The End. A Vocaloid Opera.
Starring Keiichiro Shibuya and Hatsune Miku. Concept and music. Keiichiro Shibuya. Direction: Keiichiro Shibuya and YKBX. Visuals, character design: YKBX. Spatial sound design: evala. The Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival. October 3 and 4 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The lights dim slowly. A sweeping wave of electronic music swells in classical strains as overture to the impending vocaloid opera, THE END. The sounds cascade like scurrying feet along a Tokyo street or a waterfall’s rushing stream onto the rocks below. The stage lights up in a wash of azure blue and the wizardry of animation and digital wonder combine as vocaloid pop idol Hatsune Maku appears to breathe life into Keiichiro Shibuya’s operatic composition.
In a spectacular fusion of cultures, East meets West in universal preoccupation with existence, identity and death. A conversation evolves between the human representation and her sixteen year old digital doppelganger, seeking immortality in the face of the inevitable end . The eternal quest for immortality remains elusive, denied and Hatsune Miku confronts her own fatal destiny. Part sung, part spoken, part whispered in intense tones of query, The End confronts our very notion of art in the twenty-first century and beyond. Convention is discarded in daring experimentation. Imagination deconstructs expectation to construct a new form for a new generation. It is ironic that Miku should epitomize the universal humanity. She is created in the image of the Barbie Doll of the West,- green pony-tailed hair, slim and wearing tight fitting, short dress and top. Her huge blue eyes express the innocent allure of youth and as the image grows, swooping towards the audience, only the mouth remains and draws us into the void. We are engulfed within her spell.
The art of tomorrow is not without the traditions of the past. Miku’s apparent denial of Japanese culture is not free of cultural influence. As she is unable to escape death, even as a computerized , digitally animated creation, so too she is unable to escape the concerns of her being: the prevalent preoccupations of Japanese Kabuki, Noh and Butoh, her quest for identity, her struggle with authority and her preoccupation with Death and the Afterlife.
Ultimately, Miku and Shibuya’s composition are products of a new form of art, conceived in the digital womb of youthful technology and brought into a world still dominated by the cultural mores of the present, while searching for a new meaning to the future. Shibuya’s composition is overwhelming, soul-stirring and filled with the excitement of discovery of a new world. And yet Miku remains an expression of a familiar world of pop idols, celebrity, and new music. In the grandeur of its animation and projection, and the experimental nature of its composition, The End offers a fascinating glimpse of new possibilities, and yet it continues to cling to its traditions and concerns.
THE END opens a doorway to new discovery in digital art and vocaloid opera. Its imagery is awesome; its themes universal and its impact powerfully experiential. At one hour twenty minutes in length it is repetitive, but as imaginative innovation, daring experimentation and commitment to the creation of new perceptions of the nature and role of art in a digital age, it is a welcome inclusion in a contemporary OzAsia Festival.
As a footnote to its appeal, I walked behind two young members of the audience on their way home. They were dressed identically in short tartan skirts and slim-fitting grey jackets. Their hair was long and blonde and in the style of Miku. They were obviously devotees of the vocaloid pop sensation, but who were they and what is their true identity? The End leaves me with the question of what is the future of art and the real-life artist. Can they co-exist and what can both contribute to their culture? The End is a new beginning to endless questions that define the role of art and who we are. To this end, The End is a revelation and affirmation of evolving art in a changing world.