As part of the largest international puppet theatre festival in the Czech Republic – Skupova Plzeň, a unique programme of Japanese contemporary puppet theatre took place. The programme included 19 Japanese artists.
The Japanese programme offered a summary of contemporary performances in the field of Japanese puppet theatre.
The first Japanese artists, who arrived to Pilsen, were the Marionette Minomushi troupe from Kyoto. This troupe is dedicated to the popular genre of “Edo marionettes”, which belongs to the cultural heritage of Japan. The troupe is led by Mr. Koichi Iimuro, a legend of Japanese marionette theatre and also a collaborator of NHK television.
Marionette Minomushi brought to Pilsen the performance How the strong man Iwami Jutaro defeated the snow monster. Immediately at the opening performance during the open-air festival for 1500 people, the Japanese puppeteers captured the hearts of the Pilsen audience. They learned and performed the entire performance in Czech. The audience appreciated this with a big applause. The Minomushi marionettes also charmed the audience with their excellent technique and gentle Japanese humour. During the festival, they performed two more shows at the Alfa Theatre and held one workshop for puppetry professionals. Each time they had a great success.
Koichi Iimuro also introduced to Czech puppeteers the technique of controlling Japanese marionettes and explained the long tradition and family system of Japanese puppet theatre.
Contemporary modern puppet theatre was presented by the prominent Tokyo-based performer Miyako Kurotani and her company Genre Grey. The show Hatenashi was performed twice in front of a full theatre hall at Moving Station in Pilsen. Each time with a great success. Miyako Kurotani combines puppet theatre with Butoh dancing. In show Hatenashi, she combines her body with body of a puppet. The performance is full of emotion and real art, she transforms herself into a puppet and the puppet into a living person. Many Czech audience confided that they had never seen such a unique theatrical performance.
Miyako Kurotani studied in Prague in the studio of stage designer Petr Matásek and director Josef Krofta. Their work influenced her greatly. After the performance, Kurotani always thanked the organizers that she could return to the Czech Republic after more than 20 years and show her art, which is connected with Czech culture.
The third Japanese ensemble at the Skupova Plzeň festival was the chairman of the Japanese UNIMA centre, Kusunoki Tsubame. At the festival, he performed his two productions Hello Kankuro and Mouse Sumo for kindergarten children, parents with children and professional puppeteers. Kusunoki Tsubame plays to children in the style of “katagake ningyo”. This is traditional Japanese folk theatre. Mouse Sumo is one of Japan’s most famous children’s stories. Kusunoki Tsubame performed two shows at the Alfa Theatre and one show at the Puppet Museum Pilsen. Children loved the Kankuro the parrot puppets and Mr. Tsubame’s ventriloquism.
The biggest star of the Japanese programme in Pilsen was the Hatchiogi Kuruma Ninngyo troupe, which presented a unique version of bunraku theatre called bunraku on wheels. Mr. Koryu Nishikawa and his son presented the Japanese traditional legends Sanbaso dance, Hidakagawa and Snow Woman – twice in Alfa Theatre full house hall. Later group added a unique version of flamenco dance with a Japanese bunraku puppet.
The ensemble included an outstanding narrator – Tayu and a perfect shamisen player. Koryu Nishikawa also led a workshop for professional puppeteers during the festival.
The troupe was also assisted by Czech actors from Alfa Theatre and Japanese colleagues from PUK Theatre. It was interesting experience.
PUK Puppet Theatre was represented at the festival by 4 members. They were mainly dedicated to the development of international cooperation between Czech and Japanese puppeteers.
The Japanese team also published their own festival newspaper, which provided information about the festival and Japanese culture. This newspaper was published in 500 copies per day and was always sold out.
Japanese puppet theatre was presented in Pilsen in front of a large international forum. During the festival, the executive board of the World Puppetry Union UNIMA had meteeting. UNIMA President Karen Smith and UNIMA Secretary General Dimitri Jageneau were present at the festival.
A total of 50 distinguished international guests (dramaturgs, festival directors, promoters, artists) from the USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, France, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia and Belgium were present at the festival. Some of the Japanese ensembles in Pilsen were offered further guest appearances abroad.
The whole project has been evaluated very positively by the Czech professional artistic community, for example the Institute of Arts of the Czech Republic, UNIMA Czech Republic or the magazine Puppeteer. The city of Pilsen also gave a very positive evaluation. The expert jury of the festival Skupova Plzeň awarded DEKU ART FORUM an honorary mention for the implementation of the Japanese programme.
The Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic Martin Baxa also visited the Japanese programme and the festival.
The Czech audience was very grateful for the opportunity to meet contemporary Japanese theatre and especially Japanese puppeteers in person. The scope of the project was also of great importance. Because it was possible to get an overview of the whole field of Japanese puppet theatre.
The project continues in 2022 with Alfa Theatre’s tour of Zorro in Japan. Alfa Theatre and Puk Theatre are collaborating on the tour. The tour will last two months. In 2023, preparations for the co-production of Alfa Theatre and PUK Theatre will begin. The production will premiere in 2024 and is being developed by Theatre Alfa, DEKU Artforum and PUK Theatre.