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The Bunraku Puppet Theatre

The Bunraku Puppet Theatre: Honor, Vengeance, and Love in Four Plays of the 18th and 19th Centuries

translated and annotated by Stanleigh H. Jones
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    The Bunraku Puppet Theatre
    Book Description:

    The four plays presented here—“Moritsuna’s Camp,” “The Mountains Scene,” “Vengeance at Iga Pass,” “The True Tale of Asagao”—were first performed between 1769 and 1832, a time when the Japanese puppet theatre known as Bunraku was beginning to lose its pre-eminence to Kabuki. During this period, however, several important puppet plays were created that went on to become standards in both the Bunraku and Kabuki repertoires; three are found in this volume. This span of some sixty-odd years was also a formative one in the development of how plays were presented, an important feature in the modern staging of works from the traditional plebeian theatre. Only a handful of complete and uncut plays—often as much as ten hours long—are produced in Bunraku or Kabuki nowadays. Included here is one of these. There are also two examples of the much more common practice of staging a single popular act or scene from a much longer drama that itself is seldom, if ever, performed in its entirety today.

    Kabuki, while better known outside Japan, has been a great beneficiary of the puppet theatre, borrowing perhaps as much as half of its body of work from Bunraku dramas. Bunraku, in turn, has raided the Kabuki repertoire but to a far more modest degree. The fourth play in this collection, “Asagao,” is an instance of this uncommon reverse borrowing. Moreover, it is an example of yet another way in which some plays have come to be presented: a coherent subplot of a longer work that gained an independent theatrical existence while its parent drama has since disappeared from the stage. These later eighteenth-century works display a continued development toward greater attention to the theatrical features of puppet plays as opposed to the earlier, more literary approach found most notably in the dramas of Chikamatsu Monzaemon (d. 1725).

    Newly translated and illustrated for the general reader and the specialist, the plays in this volume are accompanied by informative introductions, extensive notes on stage action, and discussions of the various changes that Bunraku underwent, particularly in the latter half of the eighteenth century, its golden age. Because many of the features we see in Bunraku plays today owe their origins largely to the changes the theatre experienced more than two centuries ago, this volume will be a valuable reference for those interested in contemporary Japanese theatre as well as its historical antecedents.

    20 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3725-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The plays in this collection represent, to a certain extent, a somewhat idiosyncratic selection of my own. I have found all of them affecting and compelling works, and even from my first encounter with them in the theatre I felt that they would survive the process of translation rather well and perhaps would exercise on others something of the spell they cast on me. But there is more to the selection than just this personal attraction. All are plays that were created during the period when Kabuki became increasingly a serious competitor to the popularity of Japan’s puppet theatre, known...

  5. 1 The Genji Vanguard in Ōmi Province
    (pp. 10-46)

    One of the great history-based plays (jidaimono),The Genji Vanguard in Ōmi Province(Ōmi Genji Senjin Yakata), came to the stage of the Takemoto puppet theatre (the Takemoto-za) in Osaka on the ninth day of the Twelfth Month of 1769.¹ It was so well received by audiences that it was adapted to Kabuki less than six months later. The play continued to be performed occasionally in its full nine acts up through 1830, but since that time it has come to survive on stage principally in the form of act 8, “Moritsuna’s Camp” (Moritsuna Jinya).

    Plays for the puppet theatre...

  6. 2 Mount Imo and Mount Se: Precepts for Women
    (pp. 47-75)

    Mount Imo and Mount Se: Precepts for Women(Imoseyama Onna Teikin) is one of those daylongjidaimonohistory dramas for which the Bunraku and Kabuki theatres are noted. It was written originally for the puppets and first performed on the twenty-eighth day of the First (lunar) Month of 1771 at the Takemoto-za in Osaka. The Kabuki theatre known as the Ogawa-za, also in Osaka, picked up the play in that same year, but for some reason Edo Kabuki took longer: it didn’t appear in that capital city until 1778. Since its premiere the play has become a fixture in both...

  7. 3 Vengeance at Iga Pass
    (pp. 76-235)

    There have been many vendettas in Japanese history, but three in particular stand out and have been commemorated in eighteenth-century popular theatre. The first is the twelfth-century Soga brothers’ revenge for the murder of their father, a tale that has been told in many forms but is best known in drama by the 1713 Kabuki playSukeroku.¹ The second and most famous of all vendettas is that of the forty-seven masterless samurai, orrōnin,whose act of vengeance on a snowy night early in 1703 has become immortalized in several plays, the most enduring of which has been the puppet...

  8. 4 The True Tale of Asagao
    (pp. 236-280)

    Kabuki, through its penchant for borrowing from the puppets, has been the beneficiary of a large number of works that were written for the puppet theatre, plays that have gone on to become favorites in both these traditional theatres. This interaction, however, has not been one-sided. The puppet theatre, particularly in the hands of some of its mid-to late eighteenth-century dramatists, has borrowed from Kabuki a fair amount of that theatre’s stage techniques as well as modifications made by Kabuki writers to the texts of borrowed plays. Two good examples are the puppet playsSugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 281-300)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-304)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-311)