This is the first of several posts about Japanese kamishibai (paper theatre), a popular form of storytelling that began in the 1930s, peaked in the post-war/American occupation period, and more or less died out with the rise of Japan as a modern, technologically developed country. The material is all from Eric P. Nash’s great book Manga Kamishibai. As usual, out of respect for the author and the publisher (and also to piss off the imbeciles who are always going on about printed books being dead trees and obsolete, everything’s online now, blah blah blah) I’ll hopefully be posting just enough to arouse your interest without coming anywhere close to making it pointless to buy or borrow the book.
Kamishibaiya (paper theatre storytellers) would roll up to a street corner on their bicycles, which also supported a butai– a miniature wooden theatre into which the illustrated boards for the stories could be slid in and out. These boards were about 14 inches by 10. Until WWII each story set and board were unique because they were inked and coloured by hand using watercolour and opaque tempera paints, then lacquered and waxed to protect them from the weather. The boards provided a low-tech form of slideshow animation, but of course what really brought the stories to life were the storytellers. At one point kamishibai was such a cultural touchstone that when television was introduced to Japan in 1953, it was sometimes referred to as denki kamishibai: electric paper theatre.
The examples shown here are from a 1930s series called Cry of the Andes. It’s a sort-of Western adventure, though obviously set in Peru and filtered through the distinctly Eastern perspective of a nation that had never seen (or been) cowboys.
Next time: paper theatre for children takes a weird and sinister turn during WWII. Cute boar soldiers bayonetting captives for the Emperor, and so forth.