05 December 2013

Puppet Theatre Romance of the Three Kingdoms (人形劇 三国志, 1982-1984)

Puppet Theatre Romance of the Three Kingdoms
(人形劇 三国志 / Ningyōgeki Sangokushi, 1982-4, 45’ x 68, TV)


Luo Guanzhong’s 14th century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, known in Japan as Sangokushi, is often compared to Shakespeare when scholars describe the literary impact that it has had on East Asian culture.  At 120 chapters, it is an epic tale featuring almost a thousand characters – the majority of whom are historical figures from the final years of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD) and Three Kingdoms (220-280AD) periods.  The Three Kingdoms period was one of the bloodiest in Chinese History and the novel is filled with intrigues, rebellions, and warfare. 

The tale has been adapted countless times in a variety of forms from manhua (Chinese comics) and manga to animation, from video games to epic films such as John Woo's spectacular Red Cliff (2010).  One adaptation not so well known in the west, but culturally significant in Japan is the NHK’s epic two-year series Puppet Theatre Romance of the Three Kingdoms (人形劇 三国志 / Ningyōgeki: Sangokushi, 1982-4).   The puppets were designed and made by Kihachirō Kawamoto, the legendary puppet animator who passed away in 2010, assisted by his team of puppet artisans.  Outside of Japan, Kawamoto is famous for his stop motion films, but inside Japan he is known for the puppets he made for Sangokushi and the Historical Doll Spectacular: The Story of Heike (人形歴史スペクタル平家物語/Ningyō Rekishi Supekutakuru: Heike Monogatari, 1993-4).  

Very little has been written about these two series in English or other European languages because of their lack of availability.  I have been wanting to watch the series for a long time but have been hindered by the fact that I am not in Japan and the DVDs are expensive – 17 DVDs (JP only, no subs) released in 2002 with a list price of ¥5,040 apiece.  The series is now available on NHK on Demand, but unfortunately this is region blocked.  Last year, I discovered that a close family friend is also a fan of Sangokushi and he generously gave us a copy of the complete series. Starting the 1st of December, my husband – aka my portable English-German-Japanese dictionary – and I have pledged to watch an episode a week for the next 68 weeks so that I can review the entire series for Nishikata Film.  Along the way, I will share tidbits that we have picked up from books and articles about Kawamoto and the making of the series. 


There are a number of challenges to reviewing this series.  The main one has to do with the names of the characters.  The novel The Romance of Three Kingdoms is based on historical events and figures as well as myths about this era gleaned from oral traditions.  The historical figures usually have at least two names: their given name and their style name (aka courtesy name / / zi), which is a name bestowed upon a person at adulthood in addition to their given name.  The English translations of the novel use the standard Pinyin (official phonetic system for transcribing Chinese characters into Latin script) names, but these are often very different from the common Japanese names for these characters.  I have put together a complete character guide which I will be updating /correcting throughout the series.  At the beginning of each episode review I will identify the key figures appearing in that episode with their names in kanji, and hiragana, and English (i.e. as they appear in Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor’s translation of Luo Guanzhong’s The Romance of Three Kingdoms which I will also be referring to throughout the series). 

Principal Crew

At the moment I only have the names of the key crew members who worked on this epic production.  I am in the process of tracking down the names of the puppet artisans who worked with Kawamoto and the puppeteers who worked under the NHK’s top puppeteer Mariko Itoh.  The dramatic incidental music was composed in-house by Yoshirō Kuwabara on many dramas from the early 60s to the mid-90s.  Sangokushi’s famous theme music was composed by the legendary musician Haruomi “Harry” Hosono, a key member of the bands Happy End and the Yellow Magic Orchestra (with Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto).  A bit of interesting trivia: Harry Hosono is the grandson of Masabumi Hosono, the only Japanese passenger on the Titanic when it sank.  His tale of survival and unnecessary public shaming by the media is a fascinating clash/muddle of Western and Japanese cultural expectations/prejudices and well worth looking into if you’re not familiar with his story.

Kazuya Satō (佐藤和哉)
Kō Koyama (小山攻)

Screenplay adaptation:
Ei Ogawa (小川英, 1930-94)
Yasuo Tanami (田波靖男, 1933-2000)
Mitsuo Aimono (四十物光男, b. 1946)

Theme Music:
Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣, b. 1947)

Yoshirō Kuwabara (桑原研郎, 1934-2007)

Puppet Design:
Kihachirō Kawamoto (川本喜八郎, 1925-2010)

Head Puppeteer:
Mariko Itoh (伊東万里子)

Shinsuke Shimada (島田紳助, b.1956)
Ryūsuke Matsumoto (松本竜助, 1956-2006)

Principal Cast

The performances were done by puppeteers on elaborate sets who stood underneath the large rod puppets and manipulated their movements (eyes, hands, etc.) using rods.  The voices were done by established seiyū (voice actors).  As there are hundreds of characters in the story, the seiyū did multiple characters.  Below, I have listed only the main characters that they played in the series.  Most of the actors voiced other more minor roles.  The female seiyū also do the voices of children and youths – with some of the youths growing into adulthood and being taken over by male seiyū.  I have been having trouble finding the furigana for the names of many of the female characters.  I will fill in / correct names as they appear in the series and I either see how they give the name in furigana onscreen or how they are called by other characters.

Character names are given English / Chinese / Japanese followed by the style name if I came across it.  Character descriptions are based upon wikipedia pages of the real historical figures.  All characters are historical figures unless noted otherwise.  For more information see the List of fictional people of the Three Kingdoms and the List of people in the Three Kingdoms.

Hayato Tani  谷隼人 (b.1946)
  • Liu Bei / 玄徳 / りゅうび, style name Xuande /玄徳/げんとく, warlord; founder and first ruler of the state of Shu Han
  • Dian Wei / 典韋 / てんい, military officer serving under the warlord Cao Cao, famed for his enormous strength
  • Cheng Yu / 程昱 / ていいく, strategist of the warlord Cao Cao
  • Ma Dai / 馬岱 / ばたい, military general of the state of Shu Han
  • Ma Su / 馬謖ほか / ばしょく, military general and strategist of the state of Shu Han

Renji Ishibashi  石橋蓮司 (b.1941)

  • Guan Yu / 関羽 / がんう, general serving under the warlord Liu Bei
  • Zhang Jue / 張角 / ちょうかく, leader of the Yellow Turban rebels, said to be a follower of Taoism and a sorcerer
  • Yuan Shao / 袁紹 / えんしょう, style name Benchu/本初/ほんしょ, warlord
  • Liu Biao / 劉表 / りゅうひょう, style name Jingsheng/景升/けいしょう, warlord and governor of Jing Province
  • Ma Teng / 馬騰 / ばとう, style name Shoucheng/寿成, warlord
  • Zhuge Jin / 諸葛瑾 / しょかつきん, official of the state of Eastern Wu
  • Ma Liang / 馬良 / ばりょう, style name Jichang/季常, official serving under the warlord Liu Bei, served briefly in the state of Shu Han
  • Sima Yi /司馬懿 / しばいaka Zhongda / 仲達 / ちゅうたつ, general and politician in the state of Cao Wei
  • Jiang Wei / 姜維 / きょうい, style name Boyue/伯約/はくやく, general and regent of the state of Shu Han; originally served Shu’s rival state Cao Wei as a mid-level military officer but defected 

Mitsuo Senda  せんだみつお (b.1947)

  • Zhang Fei / 張飛 / ちょうひ, general who served under the warlord Liu Bei
  • Xiahou Yuan / 夏侯淵 / かこうえん, general who served under the warlord Cao Cao
  • Chen Gong / 陳宮 /ちんきゅう, advisor to the warlord Lü Bu; started his career under Cao Cao before defecting to Lü Bu; was executed when Cao Cao defeated Lü Bu
  • Zhang Song / 張松 / ちょうしょう, advisor to the warlord Liu Zhang, plotted to remove Zhang from power and replace him with Liu Bei
  • Pang De / 龐徳 / ほうとく, general who served under various factions. In the end he refused to surrender to Guan Yu after his defeat at the Battle of Fancheng and was executed 
  • Cheng Pu / 程普 / ていふ, general serving under the warlord Sun Quan
  • Meng You / 孟優 / もうゆう , fictional character who first appears in Chapter 88 of the original epic; Meng Huo’s younger brother 
  • Xiahou Mao / 夏侯楙 / かこうぼう or かこうも, general and civilian administrator of Cao Wei; second son of Xiahou Dun; given the title "Marquis of the Imperial Domain" (列侯); married to Cao Cao's daughter Princess Qinghe.

Reo Morimoto  森本レオ (b.1943)

  • Zhuge Liang / 諸葛亮/ しょかつ, style name Kongming/孔明/こうめい, chancellor of the state of Shu Han; recognized as the greatest strategist of his era 
  • Lü Bu / 呂布 / りょふ, style name Fengxian /奉先/ , general and warlord; originally subordinate to minor warlord Ding Yuan, he betrayed and murdered Ding Yuan and defected to warlord Dong Zhuo; then did the same to Dong at the instigation of Wang Yun and others; defeated and driven away by Dong loyalists and wandered central and northern China seeking shelter under various other warlords. . . eventually ended up captured and executed under the orders of Cao Cao
  • Gongsun Zan / 公孫瓚 / こうそんさん, style name Bogui / 伯珪, warlord 
  • He Jin / 何進 / かしん , style name Suigao/遂高, elder half brother of Empress He; consort to Emperor Ling: shared power with his sister as regents following death of Emperor Ling; struggle with influential eunuch faction led to his assassination
  • Xu Chu / 郭嘉 / きょちょ, style name Zhongkang/仲康, general, served as bodyguard to warlord Cao Cao; later continued as general in the state of Cao Wei under Cao Pi
  • Zhuge Jin / 許褚 /しょかつきん , style name Ziyu/子瑜, official of the state of Eastern Wu
  • Cai Mao / 蔡瑁 /さいぼう , style name Degui/徳珪/, belonged to the gentry of Jing Province; from local influential clan of Nan Commandery; served Jing Province governor Liu Biao; his sister was Liu Biao’s second wife
  • Liu Qi / 劉琦 / りゅうき, eldest son of warlord Liu Bao; provided reinforcements and refuge for Liu Bei he was fleeing from Cao Cao's forces after the Battle of Changban; assisted Liu Bei and Zhou Yu following the Battle of Red Cliffs.
  • Cao Pi / 曹丕 / そうひ, style name Zihuan/子桓, first emporer of the state of Cao Wei; second son of warlord Cao Cao; eldest son by Cao Cao’s concubine (later wife) Lady Bian
  • Lü Meng / 呂蒙 /りょもう, style name Ziming/, general who served first under warlord Sun Ce, then under his successor and younger brother Sun Quan; commended for his bravery but only seen as a “mere warrior” for his lack of education, Lü Meng studied to improve himself and eventually became a learned and competent military leader. 

Nobuto Okamoto  岡本信人 (b.1948)
  • Cao Cao / 曹操 / そうそう, style name Mengde/孟德/もうとく, renowned ruler and military genius who is often portrayed as cruel and merciless; warlord and penultimate Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty; central figure of the Three Kingdoms period; laid foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei, posthumously honoured as Emporer Wu of Wei
  • Dong Zhuo / 董卓 / とうたく, style name Zhongying/仲穎/ちゅうえい, politician and warlord
  • Zhou Yu / 周瑜 / しゅうゆ, style name Gongjin/公瑾/こうきん, general and strategist serving under warlord Sun Ce and later Sun Quan
  • Lu Xun / 陸遜 / りくそん, style name Boyan/伯言/はくげん, general and politician in the State of Eastern Wu
  • Yi Ji / 伊籍 /いせき , style name Jibo/機伯, official serving in the state of Shu Han; served under the warlord Liu Biao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty before coming to serve Liu Bei, the founding emperor of Shu.
  • Wei Yan / 魏延 / ぎえん, style name Wenchang/文长/文長, general in the state of Shu Han; began career as a foot soldier for Liu Bei and rose through the ranks; became a general when Liu Bei invaded Yi Province (modern-day Sichuan and Chongqing)
  • Guan Ping / 関平 / かんべい, general under warlord Liu Bei; eldest son of Guan Yu
  • Cao Rui/ 曹叡 /そうえい, style name Yuanzhong/元仲, second emperor of the state of Cao Wei; his parentage is a matter of dispute

Hiroko Isayama   伊佐山ひろ子 (b.1952)

  • Mei Fan, Wife of Zhang Fei / 美芳(張飛の妻)/みいふあん 
  • Mother of Liu Bei / 玄徳の母 
  • Diaochan / 貂蝉 / , one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China; as there is little evidence of her life, many scholars believe she is a fictional character
  • Prince of Hongnong in his youth/ 弁皇子(弘農王、廃帝), 少帝弁/しょうていべん, also known as Emperor Han Shao (ie Young Emperor), briefly Emperor of China during the Han Dynasty; son of Emperor Ling and Empress He; brother of Emperor Xian of Han; deposed and poisoned by Dong Zhuo
  • Lady Wu (mother of Lady Sun) / 呉国太(貞姫の母), noblewoman of renowned beauty and character, wife of Sun Jian, also mother to Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi and Sun Kuang 

Naomi Hase(gawa)  長谷直美 (b.1956)

  • Sūrin (Wife of Liu Bei) / 淑玲(玄徳の妻), Liu Bei had at least four wives and many concubines
  • Emperor Xian of Han as a youth / 協皇子(陳留王、後の献帝)/ けんてい, last Emperor of the Han Dynasty; son of Emperor Ling and Concubine Wang, brother of Emperor Shao (Prince of Hongnong); placed on throne after Dong Zhuo removed his brother; forced to abdicate in favour of Cao Pi and given the title of Duke of Shanyang
  • Guan Ping as a youth/ 勝平(後の関平)/ かんぺい/ , general serving under the warlord Liu Bei; eldest son of Guan Yu

Noboru Matsuhashi  松橋登 (b.1944)

  • Sun Quan / 孫権 / そんけん, style name Zhongmou/仲謀, formally known as Emperor Da of Wu; founder of the state of Eastern Wu; ruled from 222-9 as King of Wu, and from 229-52 as Emperor of Wu
  • Sun Ce / 孫策 / そんさく, style name Bofu/伯符, known as “Little Conqueror”, general and warlord; oldest child of Sun Jian who was killed at the Battle of Xiangyang when Sun Ce was only 16; broke away from his father’s overlord Yuan Shu to establish his own powerbase in southeastern China; with Zhang Zhao, Zhou Yu and others, he laid down the foundations of the State of Eastern Wu
  • Yuan Shu / 袁術 / えんじゅつ/すい, style name Gonglu/公路, warlord how live in the late Eastern Han Dynasty; rose to prominence following the collapse of the imperial court in 189
  • Emperor Xian of Han / 献帝 / けんてい, personal name Liu Xie/劉協, style name Bohe/伯和: see description under Naomi Hase(gawa) who played him as a child. 
  • Zhao Yun / 趙雲 / ちょううん, style name Zilong/子龍, general who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty; participated in the first of Zhuge Liang’s Northern Expeditions
  • Ma Chao / 馬超 / ばちょう, style name Mengqi/孟起, general and warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty
  • Xu You / 許攸 / きょゆう, style name Ziyuan/子遠, strategist under warlord Yuan Shao during the late Han Dynasty; known for his avarice
  • Guan Lu / 管輅 / かんろ, style name Gongming/公明, practitioner of divination (a seer) who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty
  • Liu Shan / 劉禅 / りゅうぜん, style name Gongsi/公嗣, second and last Emperor of Shu Han; ascended the throne at age 16 under the care of the Chancellor Zhuge Liang and Imperial Secretariat Li Yan.
  • Cheng Yu / 程昱 / ていいく, style name Zhongde/仲徳/ちゅうとく, major strategist serving warlord Cao Cao; originally named Chen Li, he changed his name to Yu (“lifting of the sun” after dreaming of the sun on the stop of Mt. Tai 

Noburo Mitani  三谷昇 (b.1932)

  • Pang Tong / 龐統 / ほうとう, style name Shiyuan/士元/しげん, advisor to the warlord Liu Bei who began his career as a minor official in Nan Commandery in Jing Province (present-day Hubei and Hunan)
  • Sun Jian / 孫堅 / そんけん, style name Wentai/文台/ぶんたい, general and warlord who allied himself with Yuan Shu in 190 when warlords from eastern China formed a coalition to oust the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo, puppet master of Emperor Xian.
  • Wang Yun / 王允 / おういん, Situ (Minister over the Masses) under Emperor Xian 
  • Lu Zhi / 盧植 / ろしょく, style name Zigan /子幹, politician, militarist and scholar; famous for being the teacher of Liu Bei and Gongsun Zan.
  • ??? / 単福 / , alias in Sangokushi for Xu Shu / 徐庶 / じょしょ, style name Yuanzhi/元直, official of the state of Cao Wei
  • Lu Su / 魯粛 /よしゅく , style name Zijing/子敬/しけい , politician, military commander and diplomat serving under warlord Sun Quan
  • State Elder Qiao or “Quio Guolao”/ 喬国老 /きょうこくるう name in Sangokushi for Qiao Xuan /橋玄/きょうげん, style name Gongzu/公祖, an official 
  • Sima Hui / 司馬徽 / しばき, courtesy name Decao Decao (德操), pseudonym Shuijing (水鏡/"Water Mirror"); a hermit from Yingchuan who lived in northern Ping Province
  • Huang Zhong / 黄忠 / こうちゅう, style name Hansheng/漢升, a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei; best known for his victory at the Battle of Mount Dingjun in 219.
  • Jia Xu / 賈詡 / かく, style name Wenhe/文和; advisor to the warlord Cao; had served Dong Zhuo, Li Jue and Zhang Xiu before finally joining Cao Cao. During the Three Kingdoms era, he served as an official in the state of Cao Wei under Cao Pi, Cao Cao's son and successor.
  • Zuo Ci / 左慈 / さじ, style name Yuanfang/元放, a legendary figure of the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms periods of history; learned his arts from the Taoist sage Feng Heng; mentored Ge Xuan.
  • Meng Huo / 孟獲 / もうかく, popularly regarded as a local leader representing the gentries of the Nanzhong region during the Three Kingdoms era.

Miyako Tasaka   田坂都 (b.1952)
  • Lady Sun / 貞姫(孫夫人)/ そんふじん , a noblewoman, daughter of Sun Jian, younger sister of the warlords Sun Ce and Sun Quan, third wife of warlord Liu Bei
  • Adou/Edou (later became Liu Shan) / 阿斗(後の劉禅)/ りゅうぜん, widely known by his childhood nickname of Adou or Edou; style name Gongsi/公嗣, second and last emperor of Shu Han, ascended the throne at age 16 under the care of the Chancellor Zhuge Liang and Imperial Secretariat Li Yan.
  • ??? / 勝平

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2013