Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nishiki Kage-e

In the course of studying the history of manga, I've encountered a number of different variations, from Hokusai's original non-ukiyo-e woodblock prints to Rakuten's editorial cartoons, then through girls magazine illustrations, kamishibai, and finally to post-WWII Japanese comics. In with this, there was the growth of anime and motion pictures, and the creation of the Japan-only reflective paper projectors. The one medium that I missed was recently featured in an article on the Asahi Shimbun newspaper website.

Kamishibai is a form of storytelling where the narrator has a box set up to look like a small theater stage. Within the box are about 10 painted sheets, and each sheet represents one scene of the story. It gained a resurgence in popularity in the years right after WWII, and a number of manga artists, including Shigeru Mizuki (Gegege no Kitaro) and Sanpei Shirato (Legend of Kamui) earned their livings making and selling kamishibai sheets before getting into manga.

One brand of the reflective paper projector was the REFCY. The Gakken kit magazine line, Otona no Kagaku (Adult Science) had a small version you could build for about $23 USD. To make anime for it, each frame would have to be hand-painted, for each roll. The earliest date I have for RECFY projectors is 1930, but they probably go back a few years before that.

Ok, that brings me to the Asahi article. It describes a professor in Osaka that is attempting to revive magic lantern shows, called "nishiki kage-e". Up to this point, I hadn't noticed this storytelling form before, so I might as well bring attention to it now. Originally, magic lanterns came from the Netherlands during the Edo era (1601-1868). While Japan closed it's borders to trade with most of the outside world in 1635, exchange still continued between China, Korea and the Netherlands after that. The popularity of magic lantern shows continued up to the beginning of the Showa era (1926), when movie houses started popping up. The professor, Mitsue Ikeda, formed a "nishiki kage-e" school group in 2004, and the group has since been putting on shows with electric-powered lanterns they constructed out of paulowina wood scavenged from a wooden chest and somen noodle boxes. In a way, nishiki shows are very similar to kamishibai, except that they're projected onto rice paper screens, and the movement of the painted slides allows for some limited animation. While the article claims this is the birthplace of Japanese anime, it's probably more accurate to say that there's some overlap. Japanese artists were producing anime as early as 1917, influenced by the works of other film makers, like Frenchman Georges Melies.

For more information on professor Ikeda's project, check the website.

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