By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Aug 31 | 7:45 pm
Sept 2 | 7:45 pm
Sept 5 | 3:45 pm
Sept 6 | 8:45 pm
DURATION: 60 minutes
If you love scary campfire ghost stories told in the vein of Tales of the Crypt, then Hitodama is one fun play to see. This title is also the Japanese name of what Westerners know as Will-o’-the-wisps and they are far more sentient. This production from Mochinosha (also known as The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company) will certainly show how well versed the producers are in the lore from the land of the rising sun. They also performed the raunchy show Oni at last year’s Fringe using the same techniques as before. They use paper cut-outs to create shadows on a silver screen and this style is very àpropos when considering how the supernatural is often perceived. As an avid paranormal enthusiast, I wanted to see this show as fast as humanly possible. But even on premiere night, which was last Friday, the only way I could have made it is if I had a doppelgänger. As long as it was psychically connected to me, my third eye would know all.
In what was odd was a sense of deja-vu. There were times where I thought I saw parts of this show before! “The Tale of Samurai Masakato” is well-known among paranormal enthusiasts and Japanese alike, but there was more to the story of the restless head searching for his body. According to legend, this spirit never did find it and a shrine was built to placate the head to prevent it from destroying parts of Japan. The other three stories — “The Story of Mimi-nashi Hōichi,” “The Story of the Sumo Wrestler (loosely based on the legend of Kappa to Hikosuke (a folktale in Yamagata prefecture)” and “Kibitsu no Kama” — were not as familiar even though I recognized classical elements that make up Asian ghost literature. Most of the spellings should be correct. When I did not notice a playbill nearby, I’m spelling it by how I heard it with my ear (lest I lose it like Hōichi-san did). This other tale has been retold many a time, but again … I could not help but feel I saw parts of this play before.
Each of these tales are wonderfully introduced by a muppet, an unnamed Japanese priest who is a collector of these supernatural tales. Technically, that’s the voice of Daniel Wishes and he does a great job of being a less intense version of the Crypt Keeper from that seminal HBO show, puns included. Seri Yanai adds to the play with her occasional piece of Japanese dialog that I easily understood (thank you Japanese 100 and 101). Perhaps the best part is the sound design; its persuasive ambience helped created the mood. However, I wished a black screen blocked the audience’s view of the spotlight lamp to help complete the illusion. There were times the glare from the plastic on the paper cut-outs struck me square in the eye because I sat at the front. There was more people in the same row as I was, so I couldn’t be the only one affected.
When a different ominous tone invades the set, that’s only because of the stories (Masakato) is supposed to mirror the cursed play — you’re not supposed to say Macbeth’s name in the theatre. In this show’s case, the entire crew is not supposed to perform it lest angry ghosts spirit them away. This superstition becomes important later on and it becomes a fitting epitaph for concluding the presentation. When considering that the first performance did auspiciously take place on August 28th of Ghost Month (The Chinese date for the Ghost Festival) maybe it was fortuitous that I did not attend that particular show. Also known in Japan as The Festival of the Dead, at least what’s done in that culture is to honour and feed those hungry ghosts before the gates to the spirit world is closed.
Now, I must dig up my Criterion release of Kwaidan to prepare me for the next visitation on Halloween!
4 Stars out of 5