This time, we visit Toyama Prefecture to meet US-born Jack Lee Randall, a weaver of tales for children using shadow puppets. With an overhead projector, paper cutouts, his creativity and his audience's imagination, he adds his own twist to beloved fairy tales, much to the children's delight. We follow Jack as he collaborates with musicians for a live shadow performance like he's never done before. We also tag along with Chinese-native Weng Fei, who operates a concrete pump truck in Gifu Prefecture.
Where We Call Home.
Through shadow puppet theater, one man enriches children's imaginations.
Welcome to the world of shadow plays.
US-born Jack Lee Randall.
He adds his own unique twist to popular Japanese and western fairy tales, encouraging kids to set their imaginations free.
I want to teach kids
the importance of playfulness...
to be free to create
and enjoy themselves.
Be playful and have fun.
Jack prepares for a performance unlike anything he's done before.
Let's get a closer look at his efforts to unlock children's creative potential.
Between the bountiful ocean and a majestic mountainous backdrop, Toyama City is about a two-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride from central Tokyo.
This is my house.
Rice paddies right across the street.
It feels great.
On clear days, we get a breathtaking view
of the Tateyama Mountain Range.
Enchanted by the beautiful scenery, shadow puppet theater performer Jack Lee Randall moved here from his native United States.
His home is also his workshop.
How do his shadow puppets come to life?
For my shadow puppet plays,
I use this simple overhead projector.
The light hits this mirror,
which projects the image on the screen.
While some shadow plays feature colorful images, Jack insists on using only black and white.
He explains it's to better stimulate the children's imaginations.
Rather than showing everything in detail,
the movements let people imagine...
the characters' feelings
The audience has to participate
by using their imagination.
So, the children create the stories
together with me. It's so interesting.
Jack is from the city of Atlanta.
While in university, he was part of a puppet theater troupe.
In 1999, he came to Toyama to participate in a collaborative play between Japan and the US.
Thanks to the region's abundant nature and the warmth of the local people he met through the theater project, he fell in love with Toyama.
He'd always wished to return - a dream that came true when he moved here in 2003 to work as an assistant English teacher.
As he taught in schools, he came to realize how although Japanese children were honest and hard-working students, they seemed to have difficulty expressing themselves freely.
Parents and teachers tell children,
"You're like this or like that."
But kids don't need to act according to
the personalities people say they have.
They have the right to change.
"It's OK to change."
This is the message I want to tell them.
How could he foster a sense of creativity and self-expression in the children?
That's when he remembered his experience with shadow plays while he was in a theater troupe.
Jack takes classic fairy tales and rearranges them with a whimsical and often comical touch.
Today he's going to perform for a group of local children.
He prepares his usual setup alone.
He mainly gives performances at cultural centers and elementary schools.
He's often accompanied by a guitar player.
And the show begins.
First, Little Red Riding Hood!
Good morning, little girl!
Where are you going all alone?
To my grandma's.
Say, what's in that basket of yours?
Jack's modern and humorous take is a hit with the children.
Here comes the climactic scene.
Let's see what Jack does with it.
What big ears you have.
All the better to hear you with.
Grandma, what a big mouth you have.
All the better... to eat you with!
Aren't you scared?
What's going on?
No need for the usual huntsman to intervene.
This Little Red Riding Hood made short work of the big bad wolf.
I just wanted to take a few bites.
How mean of her!
You're the mean one!
I knew the original story.
This one was so funny.
I thought it'd be like the original.
But this felt more modern. I loved it.
The original story seems to tell girls
they need the help of a man.
But I want them to become
strong women who can make decisions...
and solve problems on their own.
So, I made my own version of the story.
This spring, as the pandemic seemed to quiet down, Jack was invited to perform in front of a large audience in a different prefecture for the first time in a long while.
Helping him to prepare for the show is an artist who also lives in Toyama, Hirota Ikuyo.
The two met through Jack's participation in the puppet theater performance during his first visit to Japan.
Ikuyo creates the paper cutouts following Jack's storyboards.
Sometimes we disagree
on certain details.
But after a bit of discussion,
we find a solution we agree on.
For this presentation, Jack wants to do something more elaborate.
He's going to use two overhead projectors.
By instantly switching between the two, the story can unfold without interruption, adding new visual expression and further improving the sense of immersion.
Jack chose a Japanese tale called "Urashima Taro."
After rescuing a sea turtle, Taro, the protagonist, is taken on an underwater journey to a marvelous palace beneath the ocean.
Jack decided to add another new element to his performance.
He's going to be accompanied by traditional Japanese musical instruments - the biwa and the koto.
Dynamic yet rich in emotional tones, they should enhance the story.
Jack and Ikuyo practice with a recording of the music.
After a while, a problem surfaces.
It's during the scene where Taro is taken beneath the waves - a pivotal moment in the story.
There should be a pause here.
Jack feels the pacing isn't quite right.
The music starts too early - while the image still shows the empty boat after Taro and the turtle dive into the sea.
No sound when they jump into the water?
Before that, there should be
a silent pause.
Jack feels that leaving a quiet moment of stillness would highlight the journey into the unknown that comes right after.
He considers removing a few images to focus on a single one for a longer time.
He feels this will make the subsequent music more impactful.
This show will be more elaborate
It's exciting, but I worry
if it'll get through to the audience.
Jack's household counts five members.
He and his wife Miyuki have been married for eleven years.
They live with their two daughters and Miyuki's grandmother.
When they got married, Jack's still had no stable income.
This caused concern among the people around them.
It was hard, but I knew it'd work out.
I can work, too.
When it comes to theater,
Jack's got strong convictions...
that can be troublesome
to those around him.
He can be quite stubborn.
Jack's performance will be held in Chiba City.
The day before the show, a rehearsal takes place.
Nice to meet you!
He finally meets the musicians.
The koto player has performed both in and out of Japan.
And playing the biwa is an award-winning musician.
This is the first time Jack gets to practice with the two musicians in person.
You'll take me to the palace?
The part where the turtle
rests on the boat is gone?
We removed it.
I thought of playing the sound
of the waves during that part.
- There was no room for it.
- I missed the timing.
They eventually decided to follow Jack's idea and removed that part.
He also instructs them to wait a bit before playing after Taro and the turtle dive into the ocean.
The music should start
when this image comes up.
They check the timing of the music with each frame.
The rehearsal took a total of six hours.
At last, the day has come.
Around 300 parents and children show up for the first representation.
Jack looks somewhat nervous.
The sounds of the biwa and koto echo through the hall.
Here comes the crucial scene.
The music of the Japanese instruments adds richness to the images.
Just like Taro, the audience is spirited away on a magical adventure.
With shadow theater, the audience and I
share time and space to create a story.
This kind of communication reminds me
of the importance of what I do.
I knew the story,
but it felt so new and fresh.
I don't know how my kids felt,
but I was really moved.
What a unique person.
I was surprised.
Recently, Jack also puts effort into teaching shadow puppet workshops for kids.
You're going to make
your own shadow puppets.
The children let their imaginations run free to create original characters and scenes.
Jack wants them to follow their inspiration and bring their own ideas to life.
Their creations are filled with ideas
I never would have conceived.
They used their imagination
in all kinds of creative ways.
It was rewarding to watch.
With his world of shadow puppets, Jack planted seeds of imagination into the children's minds.
He can't wait to see how they'll grow.
Hi, I'm Weng Fei from China.
I use this pump truck to pour concrete
for construction projects.
It's fun and rewarding work.
Kakamigahara, Gifu Pref.
About half of this firm's staff
The firm specializes
in concrete foundations.
My work clothes.
It's hot, so I put them on at the site.
Off we go!
arriving at the site.
We're working here today.
It's 100m to the top.
The truck can't go up.
We send the concrete through pipes.
An old electric pylon
is going to be replaced.
Weng Fei's team will pour concrete
to form its foundations.
Now in his 10th year of experience,
Weng Fei is the team's foreman.
They start by connecting the truck
to the location with 25 kg pipes.
Weng Fei gives instructions
to his team as he works.
The mixer truck arrives with the concrete.
The pump truck's engine sends
the concrete into the pipes.
I use this device to control the pressure.
The accelerator... and the pouring.
- Looks like a game controller.
- I guess it does.
At 18, Weng Fei pursued
a career in glass making.
He got married at 22,
but his income was insufficient.
At 24, he came to Japan as a technical
intern and found his current job.
The team rides a monorail to reach
the top of the slope.
Weng Fei explains the process in Japanese
to the other team that does different work.
Time to pour in the concrete
to form the foundation.
With the controller, he sends
the concrete through the hose.
We use 20 tons of concrete per leg.
They used about 80 tons of concrete
to make foundations for all four legs.
Next, we work on a tunnel.
We gotta hurry.
They head to the next work site
some 15km away.
This is Kano-san, my supervisor.
Since I came to Japan,
he's been training me...
and teaching me Japanese.
I'm so thankful.
He learned Japanese so quickly,
and proactively communicates with people.
He's such a great member of our team.
Training under Kano,
Weng Fei became the first...
level 2 Specified Skilled Worker
in Japan, and was even on local news.
The certification lets him and his family
live in Japan indefinitely.
Only 60% of Japanese would pass the test.
Even practice tests don't show
the reading for "kanji."
I helped him study.
He passed with a high score.
I'm glad my visa allows me
to live with my family.
Due to the pandemic,
his family waits in China.
- Learned any Japanese?
- 'Tasty!' 'Great!' - And 'I love you'?
- Japanese never say that.
Sharing a meal remotely like this
is much better than eating alone.
This is my treasure:
my residence card.
The Specified Skilled Worker status
allows my family to live in Japan.
So, this is my most important possession.
My family means the most to me.
I send most of my salary to China.
About 90% of it.
I want them to live comfortably.
So, I work hard for that.