Keiichiro Shibuya & Hatsune Miku. OzAsia Festival. Dunstan Playhouse – 4 October, 2017

THE END by Japanese theatre artists Keiichiro Shibuya and Hatsune Miku is the ‘world’s first virtual pop opera’, and is simply amazing. This is new cutting edge theatre that is in a genre all its own – Vocaloid Opera – combining imagery and computer music without any human performers.

The actual opera side, the music aspect, is more like secret whisperings, whereas the visual element is breathtaking in its range of human emotions. There isn’t so much a clear narrative line here, but rather a range of metaphorical images that are connected to the same subject matter – loss, a sense of grief, and disconnection.

The opera is loosely based on Shibuya’s own personal experience of loss in dealing with his late wife’s suicide. The subsequent visual images and whispered lines are like fragments in a dream that at times are wonderful and at times nightmarish. Words like ‘You’ and ‘Me’ have meaning and then lose that meaning in a vacuum created by loss.

The final lines in a way encapsulate the entire journey  ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Where have we come from?’ – in that order.

The brilliance of this work lies in the fact that each member of the audience is given the freedom to interpret that work as they see it. You are not directed to any particular meaning. The imagined hole in the centre, created by loss, allows for this void to be filled with whatever you wish it to be. Sounds complex – and it is – but also incredibly simplistic.

If you are familiar with anime as well as the works of Haruki Murakami you would know about the multilayered imagery and metaphors that characterise a great deal of modern Japanese art, in film, literature, theatre and music.  As an average ‘Westerner’ one is challenged as one usually has meaning somewhat spelt out. There is no mystery - it is merely passive entertainment. This is different - you have to work out your own meaning. 

I was utterly transfixed for the entire 1 hour 20 minutes. For me the piece resounded with notions and concepts of the bafflement of the individual, especially when confronted with such an overwhelming event as the death of a partner.

The production is heightened poetic theatre, visually and musically, that is dazzling and uniquely complete within itself. Furthermore, I should add that Hatsune Miku is the name of the female character in the work, as well as the name of the vocal software program that is part of her creation.

In a rather cute touch, Hatsune Miku joined Keiichiro Shibuya in the curtain call, or rather thunderous ovation, that the Adelaide audience gave this extraordinary work. This audience, which was for the most part made of Asian patrons, were extremely demonstrative in praising Shibuya and his team who also joined him in the final curtain call.

THE END is another ‘hit’ in this year’s wonderful OzAsia Festival, which seems to be getting bigger and better each year.

Tony Knight

Images: Kenshu Shintsubo

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