Japanese animation is taking the world by storm. Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Death Note, we all know the names of these animations —and more— as they’ve slowly captured the hearts of audiences worldwide, but animation in Japan has humble beginnings that we rarely think about.
One of these is the Utsushi-e, a type of animation that uses a series of glass slides and a candle to project a story onto a screen. First appearing in Japan over 200 years ago, the as-yet-unseen magic lantern show enchanted Japanese audiences instantly with its vivid imagery and live music. As animation began to develop in the country, though, Utsushi-e slowly disappeared from the entertainment industry.
Minzawa, an artistic group formed in 1968, aren’t going to let Utsushi-e disappear completely though. Dedicated to keeping the artform alive, the company took to the stage at the Hyper Japan Christmas Market on its opening day, introducing the audience to the art of Japanese shadow puppetry.
First presenting Akai Rosoku to Ningyo (The Mermaid and the Red Candle), a story by children’s author Mimei Ogawa, using lantern projectors and and a storyteller on stage, the group managed to showcase the traditional culture well. After this, the 1929 silent animation Kobutori (Plump), made by visionary director Yasuji Murata, was shown, and both were received well by the audience.
The first demonstrated the beauty of the traditional art, so that the crowd could fully enjoy the spectacle, regardless of its simplicity. The second, meanwhile, focused on the tale of an old man with a lump growing on his face who stumbles across a forest of Tengu and, after dancing with them, has the deformity removed as a reward.
When he tells another man with a similar growth about the spiritual occurrence, the man is determined to be given the same reward, and confronts the creatures the following evening. Both thought-provoking and amusing, the animation provided an interesting examination of classic Japanese animation that we don’t often see nowadays.
That’s not all that Minzawa had in store for Hyper Japan though, as they finished their segment with a quirky English-language Samurai musical. Aptly titled the Samurai Opera, the 20-minute feature followed a ronin as he seeks revenge for his master’s death, saving a young girl in the meantime. Its refined storyline and unique depiction of the period provided an interesting examination of the period and the spirit of Bushido.
Written by Roxy Simons.
Pictures courtesy of the Minzawa group.