Furo, Wodden “Mobile” Magic Lantern


The structure is basically the same as western magic lanterns. A box with two lenses and a light source can project an image drawn on a transparency, a piece of glass in this case.


Note:    Japanese cedar or paulownia wood (sometimes called Japanese balsa) was used for the lantern. In the West paulownia is planted in gardens for its beautiful purple flowers, but in Japan it is not only the flower people appreciated. The wood is known as the best material for furniture. It is very light, stands well for water, humidity or dryness, and is almost flameproof. (Paulownia was in fact considered as a noble tree. In the famous Tale of Genji, a novel which was written about 1000 years ago by Lady Murasaki, the mother of the prince was called "the Lady of Paulownia Courtyard" because of the part of the Palace she lived. )

A typical magic lantern which was widely used in early 20th century.

Fabricated by MAZO, France, this model weighs more than 5kg. The metal lanterns became hot during the use. British lanterns were often made with mahogany and brass.

But the weight practically remained the same as metal lanterns because of thick and heavy mahogany wood.

Furo for Utsushi-e in its original form.

This was one of the furos Tamagawa Bunraku used for his performance. This furo is said to be from early 1860s. Oil lamp is used for the light source.

Minwa-za reproduced furos for their performances.

Electric bulbs are used for the light source.

Wooden furos(projectors) are hand held and dynamically manipulated

A modern reproduction of furo for Utsushi-e made of metal.

This model was developed by Minwa-za and is used for projecting larger images such as background landscape. This projector is fixed during the projection.

Japanese magic lantern is made of wood. It is called 'furo', which means a bath tub. (Japanese bath tubs are made of wood and are smaller in area but deep, quite different from shallow and long western bath tubs. ) Because furo is made of wood, its exterior does not get too hot with the heat from inside, from an oil lamp which was used as the light source. This is why a showman can hold a furo in arm and carry it around behind the paper screen, which allows both dynamic and delicate animation technique.

Operation technique was developed to achieve effects like what we know today. Effects such as fade in/fade out, cut in/cut out, overlap, zoom in, were realized. These effects became possible with combination of glass and wooden masks, use of threads, and collaboration between multiple operators.

Magic lantern technology in the West developed into a direction such as using wheels, building biunial (a lantern on top of another) and triunial lanterns for sophisticated animation, introducing sophisticated mechanism of gears, levers and metal shutters that enabled a single operator to perform visual effects such as a day scene turning into night.

The light source also developed into more powerful systems that enabled magic lantern shows at theaters.

A 8cm x 8cm, or 8cm x 10cm slide covers the whole screen, as a powerful light source magnified all the details on the slide. When photography was invented, soon it became an important technology to produce magic lantern slides.

Invention of cinema was based on these features magic lantern had.

As a contrast, Japanese invented smaller and lighter lanterns for group performance that could play a full screen animation altogether.  It was probably a logical consequence, and it made sense with other technical constraints. However, it could never lead to the invention of cinema.