Bunrakuー文楽 Japanese puppetry

“Yuki felt  he was being swept along by some unseen force.  ‘Is it Fate hiding like the black garbed bunraku puppeteers?  Is Fate toying with me?’, he wondered.”

Puppets? If you are old enough, you might think of Howdy Doody.  No?  Well, you’ve  probably seen those jerky moving wooden dolls that are suspended on strings at one time or another.Howdy v

This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice

Bunraku, or puppet theater is a different take on puppetry.  Japanese puppets are often large, somewhat similar in size to those that ventriloquists use, but it takes three men to  manipulate them.

bunraku-puppet-maidenThe face of the omozukai, or main puppeteer is visible.  He manipulates the head, right arm and hand of the puppet which is called a ningyō. Two other puppeteers where black gowns and black hoods.  They move the ningyō’s arms, hands, legs and feet.  All three men employ shafts and levers inside the doll to make it move.  Although we see them in plain sight, it is easy to ignore them as we focus on the ningyō’s graceful, human-like movements.

Man_playing_shamisenRdsmith/4gallery Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

A chanter (Tayu)  narrates the story and  recites the puppets’ lines. A musician accompanies the Tayu  with a three stringed samisen.  The music serves to intensify the puppets’ emotions and movements. The elaborate costumes and stage sets are captivating even to those who do not understand Japanese.

Come, take a look at the first clip, but watch carefully…is she a beautiful woman or a demon in disguise? 

To learn more, watch this NHK Educational Corporation video.  It is about 30 minutes long, but it is well worth the time to watch it. NHK is the government owned TV corporation.

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