On January 26, 2013, I attended Mimi Wada’s sumi-e live art performance titled “Paris in Saturday’s Afternoon”. During the performance, she painted a sketch of Parise in Sumi-e style while Sanshiro Hashimoto sang chansons with a live band composed of Shinichiro Kanda on piano, Jun Kawasaki on bass and Hitoshi on the bandoneón. While this is not the first time I’ve seen live painting done simultaneously during another performance, this is the first that I’ve seen that was coordinated around a theme. The entire event was meant to transport the audience to Paris and was held in a night club called “Le Baron de Paris” located in Omotesando, Tokyo. The nightclub itself is modeled after a Parisian-style salon, but done with darker undertones than a typical Parisian salon. The night club lighting unfortunately was not the best. The stage was too dimly lit and did not flatter the performers. The artists themselves also noted this circumstance. Still, this hindrance did not stop both individuals from creating a whimsical afternoon of a Japanese fantasy of long ago Paris. In perhaps unintentional post-modern fashion, both Ms. Wada and Mr. Hashimoto conjure up a form of nostalgia for a Paris that may have never quite existed in the world. In doing so, they offer an imaginary Paris for the audience to participate in. Inverting France’s colonial obsession with the orient and “les Japonaises,” these two young Japanese artists combine both traditional Japanese culture with traditional Parisian images and songs.
The afternoon was staged in three sections, with Mr. Hashimoto’s chansons framing the entirety of the event. Ms. Wada’s painting occurred in the second stage of the performance. Unfortunately she only painted once during the event, for reasons that may have more to do with the limitations of the space used for the performance than with her ability. I wanted her to continue to paint a series of paintings to mirror the feelings that the chanseur was transmitting beautifully through his songs. She is a very talented sumi-e artist, who captures gracefully the movement of the music that she accompanies. She uses this traditional Japanese art to recreate her ideas of Paris and she matches Sanshiro Hasimoto’s chansons well.
Mr. Hashimoto is a trained pianist and singer whose ability to channel feelings of love and remorse in both the French and Japanese language is remarkable. While the two complement each other well, I get the sense that this conceptual piece is still developing. Both are experts in their field of art and it was wonderful to witness both live sumi-e and chanson in fusion, but I found myself wanting them to explore how an artist perceives and creates fantasy worlds, to explore their love for France within its colonial history and exotification of the “orient” and to recreate a Parisian fantasy with a little bit more self-reflexivity in the piece. But I did feel as if this duo’s project is far from being a fully staged performance piece and therefore perhaps that layer has yet to be explored. I do hope they both continue to adapt and create this wonderful piece together, developing its theatrical elements. They are both incredibly talented artists and they capture and offer the world a sense of beauty and refinement. Sometimes that is what is necessary to help remember a sense of what the French call “joie de vivre”.