Kanagawa Prefecture born, Sachiko Hara, 55, is one of a rare few Japanese performers working in German-speaking professional theater today. Despite the multicultural makeup of German, Austrian and Swiss cities, Hara was the first non-native German speaker to become an ensemble member at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 2004. Since then, she has established herself as an accomplished actress with an intense stage presence.
Born shortly after the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Hara grew up in the midst of Japan’s postwar economic boom. Always living up to the expectations of her parents and grandparents, she was encouraged to go to St. Margaret’s, an all-girls’ mission school in Tokyo. Somewhat jokingly, she says, “I had always been a good girl, that is until I got into university.”
After developing an interest in Cold War politics as a teenager, Hara wanted to study Russian, but her parents, who were afraid of the communist influence, talked her out of it. Instead, she joined the German studies department at Tokyo’s Sophia University in 1983.
A few months into her course, that “good girl” lost interest in studying German and began to explore the streets of Tokyo in her spare time. She happened upon the Honda Theater, a small backstreet venue in Shimokitazawa, which was showing a performance by the Tokyo Kandenchi theater company. Hara had seen the company’s actors on a lunchtime TV chat show and decided to see the performance. The experience sparked her interest in the stage and she began working as an actress for companies such as the Engekisha Tourou, angura (underground) theater company, her own Optical Marinka troupe and the all-female Romantica performance collective.
Against the backdrop of Japan’s bubble era, which ended with a recession in the late 1990s, the 15-year period after her 1984 debut in Tokyo’s theater world was crucial to Hara’s development as an actress. A major change came in 1999 when she worked on a production of “Rashomon” at the New National Theatre in Tokyo, directed by Germany-based Kazuko Watanabe. The same year, Watanabe directed “Narayama” in Berlin, which Hara also joined.
By that time, Hara had renewed her passion for German theater and film, particularly the work of the acclaimed stage and film director Christoph Schlingensief.
“When I watched his films, I knew I had to work with him. So, when I went to Germany, I told everyone I met that I’d come to Berlin to meet him,” says Hara. “Miraculously, I found myself auditioning for his new play “Deutschlandsuche ’99” (“Search for Germany ’99”) through his assistant. I’d heard Schlingensief was looking for peculiar characters for the play, and for the audition I exploited all of the angura movements I knew to be as weird as possible. Then, he hired me.”
While on tour with “Deutschlandsuche ’99″to 15 German cities and Basel, Switzerland, Hara realized that there were no East Asian performers on stage, despite the fact each city they visited had its own Asian community. “I saw it as a chance to be the first one” she says. Around the same time, she fell in love with Schlingensief’s assistant, Anselm Franke, and married him. After giving birth to a son in Tokyo, she moved to Berlin in 2001.
Shortly after, Hara was selected for the role of Polly Peachum in a repertory production of Brecht’s play “The Threepenny Opera” at the Schauspiel Hannover, directed by emerging star Nicolas Stemann. Her portrayal of the raven-haired heroine in Lolita fashion made it a hit role that she returned to at the Schauspiel Hannover over the next 10 years.
After a couple of years in Berlin, however, Hara divorced. Her son was just 3 and she was tempted to go back to Japan, but Schlingensief and Stemann recommended her to the Burgtheater in Vienna to become an ensemble member.
“At first, the Burgtheater staff were very reluctant to hire me, a foreigner who speaks only broken German,” recalls Hara, who joined the theater in 2004. “I just did my best to survive here stage by stage. In my third production directed by Rene Pollesch, I shook my entire body, which is another movement I learned from angura theater. After that night, more and more people recognized my ability and my contract was extended from one to three years.”
In 2010, Hara started a personal project called “Hiroshima Salon,” which revolved around Hannover’s twin city Hiroshima and explored the atomic bombings. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, however, redefined the mission of the project. In response, she developed a solo performance titled “Hiroshima Monster Girl” that she has been touring German-speaking cities with, creating forums to discuss nuclear issues.
Her theater success led to Hara being head-hunted by several establishments in Europe, she joined the Schauspiel Hannover in 2009, the Schauspiel Koln in 2012 and then the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg in 2013. In the summer of this year, Stemann asked her to move to Schauspielhaus Zurich.
“I would probably still be surviving as an actress by funding my own theater company,” she says reflecting on what might have happened if she had not left Japan. “I am just happy to be on stage and I appreciate that I can live as an actress. I remain here as long as I am on demand and feel excited about it.”
“Ultimately though,” she adds. “I can live anywhere in the world as long as there is a theater.”
Name: Sachiko Hara
Hometown: Born in Kawasaki, grew up in Tokyo
Key moments in life and career:
1983 — Enters Sophia University, Tokyo, to study German and joins the Engekisha Tourou theater company.
1987 — Graduates and establishes Optical Marinka, her own theater company
1989-1995 — Acts with the all-female performance collective Romantica
1999 — Appears in “Narayama,” directed by Kazuko Watanabe, in Berlin. Auditions for director Christoph Schlingensief and is cast in “Deutschlandsuche ’99”
2000 — Marries and has a son
2001 — Moves to Berlin and stars as Polly in Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” at the Schauspiel Hannover
2004 — Divorces and later joins the Burgtheater, Vienna
2009 — Joins the Schauspiel Hannover 2010 — Starts “Hiroshima Salon” project
2012-13 — Joins Schauspiel Koln and then Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
2019 — Joins Schauspielhaus Zurich
Life philosophy: “The show must go on.”