Kamishibai Man by Allen Say.
First, we need to know what kamishibai is. “Paper theater” in Japanese, it’s an ancient storytelling practice using storyboards/picture cards. One by one, the storyteller pulls a picture card away to reveal the next moment of the story. (Remind anyone else of reading a picture book at story time?)
Considered a precursor to manga and anime, in some form it dates back to the 12th century. It was most prevalent in the 20th century before the popularity of television.
In the foreword, Allen Say remembers:
“Every afternoon, the kamishibai man came on a bicycle that had a big wooden box mounted on the back seat. The box had drawers full of candies and a stage at the top. We bought candies and listened to the man’s stories.”
Allen Say’s character, Kamishibai Man, is one of those.
Like most of Say’s work there’s a feeling of nostalgia in this book. A fond look back at the past along with a pang of sadness for what’s now gone. As always, Say teaches us history and culture along with how to be kind.
The book focuses on an old man who used to tell Kamishibai stories. One day, he decides to return to the city again after all this time, but it’s not how it used to be. There are no more trees and lots of shops and buildings.
Say seamlessly transitions from the present day to the past, the man growing young again and telling stories to children from his bicycle stage years ago.
When we look up again from his tale, we’re back to today and there’s a crowd of people around Kamishibai Man, grownups who are the very same children who used to buy his wife’s candies and listen to his stories.
They’re thrilled to see him again!
I was fortunate enough to catch a kamishibai-style performance in Los Angeles over the weekend. And if you live in the area, there’s one more this weekend as well!
Microscope Toy Theater takes on this tradition of “paper theater” with Yulya Dukhovny performing “Star in a Glass Jar” at Automata (that’s one of my very favorite theaters in L.A. and known for experimental puppetry).
The show is a beauty to behold. Gentle, patient, gorgeous, and even funny. It’s a Christmas story of a girl—and her sweet, wise dog—who lives in the far North and who needs something for her holiday tree. She sends a letter: “to whom it may concern.”
That letter ends up in a fishing village in Japan, in the hands of a little boy.
The performance was mesmerizing as each new paper that slid from the theater frame revealed another one, just as captivating as the last.
For tickets and info about performances November 15h and 16th, click here.