Mercure des Arts: Tokyo 2019

Composer and director Francesca Le Lohé’s “THE鍵KEY”(based on the novel by Junichiro Tanizaki)

Review by Toshio Saito in “Mercure des Arts”: music review and criticism online magazine (2019/6/15)

The performance takes place in a two-story, traditional house in Ueno-Sakuragi, Taito-ku, Tokyo, which used to be the studio of sculptor Denchu Hirakushi (1872 – 1979). This uniquely designed little house has two small wings connected diagonally, and it can barely fit a maximum of 35 people at a time.

In his opening scene, the husband (Takashi Matsudaira) sings a monologue about the “sexless” marriage he shares with his wife (Akane Kudo) and his solution to their issue.  His plan is to bring his wife closer to Kimura (Shozo Ayaka), who he had introduced to his daughter (Chieko Noda) as her future fiancé, and to secretly lure his wife to read his journal. It turns out that his wife is also keeping a personal journal intended to be read by her husband.  

Here begins this erotic and perverted story.

The house has four rooms: the husband’s room with the husband, shakuhachi and double bass, next to which is the daughter’s room, with the daughter, kotsuzumi and shime-daiko. Then in a separate wing, there is Kimura’s room, with Kimura (dancer), biwa and clarinet, and finally the wife’s room, with the wife, sho and cello. The audience move freely in the space while the stories and music are simultaneously and independently performed in chronological order.  

The audience members are not only wandering around the house, but are also “prying into” the private lives of the four characters.  

While journals play the most important role in this performance, what even is a journal in the first place? It is not meant to be read by anybody else (even one’s wife or husband), and it is usually an outlet for our most personal truth.  

In the novel, the journals are written with the intention to be read by the husband and wife.  Even words that appear to express one’s true feelings are actually written on the premise of being read by others. Tanizaki’s complex psychological drama unfolds as the characters, not obviously, but tacitly invite others to read their diaries. There is no way of knowing how much of what is expressed in the journal is fact, truth or are real feelings, how much is intentionally omitted, and how much is just fiction to manipulate the readers (or husband / wife). It becomes even more complicated when the writers themselves become unsure of their own feelings.  

Le Lohé has heightened this mysterious nature of journals by separating the acting space into four rooms. The husband, wife, daughter and the lover sing and dance whilst only knowing their own reality. As a result, the witnessing audience can only perceive a version of the story that is told in each room. The audience are encouraged to imagine and formulate their own interpretation of the story by walking around and collecting fragments from each of the characters’ performances. But, as the narratives take place simultaneously in different rooms, we can never hear the full story. The truth remains unknown; there are only “indefinite stories” that each character and audience member builds on their own by “peeking into the journals.” Le Lohé brilliantly and dramatically adapted the novel while remaining faithful to the original.  

Furthermore, the physical distance between the rooms within the limited space of the house enhanced the musical and dramatic atmosphere. Into the room where the husband sings flows the distant sound of sho and the wife’s voice from the second floor, layered with the biwa’s barrage of beats from the separate wing and the daughter’s laughter from the next room. The sounds from various distances are superbly intertwined to heighten the intriguing complexity of the musical drama. The collaboration of Western and Japanese instruments, as well as singing and dancing was seamless in embodying the sensory beauty of decadence Tanizaki admired.

Shozo Ayaka, who played Kimura/the lover, moved slowly until the edge of stillness, seemingly expressing something with his rigor rather than his movements. Hedged in between the husband, the wife and the daughter, he seems to represent something other than a living human, being transformed into “pure libido”, “a dead person” or “a puppet.”

The word “interesting” is not enough to describe the intellectual and sensual stimulation I received from this musical adaptation of “The Key.” No one can know the truth in this passion-filled story of breaking the taboo: “one should not read other’s journals.” The scheduled UK premiere will take place in a British house instead of a Japanese house.  I look forward to the creative endeavour of the production team for the adaptation.

(English translation: Yuki Sato)