Monday, November 22, 2010

Live from Paris: In Search of Mamako

[post 105]

"Live from Paris" last April, that is, where I was already undercover on the Linder and Etaix capers when I got a coded message from one Michael Evans, an operative unknown to me but apparently a go-between for a character from the 70s who at that time went by the unassuming name of Lou Campbell.  I was in Paris, I had nothing better to do (hah!), and before I could say fromage I'd been given the assignment to track down legendary Japanese pantomimist Mamako Yoneyama, rumored to be hiding out in that City of Light Mimes.  Evans (if that's his real name) had first met Yoneyama — code name Mamako— at the 1974 International Mime Festival at Viterbo College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, organized by yet another "Lou Campbell."  Or was he in fact the same person??  Evans' rambling confession about that festival — an event whose foreign ideas about movement theatre forever corrupted the minds of a whole generation of impressionable Americans in tights —has finally been released thanks to the Freedom of Information Act,  and now the general public can view it here, including incriminating sketches and notes such as these:

I had never seen this Mamako character perform. I knew she had a glowing reputation, but biographical data was suspiciously sketchy. The only background info on the perp was from a book called Mime and Pantomime in the 20th Century, but for reasons unknown not published until 2008:

Born in 1935, Mamako began dancing at a very early age. Her father, a schoolteacher, was a dancer by choice, performing for a local ballet company. Mamako naturally being exposed to her father’s talent, became involved in dance. By the time she was a teenager, Mamako was the acclaimed best dancer in school. She attended Tokyo University where she studied physical education. In addition, she studied modern dance under the aegis of Egichi-Miya, the famous Japanese choreographer/dancer. She rose quickly to stardom in Japan.

She attended the debut performance of Marcel Marceau in Tokyo and immediately made up her mind to study with him in Paris. Once she acquired the foundation of style mime technique, she returned to become a curiosity in her own culture.

Because pantomime was so new in Japan, it offended her to read that her mime was regarded as "twisted dance." She came to the United States and did well in Hollywood, but she was lonely there. Dr. Lou Campbell first met Mamako at San Francisco State University in a Stage Movement Master Class that he developed through the American Educational Theatre Association pre-convention sessions in 1972. She performed at the First International Mime Institute and Festival in 1974 and at subsequent other mime festivals around the U.S. where she received great accolades. After a long stay in Japan, she decided to move to Paris.  Only recently did she decide to return to her home country.

The form of mime for which Mamako is most noted is called Zen Meditation Mime. She claims that “It is the same as that which a Buddhist Monk experiences while meditating on a particular environment.”  It is not literal pantomime but a collection of impressions derived from an environment.

That Campbell character again! Just to be thorough, I checked to see who the purported author of this book might be, and it was none other than... Lou Campbell!  Campbell writing about Campbell. Coincidence? I think not. This plot was thickening as surely as a bouillabaisse going into its third hour on the stovetop.  But where to start?  Like Dick Tracy before me, I turned to my wristwatch for an internet search, my eagle eye uncovering an obscure reference to Mamako on a blog by Tokyo writer Yuri Kageyama.

Moi to YuriMamako? Still alive? Living where?

My wristwatch soon beeped with a reply, which it dutifully translated from the Japanese as "I've read about her performance as recent as a couple of years ago. They were in Japan, but I only learned about them on the Web afterward and so I couldn't go check it out. Her death would make news here for sure. And I have not seen any such reports."

She was alive but apparently living in Japan. Me, I was stuck in Paris, volcanic ash shutting down every airport west of Kiev.  My pockets stuffed with cash, just a small portion of the enormous profits from this blog, and yet no way to hop a quick flight to Tokyo.  Curse you, Iceland! One door had opened, but another had been slammed right in my kisser.

A little secret: a good detective makes his own luck... and his own contacts.  Checking my Rolodex for Franco-Japanese go-betweens, my finger landed on the tattered card of  one Bernard Collins (code name Compagnie BP Zoom), an American in Paris frequently back and forth to Japan, with "clowning" as his cover for other activities I have sworn not to disclose.  Would he fess up to having seen Mamako?

Paris–Tokyo–Paris. Hmm... might they not be toiling for the same cartel?  Turns out Collins' "agent" had in fact introduced him to our suspect on a previous occasion. Bingo! Not only was she alive and well, but said "agent" knew exactly how to reach her.  End of search! All that remained was the judicious application of a certain amount of pressure — long distance yet oddly effective — for our new agent friend to turn over the necessary contact info, now safely in the hands of the entity or conglomerate known as Lou Campbell.

My reward?  I'm not talking, but you can be sure it won't appear on my 2010 IRS return.


Michael Evans said...

Thanks for telling all of us the details of your remarkably successful hunt for that nice, but elusive, lady!
I really appreciate that top picture of Mamako -- active, but with a reserve, ready surprise one and all.
Yes, she was beautiful, and cute, and probably still is -- but she had deep understanding, and could get her audience seeing, hearing, and thinking better than before, once she was done with us!

Rev Diane Wolcott Watson said...

I studied mime briefly with Mamako Yoneyama at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, CA in the early 70's. I have never forgotten that experience, and speak of it often when I talk about Zen Buddhism.
Today I am a minister teaching Prosperity around the country and her teaching is a part of what I teach as her legacy today,
Much Love and Thanks to her if she reads this.

Rev Diane Wolcott Watson, M.A.
The Center for Global Peace and Prosperity, Laguna Beach, CA

Dan Dugan said...

I got to know Mamako at ACT in San Francisco in '68. I'm going to Japan next week, and if she's there I'd like to look her up. Any leads?