Belco Arts’ latest production, Mess, taps into one of the recurring themes of 2020 – social isolation and withdrawal – through the lens of the phenomenon of the Japanese culture-bound syndrome, hikikomori.
Director Natsuko Yonezawa told Canberra Weekly her interest in the syndrome was sparked upon learning that someone close to her in Japan had socially isolated themselves for 12 years.
“In Japan, people withdraw inside their rooms from six months up to decades … I was really interested to know more about it. I had no idea what it was about and why people became socially withdrawn,” she said.
“It’s derived from the Japanese language, but it exists everywhere in the world.”
After initially exploring hikikomori in a 15-minute piece debuted at Art, Not Apart in 2019, 21-year-old Yonezawa’s debut full-length production allows her to delve deeper, drawing heavily from the book, The Courage to be Disliked.
“Last year’s production was more of a summary, so the audience understood what the phenomemon is,” she said.
“Because this one is longer, I can explore more deeply into what it is, so it’s different but the concept is still the social withdrawal but exploring it deeper.”
Mess explores its themes through physical theatre, dance and live sound, also utilising light and the use of physical props with stacks of white boxes styled by set designer, byrd, scattered across the stage.
Yonezawa developed Mess after receiving an invitation from assistant director and Belco Arts live programs officer, Chenoeh Miller, earlier this year to create a work.
“We wanted to bring together a group of artists to explore ‘mess’ in our new theatre, as well as testing the capabilities of our lighting rig,” Miller said.
Mess will be brought to life at Belco Arts this week by performers Christopher Samuel Carroll and Miriam Slater, while composer/live musician Marlēné Claudine Radice will be accompanied by the multi-talented Yonezawa, who will also play the violin.
“I had not originally thought about performing in the production myself, but we were having fun experimenting with sound and what textures we want for each section,” Yonezawa said.
“I brought in my violin and thought this was a nice different texture that complemented really well.”
Despite Yonezawa’s interest in hikikomori predating the pandemic, Mess has become timely and accessible given the circumstances surrounding 2020.
“We’ve all been in a state of isolation. Myself as well, doing uni online and not being able to meet people face to face, it really deteriorated my mental health,” she said.
“I got a better understanding of what the socially withdrawn people like the hikikomori go through, and that extending for prolonged decades … I got a bit of a reality check this year.”
Yonezawa’s family came to Australia and settled in Canberra when she was four years old.
During her childhood, they moved to Darwin where she got her start in the arts learning ballet before returning to Canberra in 2014 and becoming involved with QL2 Dance.
“I didn’t have any idea what contemporary dance was. I was trying to find a ballet school, but I found QL2,” she said.
“I was like ‘hey, contemporary dance is so great’, so I’ve done quite a lot of performances with them and then that’s how I got the confidence to start creating my own work.”
Mess will be performed at the Belconnen Arts Centre Theatre, 1-2 October; belcoarts.com.au/mess