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Megan Hanson reviews DasSHOKU SHAKE! for ArtsHub.com (4 stars)

A cross-cultural mash-up of Japanese and Australian Butoh cabaret, DasSHOKU Shake! is a reflection on the devastation of Northern Japan following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Award-winning theatre maker Yumi Umiumare has met high expectations in her fourth production in the DasSHOKU series.

A handful of Japanese and Australian performers, alongside Osaka’s Theatre Gumbo, present an extravaganza that explores the concept of shaking: in both the literal shaking of Japan and the emotional displacement that followed.

Opening in an unsettling manner, a faceless being in a giant silver coat emerges, surrounded by what seems to be a representation of sea creatures. The dark and disturbing feelings created in this scene are revisited throughout, and contrasted by Umiumare’s character, a Japanese lady in search for light – real light, not the artificial kind, though the underlying themes of light and dark come only with time to reflect on the show; at the time of viewing it seems to be little more than disjointed mayhem, with inaudible dialogue that switches incessantly from Japanese to English.

Among the distress of disaster, DasSHOKU Shake! makes room for a satire of Westernised Japanese culture. The chaos that arose in these scenes is nothing short of ridiculous – with over-sized ‘Starbox’ frappes and McDonald’s meals¬; in some instances the performers themselves were dressed as fast food. It would be a sin not to give special mention to the outstanding costumes, with performers appearing in traditional Japanese warrior suits and unnerving gas masks, ridiculous faeces hats, giant nappies, and Hello Kitty memorabilia.

Despite the awkward seating arrangement for the sold-out show, DasSHOKU Shake! makes excellent use of space, with performers emerging from all corners of the venue. In many instances there was action happening all around, making it difficult to know where to look.

While DasSHOKU Shake! is confronting and confusing at times, it is often hilarious, with stunning performances by all involved. The manic dancing and mockery of Japanese business ethics, parenting methods and insect control is contrasted with the notion of togetherness that arises in distress and the ongoing search for ‘light’. If any kind of conclusion could be drawn in the final scene, it’s is Umiumare’s declaration: ‘when we return to who we are, we become light’.

 

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