Solitude in the spotlight

| Lisa Kao 17 May 2019

Lisa Kao

Hikikomori is a Japanese term describing young adults who have isolated themselves from social life, often retiring into their bedroom and refusing to interact with anyone.

No one can easily access this inner world.

But what if, in the future, parents are able to view their children's memories? What would they see?

Six years ago, Joris Mathieu read an article in a newspaper about hikikomori. "The situations that the article described seemed to be, to me, surreal and hard to imagine," said the director of immersive performance Hikikomori, The Shelter.

Yet, it is a syndrome that exists universally. He then thought of translating it into an immersive experience.

In Hikikomori, The Shelter, Nils is a hikikomori. His parents are going through his memories to figure out his thoughts.

The audience will see it from three different points of view. Even though they are all looking at the same screen, they are listening to varying perspectives from Nils, his mother or his father from the headphones.

"At first, I wrote Nils' point of view," said Mathieu. "Then, after we designed the scenes and started rehearsals, I threw myself into the heads of both parents and wrote their stories."

The stage has a screen, acting like a window and showing the imaginary world of Nils, while in front stand the actors who play the three characters. "Marion Talotti and Philippe Chareyron play the parents while Vincent Hermano is Nils. They are acting but they don't talk onstage. We hear their thoughts through the headphones," said Mathieu.

It took a year to build the stage and two months for the actors to rehearse up to 150 times.

The different narrations are targeted at different age groups. "The mother's narration is destined for the young audience. It is a sweet and comforting story," said Mathieu. "Nils' is for teenagers and his father's is for the adults."

Audiences cannot choose which to listen to and can listen to only one throughout the performance. Mathieu designed the three-narration format to provoke discussion afterward.

"In the theater, the audience live the same experience. After the show they have to talk to each other, and discuss different versions of the story they experienced," he said.

"It's particularly important for me that the parents don't hear the same version as their children."

Mathieu said the previous performance did reach what he aimed for. "People are particularly affected by being isolated from their neighbors with the headphones. They are usually very curious to discover the others' point of view and would stay for a long time in the theater to discuss."

Mathieu said the show is for families with members of all ages. "I think that in families with hikikomori kids, problems of communication occur between parents and their kid. They don't talk enough together."

There will be three performances at Hong Kong Cultural Centre from May 24. After the performance, they will host a session with the artists.

"I'm very curious to discover the feedback from Hong Kong audiences. The story is universal but every country has its own culture," said Mathieu.

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