The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Dolls Town
Dolls Town
Photo by Jun Ishikawa
Premiere: 2007
Length: 1 hr. 30 min.
Acts, scenes: One act, 10 scenes
Cast: 12 (6 men, 6 women)
Japanese Drama Database
Play of the Month Play of the Month
Youkiza + Chong Wishing Dolls Town 
This is a new marionette play written by Chong Wishing for the Youkiza marionette theater company that specializes in the 370 year-old art of string operated marionettes from Edo Period Japan. The play is performed by marionettes and by human actors as well. While skillfully manipulating the marionettes, the puppeteers also play a role as actors with spoken parts. The play involves stories of the people living in Dolls Town during the air raids of the Second World War, which are acted out by marionettes, and people in the postwar reflecting on those years, who are played by human actors. It is a comical and serious story woven by an interplay of marionettes and human actors.

There are two puppeteers named Okame and Hyottoko. They are traveling performers who earn their living by performing from town to town, but in fact they are penniless. If they don’t hurry on to the next town they will starve to death. Hyottoko is worried, but Okame is carefree, perhaps because she is a bit retarded. Exhausted, the two lean against a bridge and take out their “Kota” marionette and begin to play with it.

Long ago, in the year the War ended, in a place in Western Japan.

There was a small town by a river. Poor people lived in poor houses. Looking down on them from the bridge, it looked like a dolls town that might be blown away if a strong wind blew.

The boy Kota lived there. His father had died in the War and in his home lived his mother and a boarder named Kawashima. Kawashima was from an outcast village and worked as a leather tanner. He had a bad leg and didn’t speak much, but he was kind to Kota. He would even lend Kota his bicycle. But Kota didn’t like the fact that his mother seemed to like Kawashima.

While dreaming that when the War ended he would be free to leave this place, Kota spent his days playing with his half-breed friend Mariko and the sister and brother Ume and Mitsuru who lived nearby. They loved to make up stories that mixed rumor and tall tales, lies and quarrels in a half real, half-fantasy world and set off on adventures through it.

As time passes the War grows more serious. His mother, Fusayo, and Kawashima are called to join in training, and his favorite playmate, Mariko, is hidden away in a storehouse by her grandfather because he fears for her safety as a child with foreign blood. Ume and Mitsuru are sent off to the country against their will with the other children to protect them from the air raids.

Then the terrible air raids begin. Kawashima is killed by an incendiary bomb while working late one night making some leather sandals for Fusayo. People in the town are killed or burned out of their houses and the river is full of bodies.

Kota and Fusayo have managed to flee to the bridge, but everything around them is in flames. Fusayo gives the leather sandals Kawashima had made her to Kota. She tells him to swim to the island in the middle of the river downstream and pushes him off the bridge. She can’t swim so she tells him to go on without her. Even as the flames swirl around her, Fusayo gathers the courage to smile as she waves to her son.

Having survived the raid, Kota learns that Mariko died, unable to escape from the storehouse she was locked in. Now he knows that all the people he loved are gone and he has to live on with memories of the joys and sorrows he has known.

Some years later, Kota is the puppeteer Hyottoko and is managing to live with his partner Okame. Now his role in life is to give happiness and smiles to others as he keeps in his own heart the smiles of his mother and the girl Mariko he liked so much.

Chong Wishing

Born in 1957, Chong is a writer and director. Quitting the Literature Dept. of Doshisha Univ., he studied in the Art Dept. of the Yokohama School of Broadcasting and Cinema (present Japan Academy of Moving Images). After working as an art assistant at the Shochiku studios, he switched to theater. After a period with the Black Tent Theater company he joined in the founding of the “Shinjuku Ryozanpaku” company in 1987. As the company’s playwright he turned out numerous, often spectacular plays. He became active not only in Japan but also in various parts of Asia. In 1996 he left Shinjuku Ryozanpaku. Today, he enjoys popularity writing scripts for movies and TV, while at the same time presenting sadly comical plays about the nuances of life as writer and director of the production group “Umi no Circus” that he founded in 1992. In 1994 he won the Kishida Drama Award for The Terayama. He won the Kinema Junpo Film Award for the screenplay Tsuki wa Docchi ni Deteiru and Chi to Hone with the director Yoichi Sai.

This company was first founded by Youki Magosaburo in 1635, during Japan’s Edo Period. Now, 373 years later (as of 2007), the company is designated a “National Selected Intangible Folk Cultural Property” and a “Tokyo Municipal Intangible Cultural Property” and is the only company in Japan specializing in Edo Period string operated marionette. Youkiza is also the only one of the “Five Theater Companies” officially sanctioned by the Edo Shogunate (the three Kabuki theaters of the Ichimura-za, Nakamura-za and Kawarazaki-za plus the Satsuma-za and Youkiza) that is still operating today. The present company leader is Youki Magosaburo XII.
The company’s activities today include performing the plays of the traditional repertoire while also creating productions of new plays by contemporary playwrights and adaptations of plays in translation. In the company’s productions there are cases where the marionettes perform together with live actors in the same stage space, and the puppeteers will at times play double roles as actors with spoken parts. There are also cases where traditional marionette techniques will be used in contemporary plays and devices from the Edo Period such as sashi-e (pictures painted on glass and projected on a screen) are also used to constantly create new types of theatrical spaces and devices unique to the Youkiza.
The company has successfully performed numerous overseas programs in countries of Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union and the USA. Among these, their performance of Macbeth at the 1986 Belgrade International Drama Festival won the festival’s Special Award of the Regional Government. In July of 2007, as one of the main attractions of the Avignon Festival, the company will give a return performance of the 2002 production Les Paravents (The Screens) written and directed by Frédéric Fisbach based on the original by Jean Genet.