Experimental music composer Raphael Leray and contemporary choreographer and dancer Honami Higuchi created MIRA to tell a story. It is a story of pain and distress but it is one they felt they needed to share in order to heal. This story is depicted in ‘Torque’, a moving short film that relates the experiences and inner feelings of a sexual abuse victim through body-performance, sound art and imagery.
*Note: The content of this article involves discussions of sexual abuse, sex work, and rape.
Raphael, a French electronic musician and engineer, moved to Tokyo in 2008 where he met Honami at an experimental art showcase. The two began working together on various projects and eventually came up with the idea to form a performance art unit under the name MIRA. They were invited to perform a piece at the Tokyo Performing Arts Market (TPAM) Fringe Festival so they began rehearsals for a project they had been working on. It was here that Raphael became aware of Honami’s situation. She was performing sex work on the side and it was causing her mental and physical health to deteriorate. Raphael intervened, urging her to stop.
After learning of Honami’s experiences in the sex industry and the trauma she endured, Raphael felt it no longer possible to go forward with their original plan for the festival. Instead, they decided to perform a piece that spoke to Honami’s experiences of abuse and provided “catharsis through performance.” They wanted to approach it from the perspective of the victim. As Raphael notes, “too often the topic is approached from an external viewpoint, describing the environmental mechanisms enabling the violence but we wanted to show the inner feelings a victim would be going through. It felt both a necessity and a duty.”
“In the end I really hope other victims will start to be able to talk about their own experience and stop hiding. And if it is too difficult for some now, then at least I hope they can get back to their body.” – Honami
After much deliberation, the two decided to go ahead with their idea for the festival. Preparation involved long, difficult discussions regarding details of Honami’s experiences, the various mental states she went through and how she coped. They put all of their personal projects on hold and began rehearsals for the show, with Raphael composing the score and Honami choreographing her movements. Although it was a very emotional process, the two were driven to deliver their message.
They eventually presented ‘Torque’ at TPAM as an hour-long performance art piece. At the show, they noticed some women sitting in the back who discreetly came up to thank them after the performance. Realizing they had struck a chord with other victims of sexual abuse, Honami and Raphael took it upon themselves to bring ‘Torque’ to a larger audience. Their first intent was to initiate a performance-series where other victims could express themselves through dance but after a failed Kickstarter campaign, they turned to film.
They put the word out about their idea for a film and eventually ‘Torque’ was picked up by the Vienna-based experimental label AMEN Records. Adapting the piece to a film format posed a few challenges. For one, they had to condense the piece from one-hour into twenty minutes. They ended up dividing the film into three parts, shot over the course of a year to represent the succession of Honami’s healing process in real time. The end result is raw, haunting and evocative.
In part 1, we are presented with a scene of downtown Tokyo, fading into an image of a crestfallen Honami, her face smeared with mascara. Raphael’s eerie ambient textures guide us through the next sequence where Honami can be seen contorting her exposed body with only a thin sheet wrapped around her. As the film progresses, Honami’s movements grow less jarring and her face more calm. By the end, she faces us stone-faced but resolute. Raphael’s score unfurls into delicate, ethereal echoes.The film fades out with a quote from Philippe Sollers: “true charm belong to those who went through their own hell, eyes wide opened. This is very rare, and comes with a peculiar joy, mixed with a great calm.”
They made sure to dedicate the film to all victims of sexual abuse and they hope that other victims will watch it and find some solace in Honami’s journey. “In the end I really hope other victims will start to be able to talk about their own experience and stop hiding. And if it is too difficult for some now, then at least I hope they can get back to their body” Honami says. As they have found out, it can often be difficult to get people to talk about sexual assault, especially in Japan. They expected more engagement from their local scene but surprisingly, many people ran away when they found out what the project was about. “Somehow it is easier to address the systemic part of the problem but the experience of being directly confronted by a victim can be uncomfortable for many people” Raphael notes.
In other cases, Honami explains that Japanese women who spoke out during the #metoo movement were subjected to intense online backlash and institutional pressure. They are often called liars and attention-seekers. Honami herself feared that her career and reputation would be ruined if she named her abuser. “The scale of the sex industry in Japan is very telling” she says. “Girls in this industry can be your colleague, your neighbour.” Honami explains that this is not due to a liberal view of sex, however, it has more to do with the normalization of abuse in Japanese society. Women are not conditioned to feel comfortable saying ‘no’ and men are not conditioned to feel bad about making unwanted sexual advances.
Indeed, there is much work to be done for creating safe spaces for sexual assault victims in Japan and abroad. Raphael and Honami are firmly aware of this, which is why they are sharing the story behind ‘Torque’ with the world. Art holds such great healing power and ‘Torque’ exemplifies this in its purest form. When asked how they feel after viewing the film for the first time, they respond, “relief, love and peace. Now we need it to be shared.”
Purchase the ‘Torque’ OST and DVD from AMEN here.