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SUNDOWN (2006)

a theatrical reflection on the life and work of the father  
of Japanese photography HIkoma Ueno (1837-1904)

created by Watoku Ueno with Yara Arts Group 
director, set and light design: Watoku Ueno
assistant director: Jun Mochizuki
photo projections: Makoto Takeuchi
costume design: Luba Kierkosz
movement: Asmi Morita
assistance with translations: Meredith Wright
composer/violinist: Storm Garner
stage manager: Hanley Hoang 
with: Nick Bosco, Yuriko Hoshina, Ai Kiyono, Yoshiro Kono, Kazue Tani and Robert Torigoe 

April 28 to May 14, 2006
La MaMa ETC 74A East 4th St New York 



"Yara Arts Group’s skillful method of theatrical presentation, which integrates dance, puppetry, multimedia elements, and spoken word, makes for a very interesting experience.

   The most remarkable thing about "Sundown" is the way it looks: this clearly is the work of accomplished designers. The piece contains some exquisitely beautiful images. The composition in the staging, which takes place mostly on a bare stage with a scrim at the rear, is flawless, and Watoku Ueno (no relation to Hikoma Ueno), who is both lighting designer and director, has created some intensely lyrical moments involving shadow puppets and light. One particular image of Hikoma Ueno, in a dream, jumping from a huge seaship, was the highlight of the experience for me. Only highly skilled artists can create a moment so simple yet so eloquent.

   Hikoma Ueno’s family was known for portrait-painting, and, as a chemist who developed his own method of photography—wet-plate—he continued the family tradition in another, more modern, medium. The first part of Sundown is background information imparted by the company of six actors on the difference between daguerreotype photography and the wet-plate technique which Hikoma Ueno introduced. It places Hikoma Ueno in his important position in the history of Japanese photography. It also introduces two elegant ideas: Ueno’s notion that photography is painting without a brush and more truthful than painting, and that hashin, the Japanese word for photography, means "reflecting the truth."

    The second section depicts Ueno’s interactions with his subjects, some of whom are skeptical of the process, some of whom are delighted to have their spirit preserved forever in an image. A few "stories behind the photos" are enacted, including a lovely vignette with two young women; the moment at the end of their scene when the wonderful authentic photo of the two women they portray appears projected above the stage is striking. The photo projections are by Makoto Takeuchi.

    Ueno’s philosophical journey as an artist—in which he considers photography in relation to art, time, spiritual beliefs, and history—is the abstract final section of Sundown, and it contains some of the most beautiful imagery in the show. Powerful video projection effects and the aforementioned lighting and shadow puppet work made a deep impression on me.

   The performers are strong, particularly Nick Bosco as Ueno and Kazue Tani as a beautiful “bird woman” based on the traditional Japanese symbolic figure of the white crane. The entire ensemble commits fully to this atmospheric piece, allowing the vision of "Sundown’s" creators—and Hikoma Ueno’s photography—to transport and enlighten the audience." 
Matt Schicker April 29, 2006

To be photographed in the 19th century wasn’t easy. Subjects had to sit still for 10 to 20 minutes. Toxic chemicals for developing prints needed to be mixed by hand. Without electricity, pictures could only be taken outside on sunny days. "Sundown," a new work by Yara Arts Group, attempts to theatricalize the life, work and philosophy of Hikoma Ueno (1838-1904), often called “the father of Japanese photography.” Taught the basics by a Dutch surgeon, Ueno not only mastered and improved on the difficult plate and chemical processes of tat era, he was able to create great art with the new medium.

Sundown, was written and directed by Watoku Ueno (no relation) and worked out in rehearsal with company members. Using multimedia, dance, spoken word, and puppetry, the play hints at Hikoma Ueno’s creative process, as well as the Eastern and Western influences on his work. The six cast members give solid performances – particularly the graceful Kazue Tani as Bird Woman…. Moments of great beauty are evident – especially in the gorgeous puppetry, as well ass the stirring music by composer-violinist Storm Garner.

Tom Penketh Backstage May 5, 2006

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