By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Mochinosha Puppet Company
Written/Created by: Seri Yanai
In Japanese folklore, the Oni are demons from Buddhist tradition who have become part of popular imagination in media and it’s an apt name for the play featuring them at the Victoria Fringe Festival. More often than not, these supernatural creatures are not necessarily evil. Instead, they are simply seen as wild and uncontrolled elemental forces who have no love for mortals. When these humans come to them to beg for favours, that’s when the tale of Issun-bōshi emerges — to which this play creates much of the narrative from.
The literal translation is One Inch Boy. A better translation is The One Inch High Samurai.
With this tale, the same Oni appears at nearly every turn the little samurai makes. Had he fought it, the little warrior would most likely get squashed. Thankfully the mountain spirit just wants a story out of him. With a simple use of intricate paper cut-outs, live action performances and a cuteness that only a female Japanese voice can provide, Seri Yanai brings to life many precarious predicaments upon a projection screen where everything is seen in silhouette.
In Japan, performers use shadow lanterns (known as magic lanterns in European culture) to cast shapes upon a circular backdrop to invoke a sense of mysticism into this fantastic tale that feels like a cross between Samurai Jack and South Park.
Storyteller Daniel Wishes provides a partial translation for those who do not understand Japanese. Although a bit of the dialogue can be figured out, Wishes’ dialogue explains what Yanai said in a style reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock meets Stan Lee. True to the style, Yanai`s very cute sounding onomatopoeias sell this show and to hear them instead of seeing them resonate on paper may well get Western Japanese Animation enthusiasts only grinning with delight.
Eventually Issun-bōshi gets his wish to become a samurai, complete with wife and land to live upon, but that would not define a folk-tale proper. Some of the best tales have something to teach. It can be either a cautionary tale about dangers of wandering too deep into the woods (like Hansel and Gretel) or extol some principal about the human condition that’s best to be learned. In Issun-bōshi, it`s hard to tell if the lead character learned anything at all in his adventures. At least for audiences, they may recognize a few moments where the idiom “Be Careful What You Wish for” comes to mind.
Although the narrative crafted by the Mochinosha Puppet Company uses the more contemporary version of the story more suited for adults to watch, perhaps a sanitized version can help bring more people into this artistically refined show. There are other performances that’s more suited for children, but this one is aimed for mature audiences in mind especially when it casts an interesting picture of what life is not necessarily like in Feudal Japan. It seems the Japanese like to make love at the drop of a hat, and while the situations where it happens and effects used to illustrate what happens are hilarious to watch, some folks may well have to wonder what Japanese society back then was really like back. Maybe what`s presented in this tale is more of a satire.
This mature version of the folk tale certainly has its merits because it’s very rambunctious. But to present a tale worthy for children to watch, all they have to do is visit the Kids Web Japan portal here.
4 Stars out of 5
This play continues at Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield) on:
Thu, Aug 28 • 9:15pm
Sat, Aug 30 • 3:30pm
Sun, Aug 31 • 7:15pm