Re: Out of period but worth it - bunraku came to Berkeley
- 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
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
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
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
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.