Story telling is as old as human civilization. Down the ages there have been many different ways of telling tales. In India itself we have had the burra katha of Andhra Pradesh, the Kathaputli of Rajasthan, the pala of Orissa and many others which are popular even today.
Recently, in Japan, there has been a revival of a unique form of story telling which was created way back in 1930 in traditional shopping and residential areas of Tokyo. It goes by the euphonious name of Kamishibai.
I had the opportunity of witnessing this unique art form at the Asian Conference on Story Telling held at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi from 19th to 21st September.
What exactly is Kamishibai? According to Ms. Etsuko Nazaka of International Kamishibai Association of Japan (IKAJA) in its simplest form Kamishibai is way of reaching out to the audience through the medium of pictures and words.”
In Kamishibai a stage or mini-theatre, called Butai in Japanese, is used. It is a wooden structure rectangular in shape with a three-part door. Separate sheets of thick paper with drawings in front and text at the back are prepared. The performer reads out the text while sliding each sheet inside and out through the butai.
Etsuko presented Kamishibai before an enthralled audience comprising both the young and the old. As the story unfolded, punctuated by the simple narration, the audience started climbing for an encore.
What makes Kamishibai so appealing?
“The pictures of a Kamishibai, unlike those on TV, are not animated. Scenes change as the performer slides out each sheet of pictures. They do not shift as swiftly as animations do. Such a slow-paced rhythm of the moving pictures agrees with the intrinsic rhythms of the body and mind. This allows us to feel comfortable while watching Kamishibai. This is one of the main reasons why it is so attractive,” says Etsuko.
Kyokan, another Japanese concept is intrinsically linked to this evocative form of story telling.
Ms. Kyoko Sakai Supervisor of IKAJA and President of Doshinsha publishing, feels Kamishibai creates the world of Kyokan. “The word Kyokan originally means the “sharing of feelings.” We could explain it in other words: while the story is being told there is a sharing of feelings among the people in the audience as well between the performer and the audience. Kamishibai thus results in creating a feeling similar to empathy. However, the perspective of this feeling is different from the empathy you feel when you read books. Because in case of Kamishibai, the canvas of the work reaches out to the audience, and emerges real in the actual world."
In this fast moving world where billions of images from the idiotic box clutter our lives, zillions of messages from cyberspace invade our privacy; simple, straight from the heart methods of reaching out like Kamishibai create an appeal which both endearing as well as enduring.