The National Bunraku Theatre's July/August program has in recent years typically featured works that are not normally part of the better-known repertoire. These include productions intended for family audiences (presented during the first program of the day) and others that are unusual and experimental in nature. In the summer of 2009, the Bunraku presented a revival of Tempesutu Arashi Nochi Hare (The Tempest: Sunshine after the Storm), by Yamada Shoichi (former executive director of the Bunraku National Theatre, b. 1925). This is an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
As documented by Fujita Minoru in Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage, this adaptation for traditional ningyo joruri puppetry was first presented in 1992 at the Kintetsu Art Museum in Osaka and transferred to the Tokyo Globe Theatre. The 2009 production marked the first time that the play had been presented as a full production at the National Bunraku Theatre. Contextualized within a Japanese historical background, Tempesutu Arashi Nochi Hare tells the story of Aso no Saemon Fujinori (hereafter Saemon), who plays a role equivalent to that of Prospero. Saemon is a powerful sorcerer, father of Midori (Shakespeare's Miranda), and an exiled lord from Higa. His brother Gyobu Kagetaka (Antonio) has, with the help of Tairyo, Lord of Tsukushi, taken over Saemon's land and exiled him to this south sea island. Father and daughter are now served by the spirit Erihiko (Ariel) and man-demon Dekamaru (Caliban). The storm that initiates the play will, of course, first bring Tairyo's son and heir to the island, where he will fall in love with Midori; subsequently Tairyo (Alonso) and Gyobu Kagetaka themselves will fall into this center of Saemon's power. For discussion of the textual aspects of the adaptation see Fujita Minoru (1998). As I was dependent upon Faith Bach's (2009) English program notes and prerecorded translation, I will primarily address my comments to the production's staging and the figures, basing my responses upon my design background and studies in ningyo joruri puppet carving with Makimoto Tosisuke and performance with the leaders of the Imada Ningyo Troupe of Iida City, Nagano Prefecture.
The plot elements, characterizations, and themes of retribution and forgiveness closely followed those of Shakespeare's text. These, of course, were readily adaptable since his Elizabethan revengers have themes that fit well with kabuki and ningyo joruri's themes of revengeful samurai. Treated as backstory in Shakespeare's play, Dekamaru's attempted rape of Midori and her struggles to defend herself here took place onstage—an especially powerful and disturbing piece of staging. This choice made use of ningyo joruri's ability to aestheticize scenes (including death and violation), which with human performers might be too "real" (or, conversely, out of necessity "faked") to watch without being pulled out of the moment. Puppetry is very effective when presenting and clarifying such scenes, often suspending the viewer's disbelief to such a degree as to highly intensify the dramatic experience. In author Yamada's stated opinion, the happy ending of this adaptation held a different meaning than Prospero's peaceful promise to drown his books, thereby abandoning magic and vengeance. Yamada notes that by contrast, this sorcerer-samurai actually achieves his full revenge upon Tsukushi no Tairyo Akizane, the groom's father, since through the marriage of his daughter, Tairyo's bloodline will now be unwillingly mixed with that of Saemon (Fujita 1998: 188). While the theme of revenge via bloodlines was not apparent in the staging, Yamada emphasizes its significance in the literature related to the play. Saemon was effectively "cast" with the head normally used for Shunkan, the banished leader from Chikamatsu's Heike Nyogo no Shima (Heike and the Island of Women) (Fujita 1998) representing him (see Figure 1). A kashira (puppet head) with a very powerful countenance, Shunkan seemed an appropriate and effective choice, especially for the depiction of Saemon's rage. The head refers us back to the classic tale of the exiled Heike hero Shunkan from the Bunraku Theatre's repertoire, giving the piece the resonance of a known and disenfranchised samurai hero.
While the more dynamic aspects of Shakespeare's island-raised Miranda were lost in her...