enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Chapter 3: The Puppet Theatre as Cute yet Risky

  Cute in appearance but delivering a powerful message: Although this was one of the characteristics of the puppet theatre, this unique characteristic was skilfully utilised particularly by the puppet theatre productions broadcast in the early days of NHK television.
  For example, the serialised puppet theatre drama known as ‘Chirorin-mura to Kurumi-no-Ki (Chirorin Village and the Walnut Tree)’, which was broadcast between 1956 and 1964, portrayed a world in which different types of vegetables and fruit were living together. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, Kyoko Satomi, and other voice actors participated in the production, and their voice characterisations – combined with the appearance of the puppets – created a cute and appealing impression. However, various characters being portrayed had a metaphorical meaning as well: the vegetables were farmers and labourers, while the fruit were urban dwellers and capitalists. As the stories progressed, these two species frequently got into fights.
  The show ‘Hyokkori Hyotan Island’, which was written by Hisashi Inoue (1934–2010) and Morihisa Yamamoto (1934–1978) and which was broadcast from 1964 to 1969, remains one of the best-known TV shows even to this day. The greatly deformed characters that were designed by Akira Kataoka (1932–2013) attracted attention for the very fact that they were so cute and comical-looking. However, the stories told were peppered with war, politics, and a look at serious problems such as the environment. In addition, the show took up the extremely modern issue of how characters who differed in age, sex, social status, birth/heritage, and values can live together on what is their shared destiny: Hyotan Island. Its greatest achievement is that it did this without sounding ‘preachy’ but rather always maintained a subtle comedic touch.
  Though it may sound untrue, in fact there are an unexpectedly large number of issues that people themselves refuse to speak about but that they will accept when it is a puppet that discusses them. Cute and comical-looking puppets, therefore, can often mislead us.