Japanese puppets take centre stage in bunraku performance

In The Miracle At Tsubosaka Temple - The House Of Sawaichi And The Mountain, misunderstandings between a blind man and his wife cause both of them to throw themselves into a valley.
In The Miracle At Tsubosaka Temple - The House Of Sawaichi And The Mountain, misunderstandings between a blind man and his wife cause both of them to throw themselves into a valley. PHOTO: HAJIME WATANABE

SINGAPORE - Bunraku, a traditional form of Japanese puppet theatre, will be showcased here tomorrow.

It will be the first full bunraku performance in Singapore, according to the Singapore Bunraku Steering Committee.

Love And Mercy: Into The World Of Bunraku, will run at the Drama Centre Theatre to mark the 10th anniversary of the Japan Creative Centre, run by the Embassy of Japan in Singapore.

The origins of bunraku can be traced back to the 1680s. It is a Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Performers include a narrator, or "tayu", a shamisen player and puppeteers, three of whom are required to operate a major puppet to bring out the precise movements of its face, torso and even fingers.

"We hope this performance will inspire the audience to delve deeper into the rich traditional culture of Japan and provide an opportunity to help deepen the understanding of Japan and Japanese culture," says the Japan Creative Centre in a statement.

The performance will showcase excerpts from two bunraku classics, The Red-Hot Love - The Fire Watchtower, in which the heroine Oshichi, desperate to pass a sword to her lover Kichisaburo before he is forced to commit suicide for losing it, climbs a watchtower to illegally ring the bell; and The Miracle At Tsubosaka Temple - The House Of Sawaichi And The Mountain, in which misunderstandings between a blind man and his wife cause both of them to throw themselves into a valley.

Renowned bunraku performers coming to Singapore for the show include tayu Takemoto Chitosedayu, 60; puppeteer Kiritake Kanjuro, 66; and shamisen player Tsurusawa Enza, 60.

Tsurusawa, who had a stroke in 2014 and has refrained from performing overseas while he recovered, was persuaded by the producer to come to Singapore for this performance because it has little time difference from Japan.


In The Red-Hot Love - The Fire Watchtower, the heroine Oshichi climbs a watchtower to illegally ring the bell, desperate to pass a sword to her lover Kichisaburo before he is forced to commit suicide for losing it. PHOTO: HAJIME WATANABE

"I experienced South-east Asian weather when I performed in Malaysia some time ago, and it can be a little harsh for the shamisen," he says in Japanese through a translated e-mail interview. "Therefore, I am a bit worried about that.

"I would like everyone who has not been familiar with bunraku to come, see, listen and learn about it."

  • BOOK IT/ LOVE AND MERCY: INTO THE WORLD OF BUNRAKU

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow (Oct 23), 2 and 7pm

    ADMISSION: $30 to $90 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Performed in Japanese with surtitles in English and Chinese. For more information, go to www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp

Kiritake began helping his father, a celebrated puppeteer who earned the title of Living National Treasure, with the puppets when he was 13 years old.

Caring for each puppet is a delicate process and different specialists are required for its face, limbs, hair and clothes.

"I would like the younger audience to personally experience the charms of bunraku," he says. "For that purpose, I think it is important for us to put in maximum effort to train our skills to present a high quality performance."