The Eye of the Demon — a StoryFaces Performance

EyeOfTheDemon_Logo_slide

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.

Kuniyoshi_Raiko_tormented_by_the_earth_spider

By Kuniyoshi. My favorite Japanese printmaker depicted Raiko vs. the Spider several times

——————  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.

From a scroll by Kaiho Yuchiku (1654-1728) – The Drunken Demon surrounded by a bevy of ladies

onmyoji_jpgI 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.

Ibaraki Demon fleeing with her arm

Ibaraki Demon fleeing with her arm

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The Arm of the Demon

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.

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Angry Ocean, Waterfall Tears ©2011 Christopher Agostino

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.

Painted for Kryolan Professional Makeup at IMATS New York

The Irabaki Demon — a BodyStory — Painted for Kryolan Professional Makeup at IMATS New York

learn about all we do at:  agostinoarts.com  See the video: What Is A StoryFace?

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Body Painting: The Irabaki Demon — painted at IMATS New York Makeup Trade Show

© 2012 bodypainting by Christopher Agostino    model: Lisa Greenberg

  The she-demon Irabaki haunts the bridge between this world and the next , appearing as the beautiful princess she used to be. Under command of the emperor, the legendary samurai Watanabe no Tsuna comes out of retirement to battle the demon and clear the bridge. Finding the princess, he sees through the demon’s illusion. Tsuna grabs the demon with one hand as it transforms into its true shape, while swinging his sword with the other to cut off the demon’s arm before it can escape. Continue reading

Watanabe No Tsuna and the Ibaraki Demon in Japanese Art

Come see me at the Kryolan Professional Makeup booth at IMATS New York, April 14 to see the painted body I’ve designed based on this image research and the story of the battle between Watanabe no Tsuna and the Irabaki Demon.

I had no idea this story was such a well known legend until I did a Google Image search of “Watanabe No Tsuna” and turned up a lot of results, many of them depictions of the battle with the Irabaki Demon. Here are a few:

Depicting the demon having recovered her arm - by Kiyotada

Continue reading

Storytelling in Japanese Art — Onmyoji and Raiko: Super Heroes Team-Up vs. More Japanese Demons

The Drunken Demon

by Christopher Agostino

see also: The Eye of the Demon — a StoryFaces Performance to learn about the stage presentation I do based on the legends of the samurai and the demons that they fight

I ran into a couple of old friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday in the exhibit Storytelling in Japanese Art. In an “emaki” (handscroll) illustrating the story of “The Drunken Demon” I found the hero samurai Raiko (who I know from a folktale I tell of his battle with the Goblin Spider) and Abe no Seimei (my favorite Onmyoji, or yin/yang magician)—both in the same story like a Spiderman/Dr. Strange crossover in an issue of Marvel Team-Up.

Marvel Team-Up — Twice as Many Pages! Twice as Many Thrills!

Emaki are like the original comic books or animated movies, telling a story through text and sequential illustrations. A scroll might be 30′ long, and to read it you would look at about two feet at a time, unrolling it with your left hand while simultaneously rolling it up again with your right. “The Drunken Demon” version in the exhibit was told over three scrolls from the Edo period by Kaiho Yuchiku (1654-1728). A boyish demon becomes terrible when drunk, stealing all the beautiful women. When he captures the daughter of an aristocrat, Abe no Seimei uses his powers to find where the girl is held, and the Emperor orders Raiko and his warrior companions to rescue the girl—which they do with the help of three gods disguised as men, a tree that grows across a chasm to become a bridge, some poisoned saki and a golden helmet. In the climactic illustrations, after a wild feast featuring human sashimi, the sleeping demon is depicted as filling an entire room (described in the text as 10′ tall, but illustrated as if 30′ tall) before Raiko cuts his head off, blood spraying out in a fine mist just like in the modern samurai movies like “The Warrior’s Way” (a fun one I watched last night). Continue reading

Kumadori — The Painted Faces of Japanese Kabuki Theatre

Kumadori: the Makeup of Aragato Kabuki

see also: The Eye of the Demon — a StoryFaces Performance to learn about the stage presentation I do based on the legends of the samurai and the demons that they fight

by Christopher Agostino

“In a way completely different from the realism and individualism basic to the makeup used in Western theatre, Kumadori stylistically beautifies and emphasizes the stereotypical personality of a specific role. At the same time, unlike the Noh masks or the Chinese stage makeup used in Peking Opera, the Kumadori allows for greater power of expression since it closely follows the actual facial features and expressions of the actor.”  —  Toshiro Morita, Kumadori, 1985

Suji-kuma pattern of the Aragato Kabuki samurai

In theatre traditions of Asia such as the Chinese Opera, Kathakali theatre of India and Japanese Kabuki, the actor is the show. The stories are well known myths and historical epics, so everyone knows the plot. The audience is there to see the performer’s mastery of stylized movements, traditional vocal patterns and their otherworldly appearance in costume and makeup, as they embody legendary roles in a larger-than-life fashion.

The samurai character in action

The actors become living special effects to present the story, and extravagant masking and makeup is integral to this complete transformation of the actor, so Asian theatre generally includes the most sophisticated facepainting designs in the world, such as the Kumadori makeup tradition in Japanese Kabuki theater. The use of transformational makeup in Japan can be traced back to ancient religious rituals and, over time, as such ceremonies evolved into theatre, makeup was retained as a vehicle for transforming the actor in performances maintaining elements of the ritual origins without the specific religious context.  Examples of this transition from religious ceremony to theatre can be found in many world cultures, often retaining elements of masking and makeup to allow modern performers to portray supernatural and mythological figures.

A living special effect

We can glimpse a direct link between the famous makeup for the samurai hero of the Aragato style of Kabuki and the ancient use of makeup in rituals pertaining to spirit worship and shamanic possession, for the samurai’s ability to do the impossible is understood to be because they have allowed themselves to be possessed by a powerful kami (“supernatural deity”) and thus have become hitokami (“man-gods”) and a functionality of any extravagant transformational makeup like this is to generate the suspension of disbelief in the audience so that they can accept the convention that they are in the presence of supernatural beings during the performance (just think of the way Hollywood movies use CGI today to make us believe we are on another planet watching blue aliens run through strange forests for the modern version of this age-old concept). In the Edo region of Japan in 1673, a fourteen-year-old actor named Ichikawa-Danjuro I invented a Kabuki performance style called the Aragato, or the “wild show”, with stories centered around powerful samurai heroes to present the “super-human actions that a righteous and courageous hero undertakes in standing up to forces of evil (Toshiro Morita, Kumadori, 1985)”, and for his first performance he painted his face in a bold red and black makeup design—a modern example of which is at the top of the post, this suji-kuma or “sinew pattern” worn by the samurai hero of one of the Aragato dramas as it is seen today. (And, to be clear, real samurai did not paint their faces—this is an actor’s invention to project the inherent power of the character he portrayed)  The complex stylized makeup in Aragato Kabuki is called “Kumadori”.

The “Demon Queller Glare” as depicted by printmaker Kuniyoshi

His makeup is so fierce that the actor can strike a “glaring pose” to scare away evil spirits—an ingenious element of the samurai pattern achieved by leaving the eyelids white while framing the eyes above and below with black lines so the actor can make maximum use of his eyes and they seem to grow impossibly wide as he stares. This “glaring pose” is the theatrical embodiment of samurai legend, that a true hitokami samurai could scare evil spirits away just by glaring at them, and this again points to the connection between theatre and ritual as it is said that Danjuro miraculously cured a man of his afflictions by glaring at him, proving that he too had a touch of the gods in him.

“Kabuki makeup is already in itself an interpretation of the actor’s own through the medium of the facial features. On stage this interpretation becomes a temporalization of makeup in collaboration with the audience. The result is a decoding of the drama traced out in the graphic designs of the painted face.” — Masao Yamaguchi (quoted in The Painted Body, 1984)

painting the suji-kuma: “taking the pattern”

The influences on the development of Kumadori may have included the mask traditions of Noh and other Japanese theatre styles, and also the painted faces of the Chinese and Peking Opera, however, there is a difference in the intention and theatrical effect. Theatrical masks, such as Noh masks, free the actor from naturalistic facial expression, so that all the elements of performance are within the structured movements of the body, and Chinese Opera designs, although they are painted onto the actor’s face, also function very much as physical masks obscuring the actors’ features and expressions. Kumadori makeup does not function as a mask to hide the actor. It is a makeup designed to capture and project the expressions of the actor in enhanced form, to externalize the inner persona of the role through a design that responds to the actor’s features.

the Evil Aristocrat

Toshiro Morita writes that Kumadori should not be described as painting an actor’s face but rather as a “pattern-taking”, as in taking an impression of his own face, and in the original tradition, Kumadori was applied by the actor with his fingers so he could take the pattern of his bone structure as he painted himself. Painted today with fingers and brushes, the Kumadori still lives and moves with each facial gesture, through designs bold enough to project the performance throughout the theatre. The concentrated process of painting himself is also part of the actor’s internal preparation to present the mythic persona required. The different traditional characters each have general makeup patterns they wear, with subtle variations to develop sub-types for specific characters, following a “Yin/Yang” color symbology system. Aragato dramas are intense, and deal primarily with the expression of anger, of which there are two types in Yin/Yang symbology: the positive, extroverted “Yang” type (red) and the negative, introverted “Yin” type (indigo blue). So the red stripes radiating from the center of the samurai suji-kuma express the positive Yang anger of the hero, denoting his youthful vitality and therefor hot-bloodedness, coupled with a strong sense of righteousness as he acts openly and directly “with the heart of a child.” Other red patterns may be used for animals and comic roles. Indigo patterns represent the Yin anger more common to mature adults who have learned the conventions that govern society and so do not express their anger, but hold it in until it darkens the heart and turns one to evil, and those patterns are worn by characters such as evil aristocrats, vengeful spirits and demons. Browns in a pattern indicate a being has non-human powers, such as gods or demons. “The stage regained its original character as a sacred space, and the players their supernatural power…The significant thing is that makeup thus recovered its magical function as a vehicle of the supernatural, deliberately transgressing the natural features of the human face,”  writes Michel Thévoz (The Painted Body, 1984) about the fascination engendered in Europe of the 1950s by presentations of Kabuki theatre.  He’s talking particularly about the impact of the degree of transformation and stylization in traditional Japanese theatre in opposition to the naturalistic realism of the prevailing theatre in Europe and America, but if we are looking to the place that makeup has retained its “magical function” in modern Western culture we can more readily look to movies, even the cheesy sci-fi movies of those same 1950s. In my explorations of body art from tribal origins through modern cultures, I see an interesting evolution. In its original function, body art is a social act, elevating an individual above his natural/animal state to mark him as a member of human culture and his specific social group. In modern cultures, transformational makeup survives in the arts, in theatre, in movies, where its most profound use is to take the wearer (an actor) beyond his humanity so he can portray the supernatural and the super-human.

Exploring how Kumadori changes with my expressions as I painted this one on myself for my book

Sometimes I’ll use the eyes on the eyelids trick to create the “glare”.

Painting the suji-kuma in a demonstration for the Art Educators of New Jersey conference

There are a lot of lessons from such an effective and sophisticated art as Kumadori that I can apply as I paint a face. The foremost might be the importance of fitting a design to an individual’s features, “taking the pattern”. I am also perpetually intrigued by the idea of a painted face that does not mask the individual but rather projects the inner persona. I often paint the suji-kuma face in my stage demonstrations on transformational makeup, both because it is such an exemplar of the power of makeup and because I’ve found that if I do take the time to paint it right and match the person’s features that the “glaring pose” always works, so I can show an audience just how theatrical makeup designs work to support an actor. As a vehicle for generating new facepainting designs I respond to the apparent looseness of the line work in these faces, the rough boldness. The sinuous lines make me think of movement, of wings and flying, so I have developed a number of bird designs out of the Kumadori patterns. I’ve also found these designs a great basis for some really fun spooky designs, see the Kabuki Spooky post. I’m a big fan of samurai movies—Toshiro Mifune in all those great Kurosawa films, like Yojimbo and  The Hidden Fortress—so I enjoy keeping alive the samurai transformation tradition. As a final note, much of the information here was from a fantastic book that is one of the real treasures in my library: Kumadori, by Toshiro Morita. (go to the Books  page for bibliography info) I received this book as a wedding present from an equally treasured friend. Thank you Kate!

“The metamorphosis of a Kabuki actor begins in his make-up. They call it ‘face making’ or ‘face preparation.’ Painting out their ordinary faces, they color in to create their new faces. The make-up is the basic condition for an actor’s metamorphosis and it is the first step to be taken in the process, a new beginning. From being a live in-the-flesh human, with every dab of paint, the actor inches closer to becoming one with the character of his given role. It is a process transcending the mundane dimensions of time and space.”  — Toshiro Morita, Kumadori , 1985

I painted these “Kabuki Kids” in traditional Kumadori patterns in 2006 for my book

The traditional Kabuki Ghost design, and examples on women at events — maybe it’s those soft colors that make it fit better than the red patterns on women.

Taking the sinew pattern into “birds of prey” concepts

The “Monkey” pattern is not a monkey, but a comic servant

Benkei Pattern

The hero of Shibaraku, wearing kumadori makeup...

Kuniyoshi print

“Kabuki Spooky” examples, turning the patterns into demon faces and vampires

Kabuki Spider

Trying out the red-faced version

The Noh Theatre mask exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

To learn more about our programs and performances:  http://www.agostinoarts.com  Christopher Agostino

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