Japanese soloist puppet company created in 1974 in Tokyo by Okamoto Hoichi (1947-2010) who performed as Hyakki-Dondoro. Born in Hiroshima, Okamoto Hoichi studied puppetry, mask, gesture and dance, and fused these art forms in his performances.
In 1980, Okamoto made a long, solo tour by foot around Japan with his bicycle cart, performing in front of temples. In 1986, he settled in Inadani, Shinshu, in the valley of Ina (Nagano Prefecture). In 1988 he was invited to the first Asian theatre festival of solo theatre in South Korea and subsequently toured Japan and Taiwan. He became well known internationally, gave many presentations in Europe and notably in the United States, with Kiyohime Mandara (Mandala of Kiyohime, 1992), which played at venues like the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.
His butō-like work draws on traditions of bunraku (see ningyō jōruri) and nō, as well as modern mime and dance. He manipulated human-sized figures he built himself using the iconography of traditional masks. The body of the figure is created by dance-like movement, and puppet and puppeteer can barely be separated from one another. This was particularly true of his Kiyohime Mandara, a well-known traditional play in nō, kabuki, bunraku, and also popular ballads, about the tragic love of beautiful Kiyohime for the monk Anchin. After a night of love and promise of marriage, the abandoned girl takes revenge by transforming herself into a snake and killing her beloved. Okamoto’s concentrated and intimate fusion of monk and girl allowed one to morph and visibly intertwine with the other through fine manipulation and complex interplay, mesmerizing audiences. Man and the moving figure mysteriously formed a single body bound by love and hate.
His other works include Komachi (Lady Komachi) about the 9th century poetess and Miroku Densho (Legend of Miroku) which tells of a salvific Buddha-to-come.
Okamoto’s work is visually represented by Dondoro, the photographic book by Estelle Hanania (Brussels, Kaugummi Books, 2011). His many awards include the Cannes International Puppet Theatre Festival Award for Best Performance, and the Japan Puppet Theatre Gold Award.