Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

Takao Kawaguchi and Fuyuki Yamakawa

Theatre Studio, Esplanade, Singapore
27 July 2007, 8.30 p.m.

reviewed by Jyh Wee Sew

  1. D.D.D. performs to a full house on the first day of its Singapore debut. About one-third of the audience remains after the performance for a question-and-answer (Q & A) session with the two collaborating performers Takao Kawaguchi[1] and Fuyuki Yamakawa.[2] From their Q & A session after the performance the meaning of D.D.D. becomes clearer to their audience. However, Kawaguchi suggests that it is up to the audience to derive their comprehension and not to second guess the message from the performers as they do not intend to influence the audience with any ideas. In the Q & A, Yamakawa thanks his Singaporean audience, many times, for being engaged and wanting to know the meaning of the performance.[3] In comparison to the audiences elsewhere, who drink, laugh, and leave after the show, Yamakawa appreciates the fact that Singaporeans are committed to the performance.
  2. The concept of this performance stems from the performers' interest in the human body. For Kawaguchi, it is the capacity to contort, endure and move that a body has; and for Yamakawa, it is the complete duration of human heart that fascinates them respectively. Kawaguchi expresses his meaning forcefully through physical movement to identify the boundaries of kinesics within the delimitation of body structure in relation to space. The space that Kawaguchi allows for the body to explore is delimited further to a table in the middle of the studio.
  3. Kawaguchi behaves like a high-powered machine in his performance. Aggressive movement is the phrase befitting his performance. His intensified wrestling-like performance against the backdrop of loud sounds from the jolting of electrical guitar does not project much joy nor does the bright spotlight over the table top help to lighten the mood. In one round, for example, Kawaguchi illustrates the number of heart beats by leaping on-and-off from the table. The heart-beating physical portrayal is enhanced with the over-hanging light bulbs at one side near the table. A bottle of oil sits silently in the dark, one-and-half-metres away from the table. The bottle is connected with tubes all the way to the top of the table resembling the blood travelling in the veins. In the following round, the oil in the bottle is pumped up through the tube and sprinkled on Kawaguchi, who is in his total primordial state. At this juncture, the audience is already canvassed with transparent plastic sheets. This is the only segment where laughter is heard on the performing site throughout the one-hour performance.
  4. Yamakawa, on the other hand, is interested in the structure and function of the heart, which controls the body. According to Yamakawa, the human heart is controlled by breathing, an in-between process of controllable and uncontrollable. Yamakawa explores this theme through his Tuvan throat-singing technique, which is manipulated by the control of heart beat. Yamakawa's segment is the only time when words are heard in the performance. He raises the question how many more times does a heart beat before it stops for good. In the middle of the performance he flashes a chart with data on Japanese life expectation. The data project the remaining years of a Japanese from the age range of 1 to 100 years old. Yamakawa converts the years into minutes. The minutes are multiplied with the number of heart-beats a person would experience in 60 seconds (in an abnormal state because the heart count is based on the number of times Kawaguchi, who has been thumping, kicking and doing all sorts of violent moves, climbing on and off the table).
  5. The question of when does one's heart stops beating destabilises the equilibrium of many. Although the enquiry on the end of heart beating is mentioned in the synopsis[4] of this performance many would not expect the stark impact resulted from Yamakawa's physiological probing. A heightened effect of fragility is presented cleverly with visuals of endoscopies that journey through the internal organs of a person.[5] The internal scan of the human body displayed on the mounted screen is eerily beautiful with clean pink body organs forming an unobtrusive inner passage. The audience does not know what to expect from the visual communication. The image of a gaping tumour crosses the mind at times although the images clearly denote an able-body person literally in the pink of health.
  6. Amidst the chaos, I sense a zen-like performance as Yamakawa does not touch the string of the electronic guitar. The loud music is generated by rocking the electrical guitar and kicking a cymbal erected next to him. The music complements Kawaguchi, who, at times, leaps onto the table and springs across like a skateboard. The practice was repeated in different styles. The solitary bodily strokes displayed are nothing short of a wrestler contorting against his opponent on the ring.
  7. As indicated before, D.D.D. comes in a few rounds. There is a structural similarity between the performance of D.D.D. and the performance of the transsexual Thai boxer in Boxing Cabaret. In a five-round boxing structure, the beautiful boxer displays a windy journey that begins from physical desire, problem solving and dealing with the incoming challenges after acquiring the body of the opposite sex.[6] While Kawaguchi is testing the limits of the physical body in D.D.D., the beautiful boxer, with a strong desire for the other body, is breaking his bodily limit in Boxing Cabaret.
  8. In the Q and A, Yamakawa stresses the importance of realising that one is living. Many staying in Tokyo, according to Yamakawa, are losing the lifely sensation. In response to my question, why the display of extreme emotions through struggling and wrestling, Kawaguchi expounds that there is joy in the wrestling that may not be the usual expression of elation in the form of laughter. It becomes clear that beyond the literal representations of life there is more to discover. However, it is up to the audience to take home the meaning that their learning and language culture afford to provide.[7]
  9. In film-watching, there is a sense of control that makes the audience feel powerful because the viewers stare at the actors without being noticed. I liken this empowered feeling to a type of voyeurism. However, the audience watching D.D.D. has the opposite feeling from film-watching. Viewers have to make quick mental adjustments when the energised actions from Kawaguchi are replaced by Yamakawa's low-toned words describing life expectancy with contrived figures. The pendulum of power swings to the performers because the viewers have no idea what would be the next move in the midst of powerful action and loud noises. The consolation for the audience is the expectation for another level of novelty in terms of action if not more surprise with each round. It is at this juncture the old addage, 'actions speak louder than words' rings true.
  10. This realisation provides an insight into why teenagers find rockers fascinating. Since 2003, I have noticed many young boys and girls speaking a language of rock through their bodies when they strum their guitars and jam in the studio. Almost instantly, boys and girls, who are the fans of action-packed performance, respond in a body language distinctive of rock culture. This learning profile of the youngsters may be better recognised if we viewed them from the perspective of Multiple Intelligences.[8]
  11. Furthermore, there are many learning points after the show for youngsters. They can identify the physics and mathematics behind the making of D.D.D. The figuring out of how to connect the wires to the many light bulbs, the accurate measurement that enables the spiralling of tubes from the centre stage to the top before coiling down above the table is a learning experience in itself. The agile teenagers would definitely benefit from the construction of such a scene-making experience.[9]
  12. The human body is a basic meaning-making instrument that acts, reacts, and communicates volume in everyday living. From the gyrating and tattooing of a svelte body in the Taiwanese movie Spider Lilies[10] directed by Zero Chou to the pointing, pulling and waving in the mime of Gin & Tonic & Passing Trains by Singaporean Ramesh Meyyappan,[11] the indexing of the human body by means of movement and graphic designs have been a pragmatic fascination to teenagers and adults. Along this vein of body-based semiotics, the performers of D.D.D. strike the exploring, learning, and performing chords with the audience under the primordial concept of physical existence with a ticking organ imbued within.
  13. The male bodies in this performance offer a contrast of old and young, namely late-forties and twenty-something, male psyches. The bodily contrast evokes introspection of male gender, either intra- or interpersonally. The stripped-bare older male performs a series of leaping on and off the table from all four corners. The repetitive acrobatics are temporarily punctuated with a full frontal view, halting in direct homosocial alignment with the male fraternity in the audience. Interpersonally, the male body engenders erotic bondage emergent of female and interested male gazes. Implicated in the performance is an aged heart beating hard in its existence. In contrast, the younger guitarist needs less effort to strike a chord with the audience by displaying musical talent in younger pulsating rhythms. The continuum of male gender in time revisits the stereotypical belief that ageism is a one-sided gender issue. The older male body-cum-heart is knocking hard to the pulsating sound of D.D.D.


    [1] Takao Kawaguchi is trained in physical theatre and completed his studies in Spain. He joined the multimedia performance company Dumb Type in 1996. For more details, see the studio, The Contemporary Exploratory in the Studios, Singapore: Esplanade Pte. Ltd. 2007, Singapore, p. 4.

    [2] Fuyuki Yamakawa has a masters degree in graphic design and video art from Tokyo. He is a two-timed champion in Japan's Khoomei Festival and winner of the Avant-garde award in the 4th International Khoomei Festival in Tuva. For more details, see the studio, 2007, Singapore, pp. 4–5.

    [3] I sense Yamakawa's desire to create theatre that is meaningful for his audience. This is in line with Peter Brook who uses found objects in empty space to create intelligent theatre against the popular dead theatre. For a review of Margaret Croyden, Conversation with Peter Brook, see J.W. Sew, in California Linguistic Notes, vol. 32, no. 2 (Spring, 2007), online:

    [4] H.N. Lim, 'Entertaining the idea of pain and pleasure,' in the studio, 2007, pp. 5–7.

    [5] It is disclosed during the Q and A session that the endoscopies belong to Fuyuki Yamakawa.

    [6] See J.W. Sew, 'Review of Boxing Cabaret,' in Intersections issue 14 (2006), online:, accessed 4 March 2009.

    [7] Debra J. Occhi, for example, informs us that the learning culture of middle and high school in Japan does not question the source but rather accepts the lesson package as received wisdom for passing examinations. See D.J. Occhi, Applied Cultural Linguistics, ed. F. Sharifian and G. B. Palmer, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2007, p. 19. J.W. Sew reviewed the book for Pragmatics and Cognition, vol. 16, no. 1 (2008):197–202.

    [8] J.W. Sew, 'Review of Joel Kincheloe, Multiple Intelligences Reconsidered,' in California Linguistic Notes, vol. 32, no. 2 (Spring 2007), online:, accessed 4 March 2009.

    [9] Sixty teachers from CHIJ St Theresa's Convent had the first hand experience of knowing the profile of the teenagers when they embarked on a full-day Amazing Race showing the preoccupations of teenagers at an upmarket shopping mall called Cineleisure on Orchard Road, Singapore, 18 June 2007. The programme was part of a two-day staff retreat conducted for staff professional development.

    [10] The movie Spider Lilies won the Teddy Bear Award at the 57th International Berlin Film Festival. It is about lost family ties, tattoo culture and love between girls.

    [11] Ramesh Meyyappan kick starts the 2007 studio series at Theatre Studio, Esplanade in Singapore with his immaculate performance on 21 July. His depiction of the signalman based on the story by Charles Dickens was a visual gem and much joy to watch.


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