By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor
(Originally published March 12, 2009)
ALTADENA.–The stage room at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena is the epitome of an intimate live setting. Although the stage is wide enough to accommodate a four-piece combo (I have performed there several times myself), the seating is close enough to allow those in the front row to actually reach out and touch the performers.
And that can be delightful…or intimidating.
Such an environment is ideal for Shoshinz, the two-woman, language-free act from Japan, who wrapped their first American tour here on Monday night. Describing their act as a “new kind of mad performance art,” Yanomi and Kuronatsu dress as dollhouse maids with painted white faces and blue and red streaks in their hair, respectively.
As the performance began silently, the very sight of the two women had the audience mesmerized, from the seniors in attendance down to my two-year-old son, as if waiting for something wholly unexpected to happen. Anything at that point would have been surprising, whether Shoshinz broke into screams or started handing out candy.
Shoshinz, which translates to “shy, timid people,” relies heavily on music and dance, all the while incorporating classic elements of pantomime. The pair quickly reveal themselves as proficient singers, la-la-ing several classical pieces to drive their physical comedy. A segment in which Kuronatsu becomes motionless nearly elicits tears from the audience, as partner Yanomi falls into despair.
The venue’s closeness proved a telling anthropological lesson at one point. Munching on halves of a raw cucumber, the irresistibly charming Kuronatsu and Yanomi do their best to get audience members to take a bite. It takes several attempts to get one patron to let his guard down, but once he does, the zany celebration begins. One woman even shared her cup of coffee, which the two maids drank with delight.
The Altadena show marked the final night of Shoshinz’ month-long U.S. tour, which began on Feb. 5 in Portland and took them to several cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Hollywood. After Monday’s show, the pair took a deep breath before a chat with the Rafu.
“This was really beautiful,” said Yanomi, who out of makeup is 33-year-old Hiromi Yano, originally from Oita, Kyushu. “So many beautiful people welcomed us,” she explained with an obvious level of affection.
Yano was a member of a well-respected theater company in Tokyo when she met Tokyo native Natsumi Kurokawa, now 36, who was part of another actors’ group. After leaving her company in 2005, Yano decided to formulate her own act.
“We became good friends and drank beer every night,” Yano recalled. “At some point, we decided to do something together. I didn’t want to write, because I’m not really a writer, so I decided to create a show that uses no real words.”
At the time, both women were working as waitresses, and the idea of cute waitress or maid costumes was appealing. Yano said her new partner is a wonderful singer, so they wanted to combine singing and dancing with acting. After a quick truncation of their names, they became Yanomi and Kuronatsu, ready to unleash their newly formulated art.
Off stage, they come off as anything but shy and timid. Outgoing and affable, their Japanese website is full of the humor they relate in non-verbal ways on stage. Kurokawa’s body composition is listed as 80 percent coffee, while Yano is made up of the same percentage of beer. While visiting Venice Beach, neither woman found any of the colorfully eccentric locals to be terribly unusual.
The pair were surprised, however, during their appearance in Sacramento, when a stand-up comedian on the bill was making fun of practically every major religion in the world.
“Comedians simply don’t make jokes like that in Japan,” Yano said. “Even more surprising, the audience laughed a lot. I guess we learned something new about comedy.”
Yano, whose refined English skills are a result of studying to be a teacher, said the impetus for their American tour began last summer in Canada, while Shoshinz were appearing at the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival.
“I met a genius performer there, Andrew Connor of the Cody Rivers Show,” she explained. “I was really moved by their show and he came to see us and we talked afterward. He said we should bring our show to the United States. He really helped a lot, making all the arrangements for this tour.”
At the festival, Shoshinz was billed with Ten West, out of the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood. One of the two members, Jon Monastero, was instantly taken with their act and made sure they were book at Sacred Fools for the U.S. visit. Packed houses greeted Yanomi and Kuronatsu for their performances their last weekend.
“The audiences have been great, especially in Hollywood,” said Kurokawa. “Standing ovations, people saying hello afterward. It was subarashii (wonderful.”)
Shoshinz are back in Tokyo, preparing for a slate of upcoming dates, beginning with a March 23 appearance at the Thumbs Up Club in Yokohama. With the success of their first stateside visit, plans are in the works for a return in 2010.
Rafu contributor Maki Hirano contributed to this story.