Osaka Professor Revives Centuries - Old Magic Lantern Shows

Osaka professor revives centuries-old magic lantern showsIn an age when computer graphics and special effects dominate TV and movie screens, a professor here is trying to revive an entertainment form whose heyday ended around a century ago.

Mitsue Ikeda, 64, a professor at Osaka University of Arts in Kanan, is perfoming “nishiki kage-e” animated magic lantern shows, considered the origin of Japanese animation.

In one display, the nishiki kage-e box projected images of colorful cherry petals sweeping through the dark followed by a rainstorm.

“Although it is a simple mechanism, you can pursue limitless potential for expression with gimmicks and performers’ movements,” Ikeda said.

“Taneita” illustrated slide carriers are loaded inside the “furo” wooden box with a light bulb serving as a light source. The slide carriers are moved by a mechanism, and a story unfolds on a “washi” Japanese paper screen to the accompaniment of music and narrations from behind the screen.

The nishiki kage-e became popular after it was introduced from the Netherlands during the Edo Period (1603-1867). But the shows went out of fashion after movie houses flourished at the turn of the Showa Era (1926-1989).

In 2004, Ikeda formed the Nishiki Kage-e Ikeda Gumi team with 10 students to revive the long-lost form of entertainment.

They lacked sufficient materials but managed to draw blueprints for the furo projection box.

To acquire heat-resistant paulownia wood, the members tore apart a “tansu” chest of drawers and boxes used for “somen” noodles. They spent a year drawing illustrations for the taneita slide carriers.

The following year, the team presented its first show, “Bancho Sarayashiki” (the dish mansion in Bancho), a ghost story, at the university. The group has since been working on more acts and hosting shows and workshops in various locations.

“I’m a natural born lover of arts and crafts. All I think of now, awake or asleep, are new stories and gimmicks,” Ikeda said.

The team will put on a show in Britain in October as part of a project commemorating the 400th anniversary of Japan-British relations, she added.

The member students practice their movements after class for two hours, three days a week. Their precise movements and well-coordinated team play can bring together separate sets of projected images into a story.

“The slightest movement stirs the imagination of the audience, and we can laugh and cry together,” Ikeda said. “I’d like you to feel what realistic expressions really are when we have an abundance of images and video footage.”