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Out of period but worth it - bunraku came to Berkeley

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  • wodeford
    http://www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/presents/season/2007/theater/bptj.php Bunraku, Japan s centuries-old form of puppet theater, combines three distinct and
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 15, 2007
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      http://www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/presents/season/2007/theater/bptj.php

      "Bunraku, Japan's centuries-old form of puppet theater, combines three
      distinct and highly refined artistic disciplines: joruri, or ballad
      narration, shamisen instrumental music, and ningyo tsukai, or the art
      of puppet manipulation. Each of these skills demands years of intense
      training (it is said to take at least 25 years to attain the status of
      omozukai, the main puppet master). But the true magic of bunraku is
      revealed when the three independent components of movement, words, and
      music come together—it is this awe-inspiring ensemble work that evokes
      such deep emotion and wonder. This is extraordinary, multidimensional
      performance, displaying complexities not found in any other theater in
      the world. In a major cultural event, Japan's foremost exponent of
      this singular living art form—a company that includes four "Living
      National Treasures"—visits the United States for the first time since
      1983."

      Datemusumune Koi no Higanoko - Hinomi Yagura no Dan (Oshishi's Burning
      Love - The Fire Watchtower) by Suga Sensuke, Matsuda Wakichi and
      Wakatake Fuemi from 1775.
      Tayu (chanters): Toyotake Rosetayu and Takemoto Aikodayu
      Shamisen: Toyosawa Tomisuke, Takezawa Dango, Toyosawa Ryouji
      Master puppeteer: Yoshida Seizaburo (and unnamed assistants)

      Sixteen year old Oshichi has fallen in love with a handsome samurai
      named Kichisaburo who has lost a treasured heirloom sword and is
      sentenced to die. She recovers it but is unable to leave the city
      because of the curfew. Knowing the penalty is death, she climbs the
      fire tower to ring a false alarm in a desperate effort to reach him.
      (Crappy resolution video from Youtube of Oshichi climbing the ladder.)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvsSTrJ2Jko&mode=related&search=
      "She races off on her final journey - and into legend!"

      Tsubosaka Kannon Reigenki - Saiwachi Uchi Yori Yama (Miracle at the
      Tsubosaka Kannon Temple - Sawaichi's House and the Mountain)

      Tayu: Takemoto Tsukomadayu
      Shamisen: Takezawa Danshichi, Takezawa Dango
      Puppeteers: Yoshida Kazuo (performing Osato), Yoshida Tamame
      (performing Sawaichi).

      Blinded by disease, Sawaichi notices his wife slips out of the house
      every night before dawn and accuses her of meeting a lover. She
      explains that she visits the temple daily to pray to Kannon, Goddess
      of Mercy to restore his sight. Moved by her devotion, Sawaichi agrees
      to go with her to pray and fast. Osato leaves him at the shrine to run
      home for a few things. Sawaichi, believing he is too great a burden on
      his wife, throws himself from the cliff in her absence. Osato returns,
      sensing something amiss, sees Sawaichi's abandoned staff and zori and
      then looks down to see his body in the gorge. In despair, she leaps to
      her death. Moved by the devotion of the pair, Kannon the Merciful
      brings them back to life and restores Sawaichi's sight. The play ends
      with the couple singing and dancing with joy and praise of Kannon.

      Within moments the presence of the puppeteers became secondary and I
      was drawn into the action. Young Oshichi's frantic resolution and
      desperate climb up an icy ladder in the snow was utterly magical.

      I gazed in delight as Osato "threaded" a needle and sewed kimono,
      biting thread with a dainty jerk of her head. I sighed in awe as her
      blind husband played a shamisen - his hand movements in perfect synch
      with the live musician seated at the side of the stage. By the time
      Sawaichi removed his zori and crawled along the cliff side feeling for
      the edge, my heart was with them.

      Absolutely amazing!

      Texts from the plays in English can be found here:
      http://www.theatermania.com/content/show.cfm/section/synopsis/show/137069

      Between the two plays, members of the company presented a
      demonstration of their performance techniques through a translator.

      Toyotake Rosutayu, the tayu, an animated young man who talked with his
      hands a lot, demonstrated the vocal styles he employs to present the
      narration and character dialogue. These characterizations are stylized
      stereotypes that would be familiar to Japanese theatregoers, passed on
      by oral tradition, not unlike those used by male kabuki actors
      portraying female characters, for example. Or Frank Oz. Ms. Piggy does
      not really sound like a female, but we understand that she is because
      of the way Oz voices her.

      Despite the fact that I do not speak Japanese, I actually understood a
      bit of shamisen player Toyosawa Tomisuke's demo, between gestures, a
      few Japanese words I DO know and the effects he produced while playing.

      And then Yoshida Kazuo, the puppet master, came out. Armed at first
      with only a male puppet head, he showed how simple leverage with
      string and levers mounted in the puppet's bamboo neck manipulated
      movement of the head. Male puppets have articulation to move eyes and
      eyebrows, while female puppets do not. The joints in the wood which
      permit the articulated faces of the male characters would spoil their
      beauty. We got to see the masters operate puppets with their
      assistants. The master operates the head and right arm of the puppet,
      one man operates the left arm and a third moves the feet (for male
      puppets) or kimono skirts (for females). To allow the foot puppeteer
      to work more easily, the master wears very high geta, the ha (teeth)
      wrapped with straw.

      It was absolutely amazing.

      Saionji no Hanae
      West Kingdom
    • tupan4
      Ah! I actually had a very lucky day on Friday and got to see the long version of the demo at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco! It was awesome. It s a
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 16, 2007
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        Ah! I actually had a very lucky day on Friday and got to see the long
        version of the demo at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco! It was
        awesome.

        It's a pretty unbelievable story: In town for three days for a
        wedding, I'd planned on spending Friday wandering around the tourist
        crap at Fisherman's Wharf, but it was raining. Really, really
        raining, with water pouring out of the sky - which never happens in
        San Francisco unless it's winter. So the beau and I decided to go to
        a museum. We picked the Asian art museum over MOMA for really no
        reason at all. We figured out from our tourist map where the bus is,
        and when we walked out there was a bus waiting there. We got to the
        museum at about 10 minutes to 2:00, and while paying the entry fee I
        happened to read a sign on the front desk about a bunraku demo that's
        going on at 2. So I said, hey, we could go to that. And we did. It
        was phenomenal.

        The troupe is the national Bunraku troupe of Japan, and they came to
        the Bay area because Kyoto and San Francisco (or possibly Berkeley)
        are sister cities. They went into a lot of detail about each job, the
        narrator and musician and the different puppeteers, and they took
        questions. They demonstrated a few scenes from the plays, and also
        showed an excerpt from a DVD.

        There was one scene from the DVD where a man (puppet) comes in from
        outdoors, takes his scarf off his head, and ties it around his neck.
        You could see that the puppeteers' hands were tying the knot, with the
        puppet's hands attached by a finger ring, but the illusion was very
        good. It wasn't until later that I realized the hands were from two
        different people!

        Some things I learned:
        - The foot man studies about 10 years to master feet before he can
        move on to another job. He gets to perform earlier in his studies,
        though. I think this is the entry level position.

        - The female dolls typically have no legs or feet, because they
        wouldn't show under their clothing. The foot man has to make them
        with his arms.

        - Although the female dolls don't have articulated faces, they do have
        a tiny pin in their mouths that is used to catch their sleeves in
        moments of great emotion. The puppeteer demonstrated a few spiffy
        head gestures that dislodge the sleeve without making it look like
        you're picking the sleeve up off a pin.

        I also thought it was cool how they were performing the puppets
        most of the time they were on stage. They brought out the husband and
        wife dolls to talk about how they worked them, but they actually
        walked the dolls onto stage and had them sit down, and the wife
        arranged her blind husband's clothing for him just right....

        Though I am wondering now how the Japanese ever talked about courtship
        before they borrowed the word "date" because whenever they talked
        about lovers meeting that's the word they used!

        At any rate, it was a great presentation and we were so lucky to
        happen upon it. It was worth having only an hour in the rest of the
        museum (we blew through the Japan wing, one temporary exhibit, and the
        gift shop).

        We later apologized to our friends who were getting married, because
        the rain Friday had them very nervous about their outdoor reception
        Saturday (but actually Saturday was gorgeous). The rain must have
        been arranged just for us.

        ERIN
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