Japanese Magic Lantern: The Minwa-za Company of Tokyo and the Art of Utsushi-e

Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 7:00pm

During Minwa-za's weeklong visit to the University of Chicago, the company presents their 200-year-old Japanese Magic Lantern performance, utsushi-e. The magic lantern was introduced to Japan in the 18th century by the Dutch, and it remained the dominant form of projecting still and moving images until the beginning of the 20th century. Utsushi-e began ca. 1800 as a traditional Japanese magic lantern show based on back-projection. Directly influenced by Asian shadow and puppet theater, an utsushi-e show is a group performance, founded on interpreting well-known popular stories, tales, and comic episodes from Edo-era entertainments, such as Kabuki, Bunraku, and Rakugo, in a multi-media combination of images, narration and music.

In this program, Minwa-za introduces utsushi-e in a presentation encompassing history, techniques and a short performance of projections, live narration and traditional shamisen accompaniment.

Minwa-za is a Tokyo-based Japanese performance troupe specializing in the traditional Japanese magic lantern performance, utsushi-e. Founded in 1968, the company began by staging shadow-puppet shows. In the late 1970s they discovered the lost art of utsushi-e and devoted the next 15 years to restoring slides, researching performance techniques, and producing new material. As a result of the acclaim generated by their first public performance in 1993, Minwa-za’s director, Fumio Yamagata, was granted the prestigious title of ‘Tamagawa, Bunraku’. In 2008, Minwa-za visited the United States, debuting their revived utsushi-e performances at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and in 2010 they were featured in the internationally broadcast NHK series, Last Artisans.

Coordinated by Artemis Willis, Ph.D candidate, Department of Cinema & Media Studies, in conjunction with Professor Tom Gunning's Seminar on the Moving and Projected Image.

Complete information about Minwa-za’s visit to the University of Chicago, including detailed schedule and online reservations for events at other venues, is available here.

Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Japan Studies Committee of the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies and the University of Chicago Arts Council.