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The Bunraku Puppet Theatre

Honor, Vengeance, and Love in Four Plays of the 18th and 19th Centuries

translated and annotated by Stanleigh H. Jones

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title Page, and Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

I have, over time, received grants from Pomona College, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in particular and most recently the Japan Foundation, all of which contributed to the creation of this book. I thank them all warmly for their encouragement and their financial support. Professor Uchiyama...

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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...

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Chapter 1. The Genji Vanguard in Ōmi Province

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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...

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Chapter 2. Mount Imo and Mount Se: Precepts for Women

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pp. 47-75

Mount Imo and Mount Se: Precepts for Women (Imoseyama Onna Teikin) is one of those daylong jidaimono history 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...

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Chapter 3. Vengeance at Iga Pass

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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...

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Chapter 4. The True Tale of Asagao

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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...


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pp. 281-300


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pp. 301-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837259
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835620

Publication Year: 2013