Edo Utsushi-e Performances in Eastern Europe Reviving the Edo Phantasm

Edo Utsushi-e Performances in Eastern Europe
Reviving the Edo Phantasm

The Japan Foundation will host performances and workshops on Edo Utsushi-e, a form of performing arts that began 200 years ago, in four East European countries --- Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Image pircture of utsushi-e projection
©Swagato Chakravorty

Edo Utsushi-e, which originated when magic lanterns were imported to Nagasaki in the mid-18th century, became a popular form of entertainment loved and enjoyed by the Edo masses. While the imported magic lanterns were extremely heavy and hot because they were made of metal and used oil and wicks to light up, the Japanese, with their characteristic ingenuity, created new wooden lanterns light enough to handle, thus enabling them to display moving images on screen. This was a significant move forward in the development of utsushi-e -- an art form unique to Edo. Stories told through moving images with the use of simple, minimal mechanics and intricate drawing techniques kept captivating the hearts of the common people in Edo. Some researchers in the field of visual media note the connection between utsushi-e and Japanese anime, a closely watched cultural form today.

The shows will be performed by the Minwa-za company, who revived this once-dying fantastic entertainment through years of research. The Minwa-za company will allure audiences into this fascinating world of Japanese culture, not just with interesting visuals, but also with audio provided by storyteller Sekkyo Masadayu and shakuhashi (bamboo flute) player Shitara Shunzan for classical pieces. The company’s revived illusional performances are sure to fascinate the people of East Europe, who have a long, rich tradition of puppet plays.

In order to show the unique techniques and creativity involved in utsushi-e, we have also scheduled three types of workshops in Hungary and Romania: shadow play workshops for children, hands-on utsushi-e lessons for those interested, and magic lantern production and performance workshops for visual arts majors.

Dates and Venues: November 18 to November 28, 2011


Date: November 18, 2011 (Fri)
Venue: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej

Date: November 19, 2011 (Sat)
Venue: Dom Kultury "Świt"

Organizer: The Japan Foundation, Embassy of Japan in Poland


Date: November 21 (Mon) and 22 (Tue), 2011
Venue: Merlin Theatre

WORKSHOP (morning: for students / afternoon: for kids)
Date: November 22, 2011 (Tue)
Venue: Merlin Theatre

Organizer: The Japan Foundation
Co-organizer: Embassy of Japan in Hungary


Date: November 24, 2011 (Thu)
Venue: Odeon Theatre

WORKSHOP  (hands-on utsushi-e lessons)
Date: November 25, 2011 (Fri)
Venue: Universitatea Naţională de Artă Teatrală şi Cinematografică “I.L.Caragiale”

Organizer: The Japan Foundation, Embassy of Japan in Romania
Co-organizer:Odeon Theatre


Date: November 27 (Sun) and 28 (Mon), 2011
Venue: National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts

Organizer: The Japan Foundation, Embassy of Japan in Bulgaria

About the Magic Lantern

Image picture of Magic Lantern Show

The magic lantern was introduced to Japan in the 18th century by the Dutch, and it remained the dominant form of projecting still and moving images until the beginning of the 20th century. Utsushi-e began ca. 1800 as a traditional Japanese magic lantern show based on back-projection. Directly influenced by Asian shadow and puppet theater, an utsushi-e show is a group performance, founded on interpreting well-known popular stories, tales, and comic episodes from Edo-era entertainments, such as Kabuki, Bunraku, and Rakugo, in a multi-media combination of images, narration and music.

Program Details (descriptions by Minwa-za)

Hanamagari Sambaso

Photo of Hanamagari Sambaso

This act is performed as a purification of the stage. It is a unique celebratory piece using light tricks only possible in utsushi-e.


Photo of Atama-Yama

A stingy man ate some cherries and swallowed its seeds. Out comes a sprout from his head, which grows into a tree and blossoms. People start to gather around him for hanami (cheery blossom viewing party), drinking and dancing. Moreover, a pond also appears on the man’s head, and seeing there’s fish swimming inside, people start to cast nets and ...
This bizarre sci-fi-like story is a Rakugo classic born from the Edo imagination. Let utushi-e’s skillful storytelling techniques and expressions lure you into this surreal world.

Daruma Yobanashi

Photo of Daruma Yobanashi

A man is hanging a scroll of a daruma doll on his wall, which he had found at an antique shop. He’s very pleased with this scroll on his wall. It’s the Sumida River Fireworks festival today and you could hear the fireworks going off in the background. After the man leaves the house to go enjoy the fireworks, the daruma doll pops out from the scroll and starts drinking the sake that the man had been drinking before he left the house. After a few drinks, the doll starts dancing and partying. Then we hear a voice from the next room asking, “Who’s there? Who’s making that noise?” The doll looks to find the man’s wife lying in a futon and ...
This was a very popular comedy play during the tumultuous, end-of-Edo period.


Photo of Kanjincho

Minamoto no Yoshitsune had fallen out with his older brother Yoritomo to a point where his brother was seeking to capture him and put him away. Yoshitsune escaped into the mountains with his subordinates, including Benkei, all of them disguised as monks. At a checkpoint in Kaga, a guard named Togashi-zaemon awaited them. Togashi is suspicious. He sees that one of the monks looks suspiciously like Yoshitsune, but Benkei insists that they are just monks. Togashi, having seen Yoshitsune once before, persists. Benkei successfully solves this situation by ...
This is one of the most well-known classic scenes in Kabuki. This Utsushi-e performance will show storyteller master Sekkyo Masadayu revive the fundamental style of the storytelling art, and a modern interpretation of the Kanjincho (a subscription list of those who have made religious donation).

About Minwa-za

Minwa-za is a Tokyo-based Japanese performance troupe specializing in utsushi-e. Founded in 1968, the company began by staging shadow-puppet shows. In the late 1970s they discovered the lost art of utsushi-e and devoted the next 15 years restoring slides, researching performance techniques, and producing new material. As a result of the acclaim generated by their first public performance in 1993, Minwa-za’s director, Fumio Yamagata, was granted the prestigious title of 'Tamagawa, Bunraku.' In 2008, Minwa-za visited the United States, debuting their revived utsushi-e performances at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and in 2010 they were featured in the internationally broadcast NHK series, Last Artisans.


Performed by: Fumio Yamagata, Yuko Takana, Masahiko Kakazu, Atsushi Shinada, Junya Suzuki, Noriko Akimoto, Tatsuji Hosoyama, Mio Masaki, Naoki Nishio

Music and Narration by: Sekkyo Masadayu (Sekkyo-Bushi), Shunzan Shitara(Shakuhachi(Japanese vertical bamboo flute))

[Contact Us]

Performing Arts Section, Arts and Culture Department
The Japan Foundation
Yoshiko Maeda
Tel: +81-3-5369-6063

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