By Juliet Jacobs
Okiku is based on a story from Japanese folklore. Tell us more about the conceptualization and story.
Sam Yen: The perception is that Okiku is a ghost story. It is — but only to a certain extent, depending on which version you’re reading. Our version deals more with the human elements of the tale, much like the kabuki version, which casts the entire story as a tale of obsessive love. In our version, Okiku is the catalyst, and the three other main characters revolve around her. How they react and interact with one another (within the boundaries of the script) is determined by her. The supernatural elements are peripheral. It’s the tragedy which living, breathing human beings can cause that’s the scariest thing.
Fang Chyi: Okiku is not a ghost story, but a story about a ghost. Imagine being alone at home and, as fear sets in, you start hearing things and imagining things that are not there… this is the basic concept of Okiku.
Kimmy Kiew: We’re attempting to bring the audience a sensory theatre piece, which is a rare commodity here in Malaysia. Sensory theatre is captivating in the sense the play does not rely solely on visuals — we tease the audiences’ attention psychologically – leaving them to feel the story, not just watch it.
Why do a story from Japanese folklore?
SY: We were subliminally influenced by Tun Dr Mahathir’s ‘Look East’ economic policy of the 1980s and 90s. Kidding. Why a Japanese story as opposed to a local or Western one? It’s a question I don’t think any of us asked ourselves, until after we had our hearts set on bringing Okiku to the stage — which itself was a product of an article written by Kin Seng (our producer) on Japanese ghost tales. The whole idea behind Okiku was that we could take a well known tale and put our spin on it. It was about telling a story as best we could. No current day allusions. No subtext. It’s easier to do this with a foreign story, as the whole research and writing process is itself a journey into the unknown for us — which, I think, translates itself into our version of the tale.
KK: Why not Japanese folklore? Hardly any of our own Asian stories are told.
FC: Okiku attracted my attention because of its simple storyline, and the fact it is 400 year-old folklore. The fact that it is Japanese was secondary.
The story is set in Japan in the 1600s — what kind of research went into trying to make the whole production as authentic as possible?
FC: We’re not ‘authenticating’ Okiku. We merely borrowed her name and merged some existing variations of her story into one — one which we could call our own. Hence the original script and music. With 400 years of history, the story has been told and retold using different mediums, at different times. What we have done is introduce a minimalist look and approach to the execution of the play. As far as research is concerned, we grabbed at anything and everything we could get our hands on.
Are you a fan of J-Horror flicks? Any favourites?
FC: I am a horror flick fan, period.
KK: I don’t really watch a lot of horror films … but I do like scaring people.
Who’s the scariest horror character of all time, for you?
FC: My form one maths teacher, Mrs Lee!
KK: The scariest horror character of all time for me is not a ghost, but this real man in Hong Kong. He was a serial killer who butchered people and served them as char siew paus. The human mind is really a dark place that I find really scary …
You’ve dabbled in different things in the arts. Give us a resume.
FC: By day, I’m an art director and lecturer; By night, I have ‘played’ the roles of usher, crew member, stage manager, singer, actor — and, most recently, director.
KK: I am shy lah. … if you really want to know about me — please, you can look it up on the Internet, or just turn up at the theatre and I’ll be happy to tell you.
Is this your first directorial effort? What’s it been like? Fill us in on the chaos.
FC: Definitely memorable! Chaos? What chaos? We are a peaceful loving bunch!
KK: This is my first English-language play, but I directed a Chinese-language play three years ago. I really enjoyed the challenge and was relieved I had a milder pimple outbreak this time, as compared to the first time I directed.
What next for you?
FC: To run away to a remote island and serenade the monkeys! Seriously? I’m hoping to fund and produce my own EP.
KK: Back to work with Gardner & Wife Theatre, as I owe them some working hours – thanks, G&W, for the break! I also plan to do another play this year.
Tell us a bit about the cast and crew.
FC: Vocal and intensely enthusiastic.
Who’s the least punctual on set?
FC & KK: We all take turns.
Tell us a corny joke.
SY: What happens when you cross the singer Shaggy with a volcano?
SY: Mr Lava Lava.
FC: At an airport. Someone says: “Hi! Sawadee-cupl Welcome home!” Me: “Thanks. Awak D cup, ya? Saya A cup saja …”
What do you think world needs now, that there’s just too little of?
FC: More open closets!
KK: Theatre sponsorship.
First Published: 16.01.2007 on Kakiseni