Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to attend the talk and screening of nishiki kage-e (錦影繪) at the Japan Foundation. Apparently there was a waiting list of over 100 people! So you can imagine how privileged I felt. This was also the first time nishiki kage-e was ever shown in London, with performers coming all the way from Ikeda-Gumi group in Osaka, Japan.
But before the main performance, we were lucky enough to also see what is known to be the oldest found Japanese animation (produced in 1917), presented by Matsumoto sensei. It was a very short and simple animation of a sailor writing 活動写 (katsudo shashin), meaning “moving picture”, in kanji on a blackboard. This may not seem like much, but back then of course this was quite amazing.
He also presented and narrated another really famous animation which was produced in 1917, and found completely intact several years later. This is Namakura Katana, the story of samurai tricked into buying a blunt sword.
What a long way Japanese animation has come since then 🙂
So what is nishiki kage-e? Since its discovery it is thought to be the origin of Japanese animation. Essentially it was “a shadow play on screen in the taisho (1912-1926) era. The play was produced using a number of wooden magic lanterns known as ‘Furo’ to project images from behind the screen.” The light source is set inside, which used to be a lamp wick soaked in rape seed oil. Then within the furo, different images could be inserted using a taneita, or slide carrier. Again, there has been a few changes since the taisho era. Where the images were once painted on glass, today they are painted on clear plastic plates.
The Ikeda-Gumi have been working very hard since 2004 to restore and recreate furo and taneita, so as to once again enchant people with nishiki kage-e.
The short plays are always accompanied by music, sound effects, and a narrator. Quite similar to rakugo (traditional Japanese comic storytelling) actually, just with images. I really enjoyed listening to the narrator yesterday, not only because she was speaking in osaka-ben (you know how much I love the Osaka dialect), but because she was really what you would call a one man show! As well as being comical a lot of the stories often featured ghosts and other scary creatures, which was pretty fitting yesterday (you know, with halloween and all that 😉 ).
Unfortunately, I believe yesterday was the Ikeda-Gumi’s last performance in the UK. So if you really want to see nishiki kage-e, you might have to fly all the way to Osaka. If you want more information on this art though, do please visit their website.
I couldn’t find any nishiki kage-e videos online, so instead I’ll leave you with a more modern animation. Happy Halloween everyone!
*All Pictures used in this post are the property of Ikeda-Gumi taken from their website