Scored in Silence – a physical retelling of the story of Hiroshima from the unique perspective of deaf survivors

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Chisato Minamimura’s Scored in Silence featured at ONCA Gallery, as part of Brighton’s Digital Festival from 14-15 September. Review by Colin Hambrook

On 18th September 1944 US president FD Roosevelt met the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to let him know about a new weapon that had been developed in America. Despite objections from scientists involved in the development of the Atom Bomb, laid out in the Franck Report, the decision was made to not only drop the bomb but to do so without any warning. In Spring 1945, Germany and Italy were all but defeated, leaving the third power in the axis, Japan as the target.

Using a deft form of physical theatrical storytelling artist/ director/ performer Chisato Minamimura tells the story of the bombing of Hiroshima and its impact on the deaf survivors of the blast – the deaf ‘hibakusha’.

Chisato Minamimura ‘Scored In Silence’. Photography © MarkPickthall.co.uk

Clouds roll across a Holo-gauze screen as Minamimura sets the scene, dressed in white, performing behind sets of animated images that she herself becomes part of. The charismatic performer casts a sublime ghostly presence; there is something beautifully enigmatic – an expression of the divine – in her role as narrator. In contrast, the story she tells is of one of the most detestable acts in all of human history.

Staged in the intimate setting of the ONCA gallery – a venue committed to showcasing artwork about the environment and our lives today, every step of the narrative is meticulously paced Minamimura drawing on the choreographic elements implicit within sign language in sequence with a spoken narrative from a disembodied voice, that fills the space.

There is a profound contradiction between the degree of intense passion and the objectivity with which Minamimura choreographs her response to a score of images that appear using state-of-the-art projection technology as a form of notation to the unfolding drama.

Chisato Minamimura ‘Scored In Silence’. Photography © MarkPickthall.co.uk

Minamimura moves in response to the magical images depicting everyday life – people going about their lives, delivering the post, tending to rice in a paddy field – in the countdown to the shocking turn of events.

She introduces a number of deaf Japanese survivors of the atrocity, captured in more recent film clips relating their stories. Katsumi Takebu and Tomoe Kurogawa were children at the time the bomb hit with an impact that spread for 4km with a heat of 2000 degrees centigrade in a mere ten seconds. Katsumi talks about how it wasn’t until ten years later that he was given any understanding of what a nuclear bomb was and what it was he’d managed to survive.

The testimonies defy the imagination; witness to the falling of black rain on a landscape filled with corpses. It is a powerful and heartbreaking piece of storytelling – emphasising the isolation experienced by deaf people.

Masaharu Kobayashi talks about how the Japanese government offered financial support in the aftermath of the war, but how for deaf people there was no access to communication on how to apply for that help – leading to dire straits for his family, struggling to pay the hospital bills for his children as a result of being exposed to radiation.

Chisato Minamimura ‘Scored In Silence’. Photography © MarkPickthall.co.uk

To further enhance the audience’s visceral connection with the sound embedded within each sequence, Woojer vibration straps, which fit around the chest, release digital vibrations, programmed to emphasise moments within the score. This incorporation of a sense of touch reflects the emotional extremes in each note in the soundtrack.

From a philosophical point of view the Woojer – used extensively within gaming technology – represents a crossover of experience in communication between hearing and deaf people. This is its first introduction for use in performance – and in the context the story Scored In Silence tells, is distressing but equally, the physicality of the dimension its use opens up to enhance the storytelling is compelling.

In the Q&A after the performance, there was talk of Scored in Silence being presented within schools to educate through conveying the realities of war. It seems to me that perhaps certain world leaders now – currently displaying equal levels of arrogance to that which led to the dropping of the A-bombs – could learn a humbling lesson from the stories of the few remaining deaf ‘hibakusha’.

Scored in Silence will feature as part of Manchester Science Festival at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY.
Friday 19 October, 2pm – 2.45pm and 8pm – 8.45pm
Saturday 20 October, 8pm – 8.45pm

There will be a free Q&A after each performance