Hiromichi Sakamoto

Hiromichi Sakamoto killed a cello today.
In a tent set up in a Tokyo park, he stuck his cello into a fire and played it as it got engulfed in flames.
He had to dodge a fiery burst that shot up from the instrument, scorching his big hair.
Sakamoto then hung the burning cello by a chain from the ceiling, letting it dangle, Jesus being crucified, gloriously dying for our sins, sending the pungent smell of charring resin and smoke into our throats.
It was both strangely comical and painfully sad to witness.
Before, throughout the two-hour performance, Sakamoto brutalized the instrument with a vehemence, scraping it, banging it, scribbling with a pencil on it.
He took a drill and graced its metal parts, sending sparks that made aerial patterns in the dark.
In defacing the instrument, we reject culture/lifestyle/instrument, as well as the basic presumption that we must follow social standards/rules/views.
Sakamoto’s performance piece, which also includes modern dance, poetry readings, singing and video, gives a startling voice to the confrontation of the previous generation by the younger generation of Japan today.
You are great, oh, Father, one singer who read and played the guitar Michiro Endo bellowed in a scratchy voice.
You built this nation, worked hard to give us a better life, built this utopia, but we now have no utopia, the song said.
In the same vein, the reading by singer/novelist Mieko Kawakami was about why you can’t pee in the bathtub.
Who are you, mother? she asked. Did you come here so you could tell us not to pee in the tub.
The disenchantment is clear with what the past has so dutifully and properly prepared for today.
Shattered is the stereotype of the lethargic, uncommitted youth of today, who just want to be “freeters.”
Instead, the youngsters are telling the older generation: “You fucked up.”
In Japan, it’s the 1960s/1970s generation of America questioning the 1950s parents’ generation all over again, except it’s happening now.
We don’t want the affluence, the meaninglessness, the dos and don’ts you have built for us, they are saying.
We are left without our own culture, being fed the imitative forms of an alien Western art.
There is no chance for a better life by definition because modernization is over.
And there’s no point in putting up a fight, anyway.
There is only the void.
And so the cello must die.
Sitting in the tent packed with 300 people, I am present in a historic moment in contemporary Japanese art, something people will talk about years from today.
It is so Japanese to feel so acutely the dilemma of the individual vs. society, while sensing the nearness of death that wakes up the urgency and reality of living in every breath we take.
At the end of the piece, the tent behind the stage opens, revealing the landscape of the park at night.
The performers are lined up, looking at us solemnly, a quiet reminder that we, who witnessed the cello die, gasping, teary-eyed, intrigued, guilt-ridden, are partners in crime, caught in this tiny unreal space and moment _ maybe just for now, maybe forever _ separated from the everyday outside world.