Take a moment for this piece of work. Put the everyday world aside. Turn the lights down. Put on your headphones and watch it on a reasonably sized screen. It will take you to Heaven and Hell and back.
Part of the Folkestone Puppet Festival, The Spider’s Thread by Aya Nakamura is a tiny 15 minutes of absolute beauty that intricately combines the Japanese tradition of Kamishibai – a method of visual narrative through story cards, with the Western approach of Paper Theatre. It tells the modern fable by Japanese writer Akutagawa of how Kandata, an evil robber condemned to Hell, has the chance of reprieve by the Buddha for his act of kindness in saving a spider’s life, but loses it through his selfishness.
From the moment the production begins we are whisked into the world of ancient Japanese culture by the intoxicating, haunting music, specially composed by Verity Lane for traditional Japanese instruments. Then an almost surreal series of images takes us across beautiful skyscapes to Paradise, where the Buddha looks down towards Hell and spies the criminal. Interweaving layered landscapes that combine textures of collage, pen and ink drawing and photography, the images draw us from Paradise down to Hell, and the tormented souls that exist there.
Kandata watches from behind a rock as the sinners around him are tortured. The simple puppeting movement is perfectly paced against the music, building tension as he waits in dread of what might happen to him, and the demons that threaten him are delightfully creepy. Through a simple storyline we see that despite the evil deeds of his past, in one moment Kandata stopped to save the life of a tiny spider. Learning of this, the Buddha sends the spider on a thread to the underworld to offer Kandata a chance of redemption by way of reward. But the robber’s selfishness overcomes him; he refuses to let the other sinners escape up the thread with him, and he is cast back to damnation. The value of kindness to others is an object lesson for us all in this, our own time of crisis and stress.
Clever cinematography adds depth to the paper puppetry, which interestingly combines multiple Japanese influences, including traditional sources such as Hokusai and Samurai paintings. The accompanying soundscape of instruments and voicework is highly effective, especially when heard through headphones, and the resulting combination is visceral and exciting.
Aya Nakamura has created an intricately crafted artwork of a performance – as tiny as a spider, yet as intricate as its web. It interweaves traditional sound and images with precision and delightful beauty to create a thoroughly modern composition. This is a unique piece of work that deserves your full attention.
Images/puppeting/voice/camera/editing by: Aya Nakamura
Music composed by: Verity Lane
Additional puppeting by: Mohsen Nouri
Produced by: Paul Piris, Rouge28 Theatre
Part of the Folkstone Puppet Festival and supported by The Arts Council England. It is available to watch free of charge until December 6th 2020.