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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


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

After the Rain


world music theatre piece based on three stories 
by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, including "Rashomon"

created by Watoku Ueno
with Yara Arts Group 



"Creator Watoku Ueno and the Yara Arts Group have put tremendous thought into the aesthetics of the piece. It opens beautifully, with one of the most original and intriguing set designs I have ever seen. It serves up one surprise after another, from exotic costumes to intricate movements. A combination of music, shadow puppets, projections, and dance, it feels like a theatre version of an art house silent film..." The music by the composer/guitarist/sound designer Kato Hideki seamlessly merges with the striking visuals and accentuates the poignancy of the stories. I could listen to him forever. Luba Kierkosz's costume design is stylish and refined, serving the physical movements to perfection. After the Rain is written, designed, and directed by Watoku Ueno, and according to the program note, the scenes were created by the artists of Yara in rehearsal. Hats off to the artistry he and his company have put into the entire look of the show. It is breathtakingly exquisite. It is also a worthy attempt to wed literature to theatre, and the traditional Japanese art of shadow puppet, costumes, and music to modern dance and multimedia..." 
Kat Chamberlain, April 10, 2008

Yara Arts Group, an 18-year-old company whose mission is to create pieces rooted in Eastern culture, conjures up some 75 minutes of dreamlike theatre in "After the Rain"… The production has striking visual appeal. The storytelling incorporates lots of stylized movement, shadow puppetry, and pleasantly fragile songs, along with text from Akutagawa and convincing performances by the four actors in multiple roles. Rex Marin admirably endows each of the three central characters -- the samurai, the apprentice, and the old traveler -- with distinct personalities, while Hana A. Kalinski, Stephanie Silver, and Kazue Tani provide strong ensemble work. The musical underscoring and accompaniment by composer-guitarist Kato Hideki add dramatic emphasis, as do Ueno's honeycomb-like stage platform design and his moody lighting.

Ron Cohen, April 7, 2008 

director, set and light designer: Watoku Ueno
composer/musician: Kato Hideki
costume design: Luba Kierkosz
shadow image design: Watoku Ueno/Makoto Takeuchi
stage manager: Shuhei Kinoshita
movement: Shigeko Sara Suga
projection: Rashid Mamun
shadow image design execution: Makoto Takeuchi, Yasuko Miura
Set construction: Kenji Watanabe
back stage crew /puppeteers: Megan Talley, 
Alan Barnes Nethertona and Yuji Mianjo

Hana A. Kalinski, Rex Matin, Stephanie Silver and Kazue Tani

April 4 - 21, 2008 
La MaMa Expriemental Theatre 
74 East 4th St, New York

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