Tropes for the Past: Hayden White and the History/Literature Debate

By Kuisma Korhonen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12

Lara Okihiro


Divergence and Confluence, Mapping the Streams of Hiroshima

Although he completed a documentary on the Holocaust entitled Nuit et brouillard, when the producers of the film asked Alain Resnais to make a second film on the atomic bomb he chose to use a melodramatic narrative to tell the story. Resnais explains that he had seen several films on Hiroshima and it seemed impossible and useless to remake what had already been done. Instead he proposed making a love story that would take place in Hiroshima: a context infused with [the knowledge of the misfortune of others.]1 No longer about the city of Hiroshima but about a love affair that takes place in Hiroshima, the film's focus sustained a connection to the city's traumatic history through the fictional characters and the memories they could not escape. The lovers were [two characters for whom the memory [of the past] is always present in the action]2 of the film. Thirty-five years later, director/actor Robert Lepage and members of the Ex Machina production company similarly set their sights on Hiroshima. The theatre production, The Seven Streams of the River Ota,3 also establishes love affairs at the site of the atomic bomb. Rather than portraying any single story or affair set in Hiroshima, however, Ex Machina uses seven storylines spanning decades and taking place across different continents to tell a story inspired by the city's history. Lepage and his collaborators also use the Ota River on which Hiroshima was built to metaphorically link the storylines of the play. Though not directly dealing with Hi-

1 Yvonne Baby, [Alain Resnais: 'J'ai essayé de trouver l'équivalent d'une lecture au cinema,'] Le Monde, my
translation (10 and 11 May 1959), p. 11. All subsequent translations from French to English within the text are
my own. In the newspaper interview Resnais describes meeting with the writer Marguerite Duras and explai-
ning his vision for Hiroshima mon amour as a fictional love story that remains inevitably tied to the past
(World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima): [J'ai rencontré la romancière, je lui ai dit: «Il serait curieux
d'«engluer» une histoire d'amour dans un contexte qui tienne compte de la connaissance du malheur des au-
tres et de construire deux personnages pour qui le souvenir est toujours présent dans l'action.» À ma surprise
elle s'est intéressée à ce sujet et elle a écrit un scénario auquel nous avons travaillé ensemble.]

2 Ibid.

3The Seven Streams of the River Ota was created by 13 artists (Éric Bernier, Normand Bissonnette, Rebecca
Blankenship, Marie Brassard, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Normand Daneau, Richard Fréchette, Marie Gignac, Pa-
trick Goyette, Ghislaine Vincent, Macha Limonchik, Gérard Bibeau, and Robert Lepage) working in collabo-
ration under the directorship of Robert Lepage. The creative process that gave way to the play began in Janu-
ary 1994 and there have been at least four versions of the play as it developed over time. The first full length
(8 hour) version of the play was performed at the Carrefour International de Théâtre de Québec in Quebec
City on 17 May 1996. Also in 1996 a version of the play was published based on the Vienna performance in
June of the same year: Robert Lepage and Ex Machina, The Seven Streams of the River Ota, introduction and
commentary by Karen Fricker (London: Methuen Drama, 1996).

The play has continued to developed and for this paper, unless otherwise noted, all references pertain to the
version of the play that was last updated in 2002: Robert Lepage et al., Les sept branches de la rivière Ota /
The Seven Streams of the River Ota
, updated by Marie Gignac (Manuscript received directly from Ex Ma-
china, Quebec City. 2002).

-161-

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