Creators: Mitsuko Harai and Rob Moreno
Choreographer: Yokisho Imamura
An intriguing mix of words, dance and imagery, The Story of the Tower is a project that marries together classic Japanese fiction with cutting-edge technology.
The Story of the Tower, first performed at Edinburgh Fringe in 2021, and now appearing as part of Brighton Fringe, is a short film that takes as its inspiration, the mythical Tower of Babel. The film begins with a first-person camera speeding through the back streets of Tokyo until we reach our destination, the performative space. Choreographer Yokisho Imamura is filmed, first just her hand appears, with another holding it. A whispering voice tells us the story of One Arm, a novella written by Japanese writer, Yasunari Kawabata.
As the camera opens out to reveal Imamura swooning to the touch of a male hand, the sensuality of Kawabata’s story is projected onto a screen. Using chromakey (a post production technique of layering two video streams together), The Story of the Tower takes us on a journey incorporating visual stimuli (Japanese flowers, the ebb and flow of an ocean) alongside a plethora of voices, and other snatches of audio, including early news reports from the 2001 New York terrorist attacks.
The sensation of watching this film is one of initial overload: your attention is being pulled in multiple directions, but the voices; old and new, fiction and documentary, merge into a thought poem. Stories are recited half in Japanese, half-English, which necessitates some exploration of Harai and Moreno’s influences, but Imamura’s choreography helps to bridge any gaps in understanding. With broad, sweeping movements, Imamura becomes the central focus while words and images scatter around us.
The layering of meaning in The Story of the Tower is impressive, with Harai and Moreno not only selecting the magic realist quality of Kawabata’s fiction, but intersecting it with a short story, The Black Tower, from the father of modern Japanese fairy tales, Mimei Ogawa. The tale of two princesses; one favoured, one ostracised, uses philosophical symbolism as a veiled commentary on society. It is not surprising that Ogawa is labelled Japan’s answer to Hans Christian Andersen.
The project’s aim is to discuss communication, with regards to the development of new technology. Harai and Moreno question how this interruption in physical connection will play out through our generation and into the next. The temptation to pin down ideas, and ascribe a narrative, is obviously steeped in Western tradition, and in The Story of the Tower there is a strong resistance to that impulse. Harai has described her show as a “sea of mesmerising imagery”, and this is objectively the best way to watch it. There are links to be found, but within the composite of words and ideas, the emphasis is on exploring and locating our individual response.
Tradition and innovation, physical and aesthetic – The Story of the Tower doesn’t just present us with a binary world, but looks at what lies between these opposites. What we pay attention to, and what isn’t being said. What connects and what binds.
Available here until Sunday 5 June 2022