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The Love Suicides at Sonezaki
Sonezaki Shinju - click for full image (55k)

For The Appreciation of Bunraku

Here is a short essay written by Taru Saito, a member of the Foundation Modern Puppet Center of Japan. I thought you might like to hear about the art from an actual insider. For the Appreciation of Bunraku.

More Interesting Facts

tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes)As Saito-san explained, three puppeteers control a single puppet. They are:
Omo-zukai: head puppeteer, often a Master, who controls the head and right arm. This man usually appears unhooded. Hidari-zukai: second puppeteer, operates the left hand. He is also responsible for props.
Ashi-zukai: third puppeteer, the Junior, works the legs and feet. Male puppets have metal heel grips. Females do not have legs, so the puppeteer must pinch the inner part of the kimono.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Minor characters (soldiers, servants, hand-maidens) are simple puppets requiring only one puppeteer.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Puppeteers are usually hooded and wear black. They appear in full view of the audience.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Furi: Realistic human movements (such as crying, dancing, running, or smoking) reproduced by the puppets.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Kata: Stylized poses and gestures used for dramatic moments. Female kata is less dramatic.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Urakata: "people of backstage," such as wig master, repairer of heads, or the costume director
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Takemoto Gidayu: Founded his puppet theatre in 1684 in Osaka. Since, his name has become synonymous with the narration style used for puppet performances.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Tatsumatsu Hachirobei: Famed Master Puppeteer to helped bring the puppet theatre to its peak in the early eighteenth century.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Chikamatsu Monzaemon: A former writer for Kabuki theatre, he chose to begin writing solely for puppet plays, as he felt that puppets could portray the emotion and meanings better than humans. He wrote over one hundred plays for Bunraku.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) By 1733, puppets had a wide range of movements, such as the mouths, eyes, and fingers.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Female puppets have mouth pins, so that in moments of sorrow, they can touch the sleeve of their kimono to their lips without it falling.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Today, many forms of puppetry can be found in Japan. The Japan Puppetry Atlas has links to many theatres' sites. I personally recommend you visit Miniature Theatre Aotent in Kanta. It's beyond kawaii!
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Want to see a little Bunraku, but can't get to Japan? Rent the Marlon Brando film "Sayonara." About 3/4 of the way through the film, Brando and three others see a Bunraku play ("Sonezaki Shinju"). The scene isn't very long, but it's better than nothing! >^-^< As a neat little bonus, the actress who explains the play's plot to the Americans is none other than Miyoshi Umeki ("Mei Li" from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song").
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Recommended reading:
Backstage at Bunraku --written by Barbara C. Adachi with photos by Joel Sackett / ISBN 0-8348-0199-X Weatherhill Publishing, New York and Tokyo (Portions of this book were published by Kodansha International, Ltd. under the title "The Voices and Hands of Bunraku")
No and Bunraku: Two Forms of Japanese Theatre --written by Donald Keene with photos by Kaneko Keizou/ ISBN 0-231-07419-0 Columbia University Press, New York
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Recommended Link: The Bunraku

Bunraku in Ayatsuri Sakon

tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Technically, most of Ukon's movements are impossible for Sakon to be controlling them with only one hand. This has lead a couple articles to refer to Ukon as being a "Haunted Puppet" with the ability to move on his own. Some scenes do show Ukon talking and moving whilst Sakon is asleep or otherwise engaged, but he never moves by himself when he and Sakon are apart. However, the authors were very kind to include scenes of traditional performance. Sakon appears in these scenes dressed as a true Master, unhooded and in fine robes. He also uses both hands. Often he confronts villians through these performances.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Women in the traditional Bunraku theatre were usually background people, rarely builders or performers. Today, they have mush more freedom to perform, especially in local theatres and school clubs. This is perhaps why Haruka, the female puppet-builder in Book Four, isn't very confident about her craft. Nor does she ever really receive recognition for her work.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) Sakon's ability as a ventriloquist is actually not a required part of Bunraku. Traditionally, all voices are provided by the Tayu (narrator) as the puppeteers focus on movement and performance. However, his talent comes in very handy now and again.
tsuyu-2b.gif (1385 bytes) The puppetry styled used by Sakon actually dates back to the earliest forms of this art in Japan, long before Bunraku had moved to the forefront.  This type of performance was done by a priest who used the puppet to channel the spirits or capture the bad spirits inhabiting a village and remove them.  They also used the puppets to tell about various gods, Ebisu (patron god of puppetry in Japan) being particularly popular.  These performers were called "mawashi."

Otome Bunraku

Otome Bunraku (translated to Women's Bunraku) has been experiencing a revival in Japan since the early 1990's.  It is difficult to find much information on the history of this puppeteering style.  The earliest I have been able to find official mention of it is 1925.   However, this painting of a female puppeteer is dated in the 1800's (Figure 2 at right).  For the most part, Otome Bunraku is made up of women puppeteers and puppet builders.  Instead of using the three-man system commonly found in Bunraku, this style focuses on one person per puppet.  The puppet is fixed to the performer's body (probably in the torso region) with wires attaching the puppet's head to that of its operator.  Two wires, one on each side of the head, connect to a rig worn like a hat of sorts by the performer.  Any head motion made by the puppeteer is perfectly translated into the puppet.  The hands of the puppet are either articulated, or the puppeteer will just substitute her own hands into the puppet's sleeves. A wonderful Otome Bunraku troupe (pictured) recently graced the 2000 Henson
Puppetry Festival in New York.  Men have also taken to the one-person style, using the head brace and movement techniques in their individual performances.

Otome Bunraku Links:
Manami Sakamoto - a modern puppeteer
Otome Bunraku Theater  (three avi files of a performer)
Yoshida Mitsuka:  Otome Bunraku (mostly in Japanese with some English-lots of pictures)






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Fig 1. click for full image (26k)
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Fig 2. Painting from the 1800's.

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Fig 3. click for full
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Clockwork Voices: Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon
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