Oz Asia Festival
Space Theatre, Adelaide, October 29, 2019
(Director: Kuro Tanino)
Japanese rural inns are a mainstay of horror films and video games. The Dark Master merges these genres when a hapless young backpacker (Koichiro FO Pereira) is bizarrely inveigled into running a once popular bistro in an undefined area of Japan (possibly Osaka). The former proprietor (Susumu Ogata), who may or may not have operated the inn for the last 30 or 35 years, disappears upstairs and issues instruction to his apprentice, via earpiece.
The young traveller, who has never so much as boiled an egg, learns quickly how make umama (?), steak and fried rice for the customers, who return as word of the marvellous food travels. The audience hears the instructions via their own earpieces, but the effect is lost somewhat as the dialogue is in Japanese, but the surtitles are in English.
The set is marvellous, if static. A dingy diner/restaurant complete with working kitchen is the one room in which all action takes place, and unfortunately, from some seats in the Space Theatre, entrances and exits were blocked from view. Close-ups of the cooking on a large suspended screen did not quite work, not gelling with the action and being rather blurry.
The actors are accomplished, the action fast, the overall effect a clever blend of fable and film noir. There is some unnecessary titilation from grafted-on prostitute characters. The political message is a little obscure. The previous restauranteur had suffered in the so-called “Lost 10 Years” or “20 Years”, when Japan’s economic bubble burst in 1991. The new restauranteur (who also says he has been in business for 30 or 35 years, although in reality it is a few weeks or months) is under threat from a current very real menace to Japan [That would be China? – Ed.].
The script seems unpolished, the action slightly hysterical, but overall The Dark Master is a most engaging play, with the bonus of interesting if slightly doubtful recipes.