"Decoded memories from gene / a eulogy for dad Ken Hara"​

"Decoded memories from gene / a eulogy for dad Ken Hara"​

A film "Asphalt Girl" 1964, third from right

in the dress room 1970

I am writing this text in an apartment room in Tokyo, where my father lived for 40 years. On 5 March 2015, three weeks ago, his life ended at the age of 84 in this very room. On the table right in front of me, there is a picture of my father holding me as if I was something very precious. But I have never lived here. The picture was taken when I was just a few months old and my father saw me first time. My parents neither got married nor live together. Since my birth, I lived alone with my mother and I became an adult without feeling a “strong sense of his absence.” An absence that normally is brought upon by divorce or bereavement in the family. Also I was not interested in whether he is alive or not.

His name was “Ken Hala.” During the post-war era, from the late 1940’s to 1970’s, he was at height of his career as a musical dancer within the Japanese entertainment world. I knew his name and recognized as my father since I could remember, I understood his job as a “dancer” since I came of age and I decided to inherit his “gene” four years ago.
The thing I can recall as being the beginning of everything is that I started dancing before knowing his face and continued it till today. But to be honest, for more than twenty years, his existence didn’t mean anything to me other than “a man whom my mother took me to meet just a couple of times.”

Keeping a reasonable distance from dancing, I entered the Department of Design of Tokyo University of the Arts to learn about stage design when I was 18. However, against my expectation, I came to realize that a field of advertisement and urban design where a “designer” and “art director” play an active roll, looked theatre-like where people and money move towards the same goal. For students of this department, the advertising industry is considered to be one of the possible work place with the brightest future because it is very attractive to work in a creative field while still being connected with the capitalistic society. Managing assignments at university to learn overall design comprehensively, I started thinking that I don’t need to work in a physical theatre. Beyond that, I hardly had a reason to dance anymore.

As a senior art student in Japan, it is common to dedicate all the energy into the final year for the graduate exhibition, which is a grand finale of the student life. Every year, a lot of masterpieces are shown in exhibitions at university and even newspapers as well as Internet media report about them in their papers/sites. Especially for a student in the design department, it will be the last chance to create one’s own “big” work single-mindedly. But I couldn't yet become enthusiastic about “the lonely quest towards tour de force” although the beginning of the fourth year was moving closer. It was because I was somehow desperate for a larger-scaled project happening in real life outside of school. While being in charge of a leading position for several small projects in the school, I was eager to try my planning ability in the real world of the capitalist economy.

If I analyse, this kind of  “carrier-oriented mindset” must have a lot to do with admiration for my mother who raised me by herself. While maintaining the dignity as a human being, she was tough in spirit to go through her life in Japanese society. She was free and beautiful. Like any other ordinary family, my mother and I had many issues and troubles. But we managed them by facing each other. So I believed that I would get properly involved with society and people in the future just like my mother did.

Because I couldn’t resist the urge that emerged naturally out of my circumstances, I ended up deciding to dedicate my last university year into creating something with social value that would involve many people. First, I reserved a large cultural complex in the centre of Tokyo and brought an exhibition proposal to the venue. While I was creating an event from scratch and drowning in the pleasure of having full power of decision, its organization and budget grew bigger and bigger. The stupidity to believe blindly that “if I can make this happen I can change the world” can sometimes become a “pump” to create a big burst of energy. At the time, I was pushing the pump at full throttle and exerted myself whilst causing many people trouble. I was staring at a vision of the exhibition opening on 15 March at ultra-high resolution.

It was 11 March when everything became a delusion and fell apart.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, frequent aftershocks, disruption of transportation and power outage. A situation of the exhibition venue, which is about 180km away from the epicentre, also became far beyond the control of one student taking on all responsibilities by oneself. Despite us finishing equipment carry-in, installation and lighting, and the expectation of the opening in front of us, I had no other choice but to cancel it by exercising my “power of decision.”

One month had passed while I was clearing up an account and sorting out things. Taking a side-glance at the scars of natural disasters that was said to happen every 1000 years, the national flower, cherry blossom, reached full bloom for its life as has happened in the past and partly forcefully brought us spring as a start of a new year. It looked like it had finished its job but now scattered its petals all over the street and covered it up in pure white. Looking at the scenery, which is normally considered as a symbol of the new beginning, I felt it looks exactly like my very dream that had suddenly vanished. Not only my feeling was left behind the seasonal change but also I was hit by the real setbacks some months later. Having shared more precise information about the nuclear accident day by day, it had come to light that dozens of people who worked for the exhibition were “exposed to radiation” while they went to the venue for some preparation. It was simply because I didn’t cancel the event early enough. I bitterly blamed myself. I thought that I couldn’t say ever again that I can take “responsibility” for the situation that would involve other people.

Adding to that, the way the government and mass media dealt with the series of disasters was unacceptable. The truth of concealment and instigation of information were made everyday as if nothing was wrong. The advertising industry that I aspired to be part of was also building an inseparable kingdom with other industries, mass media and the government. I understood very well that if I take part I possibly would have a hand in their system. I realized the peaceful Japan I believed in did not exist in the first place and I was seeing the illusion. My trust to “society”, “public” and “ordinary life” in capitalism as well as the creation engaged in them collapsed into pieces. I was devastated. I didn’t lose my life or family fortunately but I lost my pump to push by getting involved with people and society.

Only time was passing by. As I didn’t go to a part time job my credit card was stopped. My bathroom was out of order but I just left it broken and used shower room in the graduate school. I was not even sure if I was dead or alive. Even in such a situation, one thing left to me faintly yet definitely was my own body that hadn’t given up dancing completely. And there was also the presence of my father that was created by a few memories and imagination I had.
The presence of the dancer, “Ken Hala” and his gene living in my body. I felt like I was saved. Living once again facing myself, I clung to memories of his gene. As a ceremony to say farewell to the broken energy pump, I changed my last name on the family register from mother’s “Kanai” to father’s “Hala.”

“Saori Hala”
It was a spell I cast on myself for not depending on somebody’s value but having courage to live on my own.

The name change procedure at the office was simple. I faced the feeling of disappointment that it was too easy as well as guilt for having done such an outrageous thing without consulting anyone. However, when I received the family register where no name other than me was printed I was convinced that this solitude and freedom would become new source of energy.
Soon after, I wrote a letter to my father and visited him. I told him everything; about taking his last name “Hala”, about using the stage name, “Saori Hala” as a spell over myself and about going to Europe for dance training.
I think I have made quite a selfish move. But, my father was delighted in tears. Like any other person who lived a life only doing what he/she wants, he didn’t look aged even though he was already 80 years old. Like a typical stage person, he had a straight back, youthful face and voice and wide-opened eyes. He looked like a waxwork.
Though I knew my father was a dancer, the reason I was never interested in him was simply because I admired my mother. And my bitterness about him for escaping from his responsibility as a father by following his own dream under the bright light in the theatre business also made me look away from the “gene” that we share. So I feel deeply sorry to my mother for most likely hurting her feeling by my sudden act with a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn.

She must have been deeply hurt by my act but she was still supporting my reckless challenge.

 Four years have passed. In March 2015, I performed a piece “d/a/d” at a theatre in Roppongi, Tokyo. It was co-produced by Fuyuki Yamakawa (Khoomei singer/ artist), Tomomi Oda (musician) and Saori Hala (dancer). Whether it was simply coincidence or inevitability, all of our fathers were used as an important theme in this work.

As I already had planned to move to Germany and enter the Berlin Art University right after the show, I used this occasion as a unique opportunity and invited my father to the performance. For four years since taking his last name, I kept postponing an opportunity to invite him, seeing that I took over the name of Hala without asking, I thought I shouldn’t show him something incomplete. But now it was time and was my way to take responsibility.
It was 28th February, the second day of the three-days show, when he came to the theatre. His situation had changed dramatically since the last time I had seen him. His eyes and voice were still full of life but he was in a wheelchair with an oxygen bottle attached. As the venue had no lift and located in the basement, all of our staff had to carry him with the wheelchair to the downstairs. We somehow managed to take him to an auditorium. Despite our concern about his health, he couldn’t help hiding his excitement about being in a theatre again after such a long time. He was truly adorable. His bright character, which I imagined remained the same when he was dancing on the stage, was easily noticeable to staff who met him for the first time.  
After the performance, the first thing he said was “I can die now!” At that time, we just burst into laughter and shook his hands. We again carried him up to the ground and saw him off until he disappeared into the crowd of Roppongi Street.
It was 5 days later when his life came to an end. The whole thing was like a written script.

When I heard of his death, I clearly understood that “I was not too late.” I cried but the tears weren’t because of sadness or shock. I think it is a miracle that people can manage to encounter each other alive in this mortal world. I managed to slip myself into this miracle. Undoubtedly, this brought me and my father the most happy ending.  What I received from “d/a/d” and co-performers was immeasurable. The spirit of “Ken Hala” that I encountered will revive every time I go on stage. Through this work, I understood as the last revelation what “inheriting the genes” means.

I think our life is always destined by some higher power that one cannot reach. Only the spirit that lives throughout our body can sense this power. When I dance my pulse goes faster, then the moment will come when the whole body including toes can feel it. I jump on the floor waiting for the very moment. The strong anxiety to understand this “invisible sense of power”, that came very close to me through my father’s death, will be the reason for me to continue dancing.

25 March 2015
Saori Hala

"d/a/d" 2015

photo by bozzo




楽屋にて 1970年





 しかしこれは長年、なんとなくといえど舞台業界へ従事するというイメージをもっていた私にとっては、無謀な進路変更である。そこで私は、同大学の大学院を経由してその出世街道へこぎつけるつもりで、発起人/オーガナイザー/企画者/代表といったものに片っ端から手を出すようになり、あっという間に4年生となってしまった。日本の美大の4年生と言えば、学生生活の集大成としての卒業制作と卒業制作展に全精力をかけるのが普通だ。 そのために美大へ入学する者さえいる。例年、学内展覧会は大作揃いで、それが将来の手がかりになることも珍しくない。満を辞しての「卒業制作」なのだ。しかし私は、そこへの進級を目前に控えたとき、一人の学生として「孤独な大作との戦い」に息巻くことができなかった。学外で起こっている大きなプロジェクトを目で追っては、その規模とリアルなドラマに焦がれていたからだ。今思えば学生の思い上がりではあるが、自分の企画力や行動力を現実の資本主義経済の中で試したくて仕方なかった。









 『原 沙織(ハラ サオリ)』