Miguel Romero
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Hachioji Kuruma Nyngio Style

In Hachioji, a suburb of Tokyo, I found the most profound inspiration in all my travels through Japan: Nishikawa Koryu V, whose tradition was invented about 180 years ago by his great-great grandfather.

Mr. Nishikawa's signature device is a kuruma, a low box on wheels on which the black-clad puppeteer sits, attached at the feet and head to the nearly life-size puppet. Because the puppet’s feet are attached to the nearly invisible feet of the puppeteer, it is easy to create the illusion that the puppet is moving realistically under its own steam. Similarly the head of the puppet is attached by means of a thin black cord wrapped around the head of the puppeteer, who has only to move his head to move the puppet’s head.

This leaves the puppeteer’s hands free to manipulate the puppet’s arms and the mechanisms that change the puppet’s eyes and mouth. The intricate way of manipulating both arms with one hand is a particularly unusual characteristic of this style. The overall effect is amazing. Each movement of the puppeteer’s body informs a movement of the puppet, and the rolling boxes permit the puppets to move freely and fluidly through the entire stage space instead of a limited horizontal plane that is typical of most puppet forms.

Mr. Nishikawa's nine-year-old niece and ten-year-old nephew were learning the technique and were accomplished enough to perform on stage at their school’s end of term festivities. I was lucky to catch a rehearsal of this delightful event which included other young musicians and dancers.

In his late 40s, and trained in Bunraku, Mr. Nishikawa has embraced western theatre influences, having performed in dramatic pieces with Michael Meschke’s company in Stockholm where he has been a frequent quest performer. Exposure to contemporary puppeteers and teaching at the world-renown Institute International de la Marionette, Mr. Nishikawa's experience in Europe has broadened his perspective and enhanced his international appeal. His repertoire includes novelty acts such as a flamenco dancer performed in the Hachioji Kuruma Nyngio style. The company is in high demand because of its unique style and the fact that it presents the classics as well as programs with more popular content. Also contributing to his success are high theatrical production values, including the most sophisticated lighting of any puppet theatre I saw in Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Nishikawa permitted me to ride on a kuruma. The moment I did so, I knew that I would utilize the technique when I returned to UMASS (as I ultimately did in Archipelago of Delight). Like many western puppeteers who have integrated Hachiohi Kuruma Ningyo into their work, I knew I wanted the freedom to use space and not be confined to a play board or the horizontal limitations of Bunraku and other puppet styles. At the time, I suspected that the arm manipulation was going to be far more difficult to master than it looks when demonstrated by a master, and I was right. My students ended up working around the challenge by having only one active arm, which was the puppeteer’s own.

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