and media coverage of the court case. Supplementing Kanamori’s verbal and visual narration are the recorded voices of Honda herself as well as her various supporters. When words fail, Tom Fitzgerald’s evocative music and Yumi Umiumare’s dramatic movement take over; together they gesture towards an angst that lies beyond language.

The storytelling is simple and effective, though perhaps not as self-revealing or self-reflexive as it might be. Unlike, say, William Yang, another documentary photographer who tells personal stories with a wide social significance, Kanamori does not include herself. Even when she admits that she crossed a line from photographer to friend, she does not pause to reflect about why this might have happened, what it might mean, and how it might impact upon the performance. Indeed, between her modest storytelling and Malcolm Blaylock’s minimalist staging, the show seems to shy away from the possibilities of performance. Umiumare aside, the stage is strangely static and the aesthetic more televisual than theatrical. It is as if by minimising its theatricality, the show seeks to legitimate its veracity but in doing so it displays a paradoxical ambivalence towards performance. Even as the creators seem to trust the medium of theatre to convey the truth, they distrust, and even discard, theatre’s more inventive and imaginative methods.

Whatever its implied attitude to performance, the work is rightly adamant about the injustice done to Chika Honda. Throughout the play, the performers are positioned around the edges of the stage, leaving a black hole at the centre, symbolic perhaps of the hole in Honda’s life, her heart, our hearts and, most of all, our justice system. The show ends with Honda’s enigmatic refrain: “Mum is Mum. I am I. I am Chika Honda.” Even though she has returned to Japan, the injustice done to Chika Honda still haunts us and, the show implies, will continue to do so until our legal system produces another type of documentary performance altogether, the one that clears her name.

Chika: A documentary performance, creator, narrator Mayu Kanamori, director Malcolm Blaylock, musical director, composer Tom Fitzgerald, documentary sound Nick Franklin, shakuhachi Anne Norman, koto Satsuki Odamura, lighting design Keith Tucker, dancer, choreographer Yumi Umiumare, taiko drums Toshinori Sakamoto, sound design Andrei Shabunov, Performance Space at CarriageWorks, Mar 5-8

RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. 39

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2008