In the early 1980s, celebrated puppet master Hori Hiroshi and his wife Maiko created "ningyo-mai," a novel kind of performance art inspired by traditional Japanese theater in which he shares a stage with dolls in dance. For the next 4 decades, Maiko, a theater director, pushed Hori to forge new artistic paths for his craft. After Maiko passed away in 2018, Hori was bereft of the passionate force behind his artistic ambitions. How can he use the craft he has cultivated to work through his grief?
40 years ago, he created ningyo-mai, a new kind of performance art, in which he dances alongside dolls He and his dolls share the stage with other real actors
I felt dolls were the perfect way
to express something other-worldly.
They dance over the borders
between this world and the next.
I lost my wife three years ago.
That deep loss still resonates.
I haven't felt like creating much.
Because of the pandemic,
I've been stuck inside.
So I haven't been inspired
by outside energy either.
It feels like the world is grieving.
Perhaps I could try to heal "myself"
instead of being healed.
Maybe create something?
Eternal life that outlasts death.
In a different dimension,
beyond all limits.
It's been three years now.
It was so fast.
A person's soul can just...
We worked together to share
a message through puppets.
We were forging a new path.
Our work faced many barriers.
I would cut down those ahead
while she swung a sword behind us.
We somehow found a way forward
by fighting together.
Her first adaptation of my work
had a cherry-blossom, a sakura, theme.
It's how we met. So sakura, Maiko,
and my work are inextricably linked.
Hori married 47-year-old Maiko when he was 26 Born to a German father, Maiko grew up with a profound love and understanding of Japanese culture
"Choka: Hearing Sakura"
Maiko's first ningyo-mai(1982) Intense blossoms for just ten days
out of a year, then falling away.
That is Japanese beauty.
It's exhilarating, dream-like...
"Choka" was a mix of those emotions
along with transience and solitude.
I've long expressed Japan's pathos
through my wife's eyes.
That sense of emptiness,
an awareness that life is fleeting.
At least half of that was her.
And now the pandemic.
Everything has stopped.
I felt as if I were hibernating.
But now, like a waking bug, I'm slowly
resuming my creative pursuit.
Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture Statue of Maya, Mother of the Buddha
The cheek here, the brows.
The soft curves of her hand.
They all remind me of my wife.
It's like, 'Oh, here you are.'
'It's been so long.' We were 21 years apart.
Yet we spent nearly 40 years
creating, living, traveling together.
People often said what a charming
mother and son we were!
Yet we looked so different.
Her European features.
My very Japanese face.
How could we be related?
Perhaps they felt that we shared
a single soul between us.
For her, I was her husband, son,
confidante, and a fellow soldier.
I think she was deeply maternal.
The statue beckons kindly
to us too, doesn't she?
As if I could return to the womb.
That's my impression.
I never made a piece like this.
Sketches for a new puppet Maiko always said to me:
Don't wait to be moved.
Question what you want to create.
It wasn't so much her love for me.
But rather, her compassion and care.
I've only just realized this.
My wife cared so much for me.
The kind of all-embracing,
infinite compassion of Maya.
Universal, stronger than death.
Truly vital and infinite.
I want my creation to feel the same.
It's not in religion or kimonos.
But it resonates with the universe.
The skull, the cheekbones,
jaw, temples, and nasal.
These are symmetrical.
That's standard for Buddhist statues.
Humans are asymmetrical.
A lot of my recent puppets have quite
sharp lines, but I want curves.
That's what I want to express.
Using clay, Hori creates a mold for the head, into which he packs washi paper and starch The ears and hands are carved from wood
The hands lift us up and
offer us salvation. They embrace us.
A symbol of great love
and a compassionate heart.
However terrible your life or actions,
Buddha will save you.
I think that's at the heart
of all Buddhist statues.
So I want these hands
to offer salvation.
Hori was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1958 As a child, he learned Japanese dance from his grandmother, who was a master instructor
"Chirorin Village and the Walnut Tree",
"Pop-Up Gourd Island".
I grew up on kids' puppet shows on TV.
So aged six, I wrote that I wanted
to run a puppet theater troupe.
The way kids now want to be
animators or voice actors.
It was only natural that what I'd been watching inspired me.
I'd go over to my grandma's to dance.
Using folding fans or wisteria flowers.
And I loved that world as well.
Why not bring them together?
I wanted to unite them.
At 20, the self-taught Hori had one of his works chosen in a public contest for creative puppetry "Meiji Women"
His first exhibition(1979)
All my puppets then were like
illustrations of a novel.
Maiko told me it wasn't enough
to get people's attention.
They had to tear at people's hearts,
or soothe their pain.
He met Maiko at 23 I wanted to do the Japanese classics.
But she said that would end up being
a mock kabuki or mock Japanese dance.
'You have to go beyond form and
speak to the heart. "That's" your theme.' So she put together a piece with sakura
that reflected the heart of Japan.
I knew "this" was what I wanted to do.
from The Tale of Genji
Arranged, directed, and choreographed by Hori Maiko She once said that to make
the name Hori Hiroshi shine,
she would become the darkness.
'The darkness?' I laughed.
Now I understand we were a matched
yin and yang, a single unit.
And she took on
the burden of the dark parts.
All its nastiness and the ugliness.
She accepted it all.
Now she's gone, I know
the light can't shine on its own.
Her acceptance of the darkness built
tall barriers I could work behind.
Mechanism for moving the head I've looked at how bunraku
puppets make the head move.
The spring here is traditionally
made from whale baleen.
I use steel but it's the same.
The spring is pulled back
when you pull on this thread.
It's attached to the top of the head
so pulling it tips up the face.
The spring mechanism then
moves it back down again.
Back to neutral.
A silk cloth covers the face The color of the Earth.
As if she's watching down on us.
This is the color.
I want this kind of shade.
Gold leaf I'm drawing from
the deigan mask of Noh.
They began adding gold to the eyes
over 500 years ago.
Then a layer of
very thin ink to dull it.
When Noh was performed for
warlords by firelight, the masks' eyes would flash in
the flames, because it's real gold.
That brief glitter represents its
true emotions coming through.
I use this technique on all my puppets.
Because they all have thoughts and
emotions. They just don't show them.
But they leak out from their eyes.
Gold has been used in rites and rituals
since ancient times.
It collects light and reflects it.
Because the eyes and mouth
don't open and close, everything must be expressed
in a single face. Grief, joy, rage.
This is a neutral expression.
Like a Noh mask. All my work is
balanced between the emotions.
of the Kojiki in Fukushima (2012)
Arranged, directed, and choreographed by Hori Maiko A requiem performed where the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck
Umewaka Kisho A man finds his missing wife's comb by the sea
The wife he lost appears on the sands Noh actors actually move like puppets.
We don't slink or wriggle about.
We move from the shoulders,
like a puppet or robot. It's rigid.
Our costumes are sharp, too. Like origami.
Puppets and Noh are an excellent match.
Frenchman Paul Claudel said that
in Western drama 'something happens'.
But in Noh 'someone arrives'.
It's a very good summation.
He hit the nail on the head.
The world Hori creates has a lot of
crossover with what we do in Noh.
He tries to bring his wife back to the living world Her face becomes a skull.
Maggots crawl from her eyes.
And the man drops her hand.
And that's natural, I guess.
Puppets are the perfect expression
of that light and darkness.
Dolls are beautiful, but there's also
something scary about them.
We've used dolls and figures in curses
and funerary rites for millennia.
They dance over the borders
between this world and the next.
Especially when performing
with flesh-and-blood actors.
These bloodless figures move as if they're
alive. And yet they're otherworldly.
Puppets have a spectral fascination.
As if guiding us to a different world.
The hair is made from linen threads Hori dyes himself I dampen the threads then iron them
to straighten them out.
Like a linen tablecloth.
The more you do it,
the shinier the threads become.
The threads are hardened with glue and attached with a heated tool I want the hair to be like in a
Japanese painting. Light and supple.
So I've dyed it the color of pale ink.
Hori's collection of antiques are used for decoration This is from a deteriorated
Only the metal crown remained for sale.
But it belongs to a Buddhist statue.
It's from the early 1700s.
May 14, Tokyo
Meeting with production staff It's been three years
since my wife passed.
I remembered she told me that
once she was gone, you would be the one who could see
the best and worst of a puppet.
To come to you if I needed help.
The new birth of a soul.
That was what inspired me to create.
If you could create the choreography,
and Sho could come up with music....
I know it's sudden!
This is the image I have.
A Buddhist statue.
This is the face, like this.
The arms move freely, they can express
a feeling of salvation.
Too much sentiment and it will feel lonely.
It'll grind to a halt.
But this – if we use this energy to push
ourselves forward. Use it as encouragement.
These... My wife's scarves.
She loved wearing scarves.
We found this in a costume fabric store
in Florence, Italy. She wore it as a shawl.
I want the colors of the Earth.
This has those predawn hues.
Stretching from the land into the sky.
It's the Buddhist image
of a heavenly maiden. This color....
These colors should create my image of a
Bodhisattva looking down on Earth.
Like a prehistoric female clay figure.
Breasts and wide shoulders.
Brimming with the potential for bearing children.
Like a peacock, a bird that feeds on sin,
but also on pain and evil.
Absorbing all the pain and fear
of our current closed-off world and ascending.
Taking on our burdens.
Absorbing all our evils, burning them up,
and then ascending to the heavens.
Leaving us all feeling lighter than air.
I think this puppet can achieve that.
(2021) Too fast!
Do a spin and make eye contact.
Check if everyone's ready.
Give us some time!
It's more fun to let loose.
Let's move. You too, Sho!
Hori, raise the arm. Her arm.
Yeah, maybe don't raise it so high?
You lose some of the puppet's beauty.
Yes, that's it, there. Swing there.
Puppeteer and actor
Hannojoh - It's Latvia.
Footage recorded during a performance abroad - When?
- Over five years ago.
Hori has this tendency to smooth everything over.
Make it pretty.
My job is to stop him. Hold him still.
It doesn't have to be pretty.
Prioritize communicating a message.
That's always been our struggle.
At one point he was almost sweeping
the stage holding his puppets.
She'd say it all the time.
That it mustn't be you dancing.
I never listened.
Don't add, subtract. Don't move, hold.
But I still hear her voice.
Yes, I feel she's right here too.
She was always on point.
She'd tell the rest of us all the time
when we did something odd: 'You do that and Hori will die!'
You came first for her, always.
She made sure you weren't pulled down.
Maybe you didn't know.
That's love. She put you and
your puppets in the spotlight.
- I always felt that.
- Oh.... I see.
I don't say much but when I do,
I let loose.
'If you can't manage that, then quit.'
I'll go that far.
He's the first to do this.
There's no template to follow.
I want him to be dignified, I guess.
Not to be indebted to others
but stay above it all.
It's too late,
but I wish she were here.
I want to purify the emotions.
It doesn't have to be pretty.
Pretty and beautiful doesn't last.
I want him to go beyond that.
That's when it becomes incredible.
Let's go home home to our birthplace
To the beautiful waves of the mountain green
Wildflowers bloom cradled by the wide sky
Total acceptance and a prayer for joy
To mother's warm breast where love is
My wife said when she died,
she wanted to become atoms in the universe.
Not ashes in a grave
but scattered in the air.
To become space dust. Atoms....
The razor's edge between
beauty and terror!
Yin and yang. Half burned
and half undamaged.
I thought her return to the universe
in the fire was the end.
But it's not! She's passed on
the torch, lit my new path.
I will accept that.
This work, "Maya", continues to
save people even after all that.
Beauty alone doesn't strike people's hearts.
This performance showed me that.
Set beauty aside and grab the heart
That's what this is.
A shaft of sunlight.
Lighting up my dark.