enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Chapter 1: The Puppet Theatre is ‘Cool’

  It may be difficult for people to imagine that there was a time when the puppet theatre was considered at the cutting edge of the performing arts. In November 1923, however, a group of young people who believed in the ‘newness’ of the puppet theatre carried out an interesting experiment. They staged a trial performance of Aglavaine and Sélysette (originally written by Maurice Maeterlinck) at the former home of theatre lighting director Shizuo Toyama (1895–1986) in Azabu, Tokyo. Even today, this trial performance of Aglavaine and Sélysette is still considered the start of the modern puppet theatre in Japan. Subsequently, there appeared two brothers – the stage technician Kisaku Ito (1899–1967) and theatre director/actor Koreya Senda (1904–1994) – who were among the youths who would called their group as Ningyo-za (Puppet Theatre).
  Ito and Senda were influenced by contemporary European theatre, and the drama theory of Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966) ‘The Actor and the Über-Marionette’ (1907), in particular, was an important source of inspiration. Craig’s drama theory, which is known for his radical and yet appealing assertion that ‘the human actor must leave the stage to be replaced by a non-human “instrument”, the Über-marionette’, preceded Ito’s search for an avant-garde performing art and proposed a challenge to the string marionette theatre that required training in operation.
  The precursor to this Western influence on the Japanese puppet theatre was the arrival in Japan of the Dark Theatre in 1894. Unlike the native Joruri puppet theatre and the string marionette theatre of the Yuki-za, the puppet theatre that came to Japan from abroad included several types of eerie skeletons and presented comical dance scenes accompanied by lighting and musical effects. The uniqueness of this type of theatre attracted many people to its performances. There is a record of Onoe Kikugoro V (1844–1903) being inspired by the Dark Theatre and staging a performance that included puppet manipulation. Subsequently, there were performances of foreign plays in Japan that seemed to predict the important role that the puppet theatre would play in the new arts.