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BUNRAKU: A Summer Study by Rob Warren Extracted from Scene 2010-11 December Issue 2


I By Rob Warren, Atlanta International School
The tayu (narrator) is announced in an aged old ceremonial fashion, as he holds up the text and bows before it, promising to follow it faithfully. The sound of the Shamisen player begins expressing the dramatic situation and the characters emotions as he provides accompaniment for the tayo. The Joshiki Maku or main curtain opens swiftly, pulled from left to right, accompanied by the accelerating beats of the wooden ki clappers. The set is revealed in all its glory, a traditional replica of a merchants home of the Edo period and in the background a view throughout the small town. The stage is partitioned into the traditional Tesuri three railings and the Funazoko (Pit or ship bottom) where the puppeteers manipulate their puppets from. The komaku (small black curtains) opens and the puppeteers run on moving the puppet along the railing as though they are actually walking upon the ground. The puppet comes to a complete stop posing to reveal the true essence of the samurais character in addition to creating a dramatic poignant effect. This is the beginning of Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami (The Summer Festival in Naniwa) at the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka, Japan. If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an artless art growing out of the Unconscious. Zen in the Art of Archery As a college student these words written by Eugen Herrigels were profound to me and have helped shape my future as an artist and as an educator. Ive always found that the contributions of Zen to Japanese culture to be significant. Much of what the West admires about Japanese art today may be traced back to Zen Buddhisms influence on its regional architecture, gardening, painting, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, flower arranging and other arts and crafts. As an artist Ive always been inspired by the Japanese puppetry tradition of Bunraku and this summer I was given the opportunity to study this practice further at the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka, Japan. Bunraku has been referred to by many as being the most highly developed puppet theatre in the world. My first encounter with Bunraku was as a student of the IB. My appreciations for this theatre tradition personal feelings and underscore the tragedy that ensues. The origins of present-day Bunraku date back to the 17th Century, when older puppet shows (ayatsuri ningyo) were integrated with the medieval narratives (joruri) and called ningyo joruri, puppet narrative. Its popularity peaked with the works of playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemn and narrator Takemoto Gidayu, and the founding of the Takemoto Theatre in Osaka in 1684 ushered in a golden age. The Toyotake Theatre and others later joined the field. They had varying success until in the mid-nineteenth century a native Awaji named Uemura Bunrakuken opened a theatre which became the toast of Osaka. His dominance was such that his name became synonymous with the art form, which we still call Bunraku today. Hironaga Shuzaburo The Japanese troupe members of the National Bunraku Theatre are experts in their art and the master puppeteers are often honored by Japan as national treasures of their art form. Some Master Bunraku puppeteers and narrators can trace their lineage in puppetry back to ancestors who were working as puppeteers in the 1700s. My instructor would turn out to be Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III a leading figure in todays Bunraku world. Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III performs both male and female roles, having learned tachiyaku male roles from his father and onnagata female roles from the famous onnagata puppeteer Minosuke. He is a stern man but proud to be a part of Japans cultural heritage and has spoken on numerous occasions on not allowing the tradition of Bunraku to break down within the modernization of 21st Century Japan. In Bunraku a puppet is manipulated by three puppeteers, this uniqueness is found nowhere else in the world. Bunraku puppeteers learn through their bodies, Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III said at the beginning of my first workshop with him. He continued by saying The puppeteers express not only the subtle movements of the puppets, but also the heart of the roles, so that the puppet comes to have greater appeal then the flesh and blood creators manipulating them. An apprentice training for Bunraku often starts at the age of 15 or earlier. Taking 10 years of the apprenticeship to fully master the operation Scene | 2010-11 December Issue 2 | 5

lead me to study puppetry further at university, to work with Bread and Puppet Theatre, and to continue to work professionally today in the field of puppetry and puppet design. Through these experiences I have come to understand that puppetry is an international communication form with roots in nearly every culture and has the power to teach and impact an audience. My field trip began in Tokyo at the National Theatre of Japan studying Noh, the oldest surviving theatrical art in Japan and Kabuki, a constantly evolving art form that has responded with great sensitivity to the changing times. It was here that I was able to witness firsthand the religious origins of the Japanese theatrical practices, seeing the connections between the different forms of rituals dedicated to the gods with prayers for bountiful harvests at the Buddhist shrines and the sacred dancing and dramas which found the core of Noh and Kabuki performances. For even the stages themselves remind us of the shrines in which these theatrical traditions once performed. In Noh theatre the performance is still housed under the roof and pillars resembling a Shinto shrine whereas in Kabuki and Bunraku the roof has been removed and the pillars are often painted matte black covering the areas for musicians or hidden by stage sets. Puppetry has had a long rich history in Japan from as early as the 8th century. Often misunderstood by westerners because of its presentational form, Bunraku has a charm of its own through the concentration, coordination and collaboration of the three puppeteers, Tayu and Shamisen player, whose purpose as an ensemble is to bring the puppets to life. Thematic Bunraku dramas revolve around Confucian concepts of loyalty at the cost of

of the feet and another 10 years to be qualified to operate the left arm. A master puppeteer who will operate the head and right arm will only achieve this status when he has trained for 20-30 years. Through their training with the master puppeteers and Tayus an apprentice goes beyond learning an art with a long and venerable history but develops a spiritual connection to their ancestors and country. Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III Communication between puppeteers is complex. The second apprentice watches the back of the puppets head and shoulders as Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III communicates through this area to him on how he should move the arm of the puppet, whilst communicating to the third apprentice the movement of the legs by keeping contact through their hips. Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III said The 3 puppeteers must breathe together to manipulate the puppets on stage as if they are alive. It is also the job of the master puppeteer to assemble his puppet for the role assigned to him, seen as a form of characterization. The puppets are stored in pieces, with their heads and costumes all kept separately. For each production, the puppet is rebuilt. Limbs are attached, torsos, props, costumes fitted, and hair affixed and styled. Bunraku Puppet faces and heads are made for many and varying roles. Hair is replaced for each new role and costumes are sewn onto the puppet frame made similar to life-size fashions of the day. Costumes are padded to stiffen and give shape to the character and openings are placed in the back where the puppeteer inserts his hands to control the head and arms. Female puppets have no legs, the movement of the feet and legs being simulated by moving the hem of the kimono. The three puppeteers main focus is to remain inconspicuous, and therefore dress in black and cover their head with hoods (Jeffery Hunter). However, there are times when the master puppeteer will wear formal dress of the Edo period in cases of demanding roles or very important scenes. Master Kanjuro Kirjtake

III believes, When the three puppeteers are in complete harmony, and moving in perfect timing with the narrator and Shamisen, the puppet comes to life. This is the epitome of the art of Bunraku. During my time at the National Bunraku Theatre I was also honored to watch Sumitayu Takemoto, a Living National Treasures, transform the ancient tales of Yuki wa Konkon Sugata no Mizuumi (The Kind Hunter and the Female Fox) into vibrant human drama. Sumitayu Takemoto (narrator) and the Shamisen player sat in twin position, seemingly trying to top the other in their artistry as they bring the dramatic narrative to life. But in fact they are in perfect unison. Their remarkable synchronization is vital to the art, and involves sophisticated techniques of breath control. Sumitayu Takemoto kneeling at the Kendai (bookstand) his hips in between his feet, he uses this painful position to develop his broad vocal range. The Tayus often ties a special belt weighted with beans and sand around their abdomen and back to make sure they breathe deeply and maintain proper posture and balance. The belt is said to make the tayus voice deeper and more penetrating. The Tayu changes the tone of his voice skillfully and realistically according to the age and sex of each role, but most importantly his performance carries the rich emotions of human beings based on his profound interpretation of the nature and feeling of each character. His solo artistry encompasses not only story telling of the tale, but also setting the scenes, background, providing story background, and speaking the characters words. The last entails more than just the skillful creation of separate voices for different puppet men and women, young and old, so that they sound believable and real. He must also penetrate to the very heart of each character, revealing their true nature and feelings. For this he gives over his voice to the full spectrum of human emotion. Jeffery Hunter The Yukahon (libretto) is the Tayus most valuable possession, and is the script he uses on stage. Written five lines to a page, the tradition is that the narrator personally copies out each libretto he uses in performance (or in some cases uses an inherited copy from his master). The Tayu and the Shamisen player construct the story by performing together as equal partners. They harmonize their spirits, neither being the conductor and their tense collaboration advances the play. The Shamisen united with the narrator conveys the heart of the story. Jeffery Hunter

The Futzo-Zao Shamisen is generally used in Bunraku. It is the thickest of the three Shamisens used in Japanese Theatre practices. The deep dignified sound is suited to storytelling as it is meant to get to the true nature of humanity. It is said that even one note can express the background of an event and the sentiment of a character. It is hard to imagine who would put themselves through 30 years of training to become a master in the art of Bunraku. Even watching a Bunraku show can often be taxing as the pace is slow and somewhat tedious. Sometimes the chanting of a single word can take four minutes as the master puppeteers hold their puppets at the climax of the scene. For the true art of Bunraku isnt just the performance, which I now respect even more greatly, but it is in the secrets of the masters artistry and teaching. In his artistic memoirs Yoshida Bungoro, one of the great Bunraku puppeteers of the twentieth century says: The path of an artist is very difficult, but once you find the entrance, you can enter in just one step. Thanks to my master/teacher Tamasuke, I found the entrance. Since that day almost 60 years ago, I have never deviated from the way of the puppet. This is all because of my masters great, loving chastisement. To be a Bunraku puppeteer means to spend ones whole life working in shadow. Works Cited: Master Kanjuro Kirjtake III, National Bunraku Theatre: 1-12-10 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka. Tel: 06-6212-2531 Nakamura Masayuki & Jeffery Hunter, A Bilingual Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts, 2009, Japan. Hironaga Shuzaburo, Bunraku, 2010, The National Bunraku Theatre, Osaka, Japan. The Language of the Puppet by Laurence R. Kominz and Mark Levenson, editors. The Pacific Puppetry Center Press. A collection of essays by some of the worlds leading figures in puppet theatre. Eugen Herrigel, Zen and the Art of Archery, 1999, First Vintage Classics Edition, New York.

6 | Scene | 2010-11 December Issue 2