Review: KUWENTO – 物語 (Monogatari), Théatre Lapis
4.0Overall Score

Kuwento – 物語 (read Monogatori, meaning a traditional Japanese epic or narrative) is a portrayal of three Japanese folktales by Théatre Lapis and a collaboration between Japanese, French, British and Filipino artists, and storytellers. Through the stunning visuals and immersive stories, I am transported into a world of wonder and fantasy. 

I hear three stories: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Momotaro, and The Fisher Boy Urashima. All three are narrated by our storyteller and his companion (a tortoiseshell cat) who wanders through the three tales with us, sitting in the background or next to key characters. Drawn in beautiful traditional Japanese style and based on ancient Japanese folktales, this piece is a hark back to bedtime stories as a child and the moral lessons that we learn from them.

I am fascinated by Japanese culture and am currently teaching myself Japanese, so I am thrilled to become better acquainted with Japanese children’s equivalents of Aesop’s Fables and the Brothers Grimm. The hour-long amalgamation of stories is beautifully split up by interludes where our narrator speaks to his feline companion. Above them, at a Shinto shrine, are three frames: the frames of our three stories – they fill in with a picture as we progress through them. 

The Tale of Princess Kaguya illustrates a bamboo cutter’s finding of an infant girl inside a bamboo that glows with gold. Famous in the UK for its adaptation by the highly acclaimed Studio Ghibli, this is the tale I am most familiar with. A tale of the love and loss of a daughter and the impact that family have on us, even when they are gone, is incredibly moving and timely after the last year. 

Our second story, Momotaro, tells of a young boy found inside a large peach who (alongside a Monkey, Pheasant and Dog) saves his village from being repeatedly pillaged by neighbouring ogres. Our heroes fill themselves with Dango (Japanese sweet dumplings) and each ball gives them the strength of one hundred men. A testament to bravery and teamwork, it is impossible for this story not to encourage you to keep fighting (and to crave Dango – which are irresistibly portrayed). 

Our final tale is of The Fisher Boy, Urashima Taro, who rescues a turtle that is being tormented by some children. As a thanks Urashima is invited to the palace of the turtle’s father– this beautiful underwater castle is filled with sake, a feast, and colourful fish who dance for him. Urashima falls in love with the father’s daughter Otohime and they dance for three days, but he wishes to check on his family back home before he returns to the palace under the sea for good. Unbeknownst to Urashima 400 years have passed and everyone he knows has gone – a sombre ending to the trilogy. 

These three adventures whisk you out of your living room and into fantasy worlds while telling moral tales about respecting others, looking after your fellow citizens and the importance of family – all beautiful morals that resonated in the past and the present.

Kuwento is available to stream on YouTube for free. For more information see Theatre Lapis’s website.

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