enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Chapter 2: The Puppet Theatre Gets Mobilised

  Although it may seem strange to those whose impression of the puppet theatre is that it is aimed at an audience of children, it was not unusual to have puppets make political statements. The public performance of ‘Dare ga Ichiban Bakada (Who is the Biggest Fool?)’ (originally written by Karl August Wittfogel), which was performed by a puppet theatre company composed mainly of the members who had participated in the trial performance at the home of Shizuo Toyama, tells of an attack on a capitalist and has been praised by intellectuals who embraced left-wing ideas, among others.
  The avant-garde artist Tomoyoshi Murayama (1901–1977) went to see performances put on by Ningyo-za and, as he had a strong interest in the genre, penned works for this theatre such as ‘Sukaato wo Haita Nero (Nero in a Skirt)’ and ‘Yappari Dorei-da (I’m a Slave After All)’. Experts in a variety of different artistic fields such as cinema, drama, puppet theatre, and architecture gathered in 1925 for a program that included the play ‘Gekijo no Sanka (Sanka at the Theatre)’, which was performed at the Tsukiji Sho-gekijo (Tsukiji Little Theatre). It was a puppet version of ‘Ko wo Umu Inbaifu (The Prostitute who Gave Birth to a Child)’, which was written by Murayama and in which Murayama performed.
  Subsequently, around 1940, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association was formed in Japan, and as a result the puppet theatre came to be among the arts mobilised for political purposes. Although prior to the war, the puppet theatre had stood out as an art form that communicated leftist ideas, the fact that anyone could easily perform in one of these plays caught the attention of wartime authorities, and as a result theatre was pressed into service as a propaganda tool to enhance national prestige. While it was a form of entertainment that delighted the public – children included – it was simultaneously a type of advertising media that could communicate political assertions, and it cannot be overlooked that it came to be used to communicate the ideas of those in control.