a story cycle of Japanese adventure tales
for adults and brave family audiences
samurai vs. demons, ’nuff said
Medieval Japanese legends mixed up with Kabuki theatre and Kuniyoshi prints, Emaki scrolls and Onmiyoji, on top of a childhood of Kurasawa films and Marvel comics.
—————— The Stories ————–
It begins with The Legend of the Haunted Bridge… A soldier brags how he’s never seen anything that frightened him, so the Governor orders him to cross the bridge and find out what the demon that haunts it looks like, “because a man must live up to his words, no matter how foolish they are.” It was the perfect ghost story for a face painting storyteller — perfect because it described the face I’d need to paint to tell it, the face of the demon. It’s a tale I’ve told for many years, and it’s led me on into the thrilling world of samurai.
Raiko vs. the Goblin Earth Spider is a Samurai-Superhero Adventure™, featuring a young Watanabe No Tsuna, the samurai that took care of that demon at the bridge, fighting armies of demons, an evil Spider Woman and a giant spider named Tsuchi-gumo, all at the side of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (aka “Raiko”), the first of the legendary samurai.
Part 3: The Princess Ibaraki and the Tale of the Drunken Demon — The Drunken Demon is a classic tale I saw on an emaki storytelling scroll. It includes the same Raiko and Tsuna defeating the demon, and one of the Drunken Demon’s henchmen escapes to to haunt a bridge. To bring the tales back around together I borrowed a character from the movie Onmyoji, a princess who turns into a demon.
The Eye of the Demon is a full length StoryFaces performance for adults, with a family friendly version as well. It features retellings of tales from a thousand years ago about Japanese demons (which are more like monsters or ghosts than like devils) and the samurai who fight them, along with personal stories of my discovery of these tales and the art they’ve inspired, and the way this connects to the superhero comics I grew up on.
—————— The Sources —————-
My original source for the haunted bridge tale was a story called “The Bridge” in the book Japanese Tales (Royal L. Tyler; Pantheon; 1987), and have since found related and extended versions of this type of tale online. I first came across Raiko vs. the Spider in Short and Shivery: 30 Chilling Tales (Rober San Souci, Doubleday, 1987). When I saw this tale show up again in a print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) in an exhibit at the Japan Society I began to understand the role medieval samurai legends have had in Japanese art and entertainment. For me, these tales are to be enjoyed as much through the illustrations, prints and other visual art they engender as through any text. The images drive the stories.
I first met The Drunken Demon on an emaki at the exhibit Storytelling In Japanese Art at the Met, and again it was visual art driving me deeper into a story to tell. In addition to Raiko and Tsuna, the tale also included a wizard, Abe no Seimei, who I knew from a favorite movie of mine, Onmiyoji. In that movie, he has to solve the mysterious appearance of a namanari, a living woman who turns into a demon — and I made a place for her in my tale as well.
Another illustration in the exhibit was of the Ibaraki Demon stealing her arm back, and finding out just what that was all about led me into the classic tale of Watanabe no Tsuna and his battle with a demon on a bridge — adding a potential new piece to the puzzle. The iconic image of Tsuna cutting the demon’s arm off has been frequently illustrated by Japanese artists, and led me to another face for my tale.
Emaki are handscrolls that tell such tales through illustration and text, kind of like comic books, and you unroll them as you read them so the images go across your vision as the story progresses, kind of like movies. Finding a way to understand these stories as comic books and superhero movies gives me my own way in. The word “samurai”, to me, means Toshiro Mifune in the Kurasawa films I first saw as a kid. Seeing Kwaidan (1964) really chilled me, and seeing how Ping Chong recreated such a visually complex movie as a live performance with puppets (at the New Victory Theatre) was a major influence on my developing StoryFaces technique.
To get a feel for this imagery and work out how I can get these images onto a face in a story, my exploration of these tales also included bodypaintings using imagery from Kuniyoshi and other printmakers, one of which was a full re-working of the Ibaraki Demon tale, but I changed the name to “Irabaki” to indicate it wasn’t the traditional tale I’d found — though now that I’ve seen how many strange and wonderful versions there are for these legends I’m more comfortable taking my own path through to telling them while keeping their names intact.
- Storytelling in Japanese Art – Onmyoji and Raiko: Super Heroes Team-Up (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Watanabe No Tsuna and the Ibaraki Demon in Japanese Art (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Kumadori — The Painted Faces of Japanese Kabuki Theatre (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Kabuki at Lincoln Center (TheNewYorker) – seeing them do samurai tales as broad entertainment gives me a little more confidence about fooling around with these tales like I do
- The Demon Lady of Uji Bridge (multoghost.wordpress.com) – a full telling of some of the historic legends that were my starting point
- 5 Awesome Supernatural Samurai Movies (screenrant.com)
- The Legendary Watanabe no Tsuna Battles the Ibaraki Demon at Rashomon Bridge (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Art Review: At Japan Society, Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (nytimes.com)