Co-created by Koryū Nishikawa V and Tom Lee
June 17, 2021
Koryū Nishikawa V, co-creator, puppeteer, and puppet designer
Tom Lee, co-creator, video designer, and puppeteer
Yukio Tsuji, composer and musician
Chris Carcione, video designer
Ryugyoku Nishikawa, puppeteer
Magic abounds through tales of the supernatural presented with beautifully detailed miniature sets, extraordinary effects, and ingenious artistry. Created by Japanese master puppeteer Koryū Nishikawa V and American puppet artist Tom Lee, a new stage work uses bunraku puppets, video projection, and live music to explore the creative process of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, one of Japan’s most important early 20th-century writers, through several of his short stories.
Known as the “father of the Japanese short story,” the author is most widely known in the West through Akira Kurosawa’s landmark film, Rashōmon, based on Akutagawa’s In the Bamboo Grove. Akutagawa is an international theatrical collaboration showcasing the limitless storytelling possibilities of puppetry to create a portrait of an immensely talented, complicated artist who took his own life at the age of 35. (Please be advised that this performance contains reference to suicide.)
About Koryū Nishikawa V
Koryū Nishikawa V is a fifth-generation Japanese master puppeteer and headmaster of Hachiōji Kuruma Ningyō. His tradition is called kuruma ningyō (cart puppetry), a 170-year-old practice that evolved from the sanninzukai or bunraku-style puppet theatre in late Edo-era Tokyo.
About Tom Lee
Tom Lee is an Asian American designer, director, and puppet artist who has performed on Broadway in War Horse and at the Metropolitan Opera in Madama Butterfly, in addition to creating critically acclaimed original work fusing technology and contemporary puppetry techniques. Nishikawa V and Lee are co-creating the piece and will both perform as puppeteers, alongside Nishikawa’s son, also an expert puppeteer.
Music for Akutagawa is composed and performed by Yukio Tsuji, a resident composer of La MaMa Experimental Theater known for his work on Al Pacino’s Salome and in the original Broadway production of Steven Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures.
About the Puppetry
A form of puppet theatre created by Koryu Nishikawa I in Japan 170 years ago, kuruma ningyō gets its name because it involves a puppeteer sitting on a kuruma (cart) and manipulating a ningyō (puppet). While traditional bunraku puppetry requires three puppeteers to manipulate one puppet, kuruma ningyō requires only one. Seated on a kuruma, a puppeteer can use not only their hands but also their feet to manipulate a puppet. With its feet held on the floor by the puppeteer’s feet, a kuruma ningyō puppet can create strong, realistic foot movement such as stomping and running around. In addition, kuruma ningyō can be performed with human performers and other kinds of puppets in a variety of stage settings. With a boundless potential inspired by ancient innovation, kuruma ningyō is a unique and vibrant puppetry tradition.
This is the first performance of Akutagawa at the Moss Arts Center.
This engagement of Akutagawa, co-created by Koryū Nishikawa V and Tom Lee, is made possible in part through the ArtsCONNECT program of Mid Atlantic Arts with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.