Bunraku: Japanese puppet theater

29 04 2010

The Japanese tradition of puppet theater is a very dedicated and involved process. Not only is it an act of story telling, it is also uses skilled visual art, and amazing coordination among the storyteller, the puppeteers, and the music.

Bunraku puppet

The stories of the Bunraku usually entail  complicated plots and drama that usually questions social and cultural roles. These dramas also included some wild plots twists at the end of the story, much like you might find in some Japanese dramas that a re popular today.  The stories are told in the style of joruri that incorporates chanting lyrics along with music. This type of theater was unusual for its long, intricate story plots and drama that represents human emotion and inner conflict, instead of myths and folk tales.

The puppets are moved around the stage by three puppeteers, one for the head, one for the arms, and one for the legs. Since the dolls are heavy and complicated, lots of practice and coordination are required to make the figure move together gracefully. Not only do the puppeteers have to coordinate with each other, they all have levers that control eye, head, eyebrow, mouth and hand movements. One interesting element of these puppeteers is that they are in plain sight of the audience instead of painstakingly hidden. Although they do wear black and sometimes cover their face so as not to draw too much attention away from the puppet. Having the puppeteers visable is unique to Banraku theater, it also allows the puppet to act on a much larger stage since it have more freedom of movement.

Bunranku Puppet Theater

"Puppet Theater" June 27, 2005

The puppets themselves are a wonderful work of visual art. Sizing up to 3/4 of a human, they are quite large and heavy. A lot of detail goes into making the hair, costumes, armor, and other accessories for the puppet. However, the faces are usually simple, smooth, and white in an almost geisha style. As mentioned before, each part of the puppet is skillfully assembled with levers and strings to control the eyes, mouth and eyebrows. This allows for a much more dramatic and realistic representation of emotion compared to previous styles of puppet and mask theater.

"Bunraku Face" May 21, 2007

I personally find Bunraku a beautiful craft of theater, visual art, music, and story telling. The time, effort, and attention to detail that goes into making these plays is simply astounding. The very unique and complicated style really makes the puppetry stand out from other styles.  I think I can honestly say this has been one of my favorite styles of theater.

http://web-japan.org/museum/bunraku/about_bu.html

http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/

http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/bunraku.shtml

http://www.sagecraft.com/puppetry/definitions/Bunraku.hist.html

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7 responses

30 04 2010
kendallbethune26

wow, i never realized that japan had such a unique stile of puppetry. Thats amazing that there needs to be three people to opporate just one puppet, they must be extremely heavy. This is also way different then i imagine puppeteers to be, out in the open is odd to me when thier supposed to be concealed, making it so the puppet is the one that has come to life. Very good job on your blog, sounds like you did alot of reaserch.

4 05 2010
daleowen

Oh really neat blog! I actually had no idea that these puppets existed. Its neat how all three men can make the puppet act as one. I watched some videos and it really is cool. Just a question though, were you able to find out how long it takes to make one puppet? It would just be interesting to know. Really cool blog, good job!

25 08 2010
colinman

That was cool blog. I knew the puppets could be big but that is ridiculous. I never knew they had to coordinate with each other or that the people stood in front instead of controlling them offstage. that must take lots of practice to get it right. I really enjoyed learning something different about Japaneses culture. I think you did a good job on your blog overall. good Show good show ehemm good blog.

29 09 2010
demeterdiscount

This was a really interesting read and I appreciate the time you put into your blog. Puppeteers that are frequently looked at as childrens entertainment is certainly an art form in Bunraku!! The Bunraku face was really interesting if a bit frightening. You showed a lot of enthusiasm for the art form and certainly gained my attention.

22 11 2010
krystalrolls

Very interesting…. I find all of this great work of art but it is very interesting that it was so popular. I suppose it has everything to do with culture though. I know I could not sit through a play with these puppets. You mentioned they were hard plots to follow too so that would really confuse me. Puppets can’t act the same way people can,but thats just my opinion.

28 02 2011
raphaelsrambling

Oh, cool blog! It would be fun to attend a Japanese puppet theatre as long as they performed in English :) . Fun blog with a twist instead of must of us doing traditional art pieces. You have really good details about the puppeteers and thier jobs, informational sources, and lots of fun details to a show. Now, I’d like to watch one!

Great Post!

19 03 2011
lisag123

Great blog. It is so interesting that the puppeteers are in plain sight – unusual. Really liked the picture at the end of the making of the mask. Great job.

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