Club Diamond

by Saori Tsukada and Nikki Appino


In 1937 Tokyo, a celebrated Benshi finds his livelihood as a silent film narrator threatened by the Talkies. Against all odds, a Japanese film star pursues her fortune in Hollywood.

In CLUB DIAMOND, performer Saori Tsukada interweaves these stories, transforming from
a modern New Yorker into the aspiring star of the ‘20s, and to the Benshi as he struggles to survive as a street performer a decade later under the US Occupation of Japan.

With hand-crafted illustrations, black and white film and a lush score composed and performed by Tim Fain, CLUB DIAMOND is a wholly original, multi-layered take on the modern immigration tale

Club Diamond had its world-premiere at The Public Theater as part of Under The Radar Festival in January 2017.  It was developed, in part, at the 2016 Sundance Institute Theatre-Makers Residency and the 2017 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA. Club Diamond is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

"Saori Tsukada came to the U.S. when she was twenty-three, she tells the audience in the singular and innovative production Club Diamond which is one of the offerings included in The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. The production, a work of genius conceived of by Tsukada and Nikki Appino, with exquisite violin music performed by Tim Fain, measures the multi-layered experience of the immigrant’s being and feeling “the other” in a culture that is intimately unfamiliar and isolating.

Tsukada and Appino convey the loneliness, strangeness and fearfulness of the transmigration from one country to another through an unconventional approach that incorporates film, music, unique props and costuming, with little dependence on the English language. English is only used at key moments when the creators express profound themes about American culture and society that are tragicomic.

Tsukada and Appino tell the immigrant’s story within the frame of storytelling. With great irony they convert the audience into “the other” subjecting them to an alien experience. They place the audience in 1937 Tokyo, Japan to watch an American silent film about a Japanese woman who travels to America to become a Hollywood actress.

The creators use a brilliant inversion. They make the audience feel what it is like to be “the foreigner” in a culture that one attempts to understand but cannot because they are thrown into a state of language confusion and cultural dislocation.

How do the creators effect such an empathetic transformation? The silent film synopsis is in English, but the audience watches and hears a Benshi (the amazing and chameleon-like Saori Tsukada) live-narrate film events in Japanese. Tsukada becomes the Benshi. She changes into the character before our eyes, as we simultaneously hear her voice-over narration about the 6,800 Benshi who were more influential than film stars. We see the silent film’s opening title, Club Diamond, splayed on a screen and hear the haunting, mysterious violin music of Tim Fain, which threads the production, emphasizing poignant themes of loss and isolation."   by Carol Di Tosti