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Stages, Sights & Sounds Blog

Once upon a crescent moon . . . Kaguya: The Bamboo Princess

Acclaimed puppeteer Nori Sawa returns to Stages, Sights & Sounds with the US premiere of his new show Kaguya: The Bamboo Princess, his distinctive take on a tenth-century Japanese folktale. But what is the origin of this beautiful bamboo princess? And what makes her legend unique in the history of literature?

Puppet of Kaguya and masked puppeteer
Photo by Shozo Kajiwara

Kaguya is a beautiful girl found as an infant in a glimmering stalk of bamboo by the childless bamboo-cutter, Taketori no Okina. He adopts Kaguya into his home where she matures into a young woman of poise, grace, and beauty. Her legendary beauty attracts many admirers, including the Emperor. Yet despite repeated advances, she rebuffs her potential suitors knowing that she is fated to return to her home on the Moon.

Kaguya and puppeteer look skyward
Photo by Shozo Kajiwara

Was Kaguya exiled to the Earth as punishment for a crime? Or was she sent here to protect her from a growing celestial war?

Like other fairy tales, Kaguya weaves a tale of familial belonging, a princely quest, and fantastical far-away lands. Yet Kaguya’s extraterrestrial origin makes the legend of Kaguya-hime one of the earliest examples of proto-science fiction. Nori Sawa brings her story to life with a performance that is fittingly transcendent and otherworldly.

Man dressed as wolf dances next to Kaguya
Photo by Shozo Kajiwara said of Sawa: “His fusion of the Japanese and Czech approaches to puppet theatre creates a unique creature that slowly emerges, spreads its wings, and flies away.”

Let yourself be caught in his orbit. Get your tickets to see Kaguya: The Bamboo Princess, May 20-24 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.

Learner's Guide
Resources and activities for use at school or home

  • Read an English translation of the original Bamboo Princess story before or after experiencing Nori Sawa’s enchanting adaptation. This site includes an audio version, a downloadable PDF version, and a student activity.
  • Learn some techniques for making puppets from Nori Sawa himself in this series of videos.
  • Explore this interactive resource from Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge about Shadow Puppetry. It includes tutorials, videos, interviews, and even an interface to create your own digital puppet show! A guide for educators interested in using the resource is also included.


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