Yass Hakoshima brings underwater treasure adventure to life without scenery
or many props

April 3, 2010: The Star Ledger

Yass Hakoshima brings underwater treasure adventure to life without scenery or many props NEW YORK — An air of mystery surrounds Montclair's Yass Hakoshima, the mime artist whose Yass Hakoshima Movement Theatre presented a reprise of last year's "Rashomon (or Encounter Under the Abandoned Cloud-gate" along with other works, on Thursday at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

It could hardly be otherwise — since most of the props that he handles are phantoms, and his scenery is invisible.

Thanks to Hakoshima's skill — most particularly his use of weight — there is no doubt that his surroundings are real, however. Although he reveals the surfaces of his world one by one, sliding past walls or leaning on a railing, he seems to occupy a space as tactile and profusely decorated as life itself. Hakoshima's grasp on his invisible world is firm. His stance is rooted, and his gestures clearly relate to things that, for some reason, simply fail to reflect the light. He is so adept at filling the emptiness around him that we would rather believe him than believe our own eyes.

The Da Capo Chamber Players accompanied this program, setting the mood for each act with an impressionistic overture. A piece by Olivier Messaiaen opened the evening, the melody of "Abîme des Oiseaux" prompting thoughts of a journey under an open sky, with birds in flight drawing lazy streaks across it. Hakoshima seemed to arrive on the scene by boat, punting against the flow of an invisible stream to perform his "Under Water Phantasy" set to George Crumb's "Vox Balaenae." In this terse fairy tale, Hakoshima stopped to weigh anchor, and threw a line over the side that became snagged. Diving into the water to free it, he swam to a little cave where he discovered a precious lump of gold displayed atop an urn, and left unattended. The golden nugget and the urn were visible. The rounded contours of the canopy protecting them, however, only became real as Hakoshima ran his hands over it searching for an opening. Not finding any, he had to break in to steal the gold, a project that required considerable physical effort. Was it worth the trouble? Despite his initial gloating, "Under Water Phantasy" has a lesson to teach this thief, thus setting the stage for the troubling moral dilemma of "Rashomon," in Act II. The struggle to survive — by theft or any other means — is the subject of "Rashomon," more closely inspired by Ryonosuke Akutagawa's story of the same name than by Kurosawa's celebrated film. Here Hakoshima takes the part of a samurai who is down on his luck. We find him nodding uneasily in his sleep during a rainstorm, and poignantly rising to battle the elements. Later a scoundrel played by Whitney V. Hunter slips in along a narrow passageway, and nabs the sword lying beside its owner as he slumbers. Awakening, the samurai trails the thief deep into the abandoned Cloud-gate, precipitating a classic action sequence — the fight in a darkened room — that is less acrobatic and less suspenseful here than in Beijing Opera, but more droll since like the darkness itself, nearly everything in the mime show must be imagined.

In an ironic reversal of roles, the samurai finds himself robbing the thief of food that he needs to live. The old warrior's perplexity at finding himself in his opponent's shoes gives the piece a quiet, but thoughtful ending that should make viewers squirm, too.

Robert Johnson