Japanese puppet theatre. PUK Puppet Theatre was founded in 1929, and is at the heart of a modern puppetry that developed in Japan after World War II. Established by a handful of high school graduates in Tokyo, the group was originally led by Kawajiri Tōji, and after his untimely death in 1932, by his younger brother Kawajiri Taiji (1914-1994), an illustrator who had contributed to many leftist publications. For its first show, presented in December of that same year, the group took the Esperanto name La Pupa Klubo (Club of Puppets).
Among the notable creations they have debuted are the adaptations for puppets of Rip van Winkle, The Adventures of Good Soldier Sweik, The Emperor’s New Clothes (which was quickly banned!) and, again, Don Quixote.
Under surveillance from the authorities, the troupe had to change its names many times, but finally in 1940, along with other modern theatre groups, it had to disband. Reorganized in l947, it chose the name PUK, derived from its original appellation. It rapidly began tours all over the country, offering development workshops in the communities where it performed, assisting amateur groups to become established in these local communities, schools, and enterprises.
A member of UNIMA since 1958, the troupe opened its own theatre in the area of Shinjuku in Tokyo in a building which accommodates their performance stage (PUK Ningyō Gekijō), a studio (Studio Nova) dedicated to film and television productions, and the headquarters of the troupe (Gekidan PUK).
The troupe reorganized in 2001 as a collective with a board of directors that is divided into three branches of activities, each operating in an independent fashion. The group is an impressive organization with about seventy permanent members. PUK produces many performances a year (more than six hundred in 2013), with presentations daily in its theatre, regular tours throughout Japan and abroad, first in Eastern Europe, but also in North America and South East Asia. Moreover, the troupe regularly invites companies or artists to visit and produces their work in Japan. PUK has also established its PUK Puppetry Academy, which has a full professional course as well as workshops for children or amateurs (see Training).
Considered as the centre of modern puppetry in Japan, the troupe has received funding for national and international festivals in which it has participated. It has also gotten the difficult to obtain subventions for modern theatre from the Ministry of Culture.
Faithful to the aim of their founder, the troupe’s goal is “to absorb the tradition critically”. Technically speaking, the artists use most manipulation styles from string puppets, to guignol-type figures, to black light theatre, and of course Japanese techniques. For Bunraku-style figures (see Ningyō Jōruri), they have developed a manipulation technique which has influenced most of the new companies founded after the war. Clearly aligned with the left, the group was censored at the start of the Korean War. The company has given many politically engaged performances, such as those that denounced the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in 1954.
The repertoire is very wide, also including Western plays, such as Doctor Faust (1949), The Blue Bird (1957), and Amphitryon (1961); fantasies inspired by William Shakespeare; adaptations of foreign authors’ works (Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy) or Japanese novels (Izumi Kyōka, Dazai Osamu, Miyazawa Kenji); and playlets drawn from well-known Japanese legends – The Lady of the Snows, the Festival of the Herdsman and the Weaver Girl – or from the Chinese tradition, such as the Phantom of the Peony Lantern.