15 October 2010

Kihachiro Kawamoto's Puppets of Chopin and George Sand

In Japan earlier this year, the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), saw the re-release of Géza von Bolváry’s German-language film Abschiedswalzer: Zwei Frauen um Chopin (Farewell Waltz /別れの曲, 1934). The film stars Wolfgang Liebeneiner as Chopin and Sybille Schmitz as George Sand. Schmidt is perhaps best known today for having starred in Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) and for being the inspiration for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (1984).

This film is rarely screened today – in fact it’s not even available on DVD here in Germany. However, the film is actually important in Japanese film history.  According to Masao Yokota’s writings on the early life of Kihachiro Kawamoto in Kawamoto Kihachirō: Ningyō – kono inochi aru mono (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2007), Kawamoto was so impressed by the film Farewell Waltz that he designed puppets in the likenesses of Chopin and George Sand.
Glamour shot of Danielle Darrieux

Today Kawamoto’s name may be synonymous with animation that celebrates Japanese traditional and modern literature and theatre, but in his youth he was actually a huge fan of foreign films. In his teens and early twenties, he was much more likely to be watching Hollywood or French films than Japanese fare. Yokota writes that Kawamoto also made dolls modeled on Greta Garbo and the French star Danielle Darrieux. I do not know if these dolls survive, but the Iida City Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum is clearly aware of this history because I found reference to a screening of a 1953 Danielle Darrieux film (Madame de…, Max Ophüls) at the museum in an entry on their website from last year.

Check out the Japanese trailer for Farewell Waltz here:

While the book Kawamoto Kihachirō: Ningyō – kono inochi aru mono does not have any photos of these early dolls (that I have found yet - but it is an astonishing treasure trove of photographs of Kawamoto's entire career), the influence of Western culture on Kawamoto can be seen in the Asahi Cider ads of the late 1950s and early 1960s featuring The Three Little Indian Kids:

These puppets were designed by Shigeru Hijikata and made by Kawamoto and have appeared on a wide variety of media:

Further posts on Kawamoto:
Kihachiro Kawamoto Self Portrait (1988)
The Passing of a Puppet Master: Kihachiro Kawamoto 1925-2010
Winter Days

Must haves for your DVD collection:

Shisha no Sho / Puppet Show
Book of the Dead (Puppet Animation)

Kihachiro Kawamoto Sakuhin shu / Animation
(Short Film Collection)

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010