Sunrise at Midnight
“Sunrise at Midnight” (2002) is both a documentary portrait of Yumi Umiumare, a contemporary Japanese / Australian Butoh dancer, and a Japanese Ghost story set in the Australian Desert. Filmmaker Sean O’Brien and Butoh Dancer Yumi Umiumare make an expedition into the desert to experience and exorcise Noriko’s lost soul.
“The film is inspired by an historic photograph of a troupe of Japanese female performers who toured outback towns at the turn of the 20th century, and the tale of one of those performers, Noriko, who wandered into the desert and never came back. The photograph captures an unusual moment in Australian history when Japanese culture unexpectedly touched it. The photo is a formal portrait of four Japanese women who toured outback towns in the early 1900s. The women are known as karayuki-san, “women who work in a foreign land”, imported to entertain locals and itinerant Asian workers. Fascinated by this weird blend of Japanese exotica and Australiana, Yumi and I used this photo as a creative key, integral to the establishment of the character, the choreography, and the imagined story which takes place beyond the edge of the tableau. Influences include Japanese ghost stories, and Australian tales of naive innocents lost in the bush.
Both Yumi and I are drawn to the Australian landscape, Yumi as a performer and myself as a photographer, and the film’s narrative gave us the chance to journey inland. The landscape is used as a vast theatre for the performance, with Yumi carefully blocked within the “natural ikebana” – strange and abstract arrangements of wood, earth, stone, and sand.
While Yumi’s background is in Butoh, the performance also refers to the restrained minimalism of Noh theatre, and traditional Japanese folk dance.
The stylized nature of the drama and the stark quality of the locations leant itself to black and white. A primary influence was the work of Eikoh Hosoe, one of the first photographers to collaborate with Butoh performers in the field. Reflecting the cross cultural nature of the project, the filmic style pays reference to both Japanese cinema, specifically the films of Mizoguchi, and local cinema of the 1940s & 50s, (“Back of Beyond”, “Jedda” etc), particularly in its tonal depiction of the distinctive Australian light in the landscape.”
Director: Sean O’Brien
Choreographer: Yumi Umiumare
Performers: Yumi Umiumare & Tony Yap
Music: Satsuki Odamura, Anne Norman, Kazumichi Grime
Photography Sean O’Brien & Simon Von Wolkenstein
Editing: Nick Meyers
Production: Sean O’Brien
Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2002
Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival 2002