Taneita (Slides)


Utsushi-e and Karakuri

Animation and special effects were made possible in several ways.

Hand painted slides could be manipulated by sliding glasses or using mechanisms often driven with threads.

Furo (projector) could also serve for producing tricks. A piece of black textile as in this picture can be used to a quick appearance/dissapearance of images, as well as for special effects such as lightnings.

Furthermore, operators with furos in their hands move around behind the screen freely, changing location and size of images spontaneously.

Combination of these tricks made possible to realize animation techniques and special effects. Techniques such as fade in/fade out, cut in/cut out, overlap, zoom in, were already realized in Edo.

Slip slides and mechanical slides in the West had realized animation and special effects (see notes on the essay "Utushi-e: The Most High-tech Visual Entertainment from Edo to Meiji") . Japanese invented sophisticated animation on Utsushi-e by combining the originally Western magic lantern technology with Japanese traditional skills and story telling.

It is known that since 1662 puppet theatre became popular in Japan. Skills and mechanisms to manipulate puppets were developed. While Bunraku involves more bodily manipulation of larger puppets by operators, Takeda Karakuri (called after the major performing company Takeda) utilized smaller puppets that are manipulated using threads and other tricks. Use of threads was the major technique for puppet theatre, but later extremely complex automata using wooden gears were also developed.

Karakuri, which means 'mechanical trick', was a popular entertainment on the street since the second half of 17c.

Sophisticated and dynamic animation technique in Utsusi-e was partly borrowed from that of karakuri and was developed further.

When Robertson's Phantasmagoria show was achieving a big success in Europe, this trick of light was becoming the hottest topic in Japanese big cities.

Taneita restored by Minwa-za.  Photoshop is used to recover lost parts of images. Plexiglass is used instead of glass to avoid destroying slides during performance.

Original slides used in suburban Tokyo area until 1920s


The utsushi-e slides were made by hand painting on glass plates.

For re-enacting utsushi-e, reproduction of original slides are needed.

Often glass slides are damaged after being used for performances, either on paints or on glass plates.

Yet some of them are in good conditions.

At first, the idea was to reproduce them by taking photo using reversal film, to make positives. But when projected, such slides failed to represent the original transparency. White parts from the original slides such as thin scratched line used for drawing hair, or faces which are not colored, looked strangely grayish.

This was a serious problem. Since an Utsushi-e slide is made of more than two plates to make animation possible, even a slight darkness on each film would be multiplied when projected.

Actually it was caused by the nature of slide films. Films are transparent, but they are slightly blue. Crystal clearness is missing from the normal slide films.

Minwa-za artists discovered that the film used in printing process have a much better clearness.

Finally the process for restoring glass slides was established. First, a photography from an original slide is made. Then the picture is scanned into a computer. The image will be turned into monochrome, and damaged outline will be restored in black. The restored image will be printed, and sent to a professional service so that the image will be transferred onto a sheet of special transparency. Minwa-za artists would color the film faithfully according to the original color used.

Approximately 100 images are used for one story.

Typically a character is painted on a piece of glass plate which is as small as 5cm x 5cm.

One has to paint using exacly the same color on an image which is as small as a miniature painting.

Restoring a slide is a time consuming work which requires an intensive effort.

Restoring Taneita