Hanjo blew my mind the minute it touched me the first time.
It’s been almost three years now. In 2010, my friend Fredrika Brillembourg invited me to see her perform in Amsterdam. She’s a Mezzo Soprano, and was starring in Toshio Hosokawa’s adaption of HANJO. I had never heard of the story. It was written by Yukio Mishima, Japan’s magnificent author and brilliant figure of Japanese post-war self-identity. He modernized a number of Noh operas, a form of theater from the 14th and 15th century, but somehow Hanjo remained the most obscure.
In many ways Hanjo touches uniquely on so many Japanese topics. Hanako, the central figure, is a Geisha, that great Western misconception, a woman who is neither nanny nor prostitute, neither escort nor consort. Jitsuko is a Painter, that last remnant of the Floating World, a wistful world which Meiji pried open like an unwilling clam. Yoshio is a modern Salary Man, driven more by fear than ambition, he fails to pursue love because he worries what society might think of him, and the jeopardy in which he places his life-style.
The opera was in English, but the Amsterdam Muziektheater had made the incredibly wise choice of simply printing the entire libretto as part of their Playbill. It’s not much when you see it on paper, only a few pages, so before the performance began I had already finished reading the story… and fell madly in love with it.
Hosokawa’s staging worked well, the video doesn’t show how Hanako’s insanity was shown by the “living” dress that moved up and down her body while she sang, being slowly moved by black-clad stagehands. But that wouldn’t work if I wanted to retell the story as a photographic novel. I also knew I wanted to use the language of fashion photography, as I do in all my projects. I kept looking at old hand-colored Japanese colotypes from the 1860s, and when I simply decided to combine the two, I had the concept locked; I knew how I was going to tell this story.
Stay tuned for the several more installments…. Here’s PART 2 of my Hanjo blog-series.