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BUNRAKU

It is considered to be Japans most representative form of Puppet Theatre. It dates back to


the 17th Century. One puppet is manoeuvred by 3 trained puppeteers they are able to give
a display of heightened emotions: sometimes even greater than what human actors can
achieve.
The shoulders are made from the fibre of a dried gourd. The hips are made of bamboo, giving
the puppet its human contour. The legs and arms are connected with string and merely
dangle at the puppets side. I the early history of Bunraku the puppets were simply made to
be shifted by one puppeteer. From these beginnings, the puppets were slowly modified to
make their movements more lifelike. Today, each of the three puppeteers manipulates
different parts of the puppet. The least experienced of the puppeteers controls the feet,
another handles the left arm and the last controls the delicate movements of the head and
the right hand. Each of these takes about 10 tears to master. The most experienced
puppeteer (head + right arm) may be seen by the audience directly behind the puppet. The
other two puppeteers are clad in black, rendering them invisible.
A singer seated to the side of the stage tells the story and recites the lines of the characters
in song, accompanied by a shamisen player. This aspect is so unique, the spectators are said
to be as captivated by the narrator as they are by the puppets. A performer sings from his
stomach rather than from his throat. As he performs his hour long piece he supports his
stomach with a weight-laden sash. In this form of musical-recital, clear expression of the
narrative is more important than musical showmanship, so correct pronunciation takes
precedence over a beautiful voice.
TSUBOSAKA-KANNON RAIGENKI tells the story of Sawaichi. In order to support the household,
Sawaichis beautiful and popular wife, Osato, works part-time. Sawaichi lost his eyesight to a
childhood bout of chickenpox, however undeterred by his handicap Osato love him dearly.
Sawaichi is, in contrast, suspicious of his wife who leaves the house every evening. Today, as
usual, he is ill-tempered and berates her from early in the morning. Having had confronted
each other about their beliefs in this regard they leave the next morning to go pray to the
Goddess of Mercy. While Sawaichi is cheerful on the surface, deep inside he is remorseful for
having doubted the love of his wife who had faithfully and without complaint taken care of
him for all of their married life. Telling himself that his wife would be better-off without him,
Sawaichi sends Osato home on an errand. He throws himself off of a cliff in her absence.
Feeling in her heart that something is wrong, Osato hurries back she finds Sawaichis cane
and discovers what happened. Her grief is such that the wooden puppet seems to pulse with
life. In her despair Osato flings herself into the lagoon. The Goddess of Mercy appears,
reviving both believers, and restores Sawaichis vision.
This story poignantly combines a very Japanese sense of religion, marital love and the
aesthetic beauty of death and has become a favourite with Japanese audiences