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Bunraku? Puppets? What?

I went and saw a Bunraku performance at Lyric theatre. It was a mandatory visit for my intro to Japanese class, but unlike forced summer readings and annotations, Bunraku was far more enjoyable. Bunraku is one of the many traditional forms of Japanese performance art that arose in the peaceful times of the Edo period (1603-1868). It involves completely black-garb covered puppeteers that control one-to-two feet tall puppets dressed in elaborate and colorful traditional Japanese garb. While they are coordinating their movements and dances, chanters and shamisen (think guitar) players provide music for the performance.

The three performances I saw were kotbukishikisanbaso, yaoyaoshichi, and the meoto lion dance. The first was an agricultural blessing ritual. An elaborately dressed priest performs a dance with choreography based off agricultural moves like throwing and planting seeds. The second was a tragic love story of a woman sacrificing herself to save her lover by falsely ringing a fire bell. Think a fire alarm only instead of getting suspended or expelled for pulling it, the school decides to execute you. The final performance was by far my favorite of the three. It was actually very mesmerizing. I followed the turning of the lion puppet’s head and dance and the sound of the chomping of its mouth made a beat that was hypnotic to me.

There aren’t a lot of art forms like Bunraku in Western culture and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s fascinating how much emotion and energy can be conveyed with wooden puppets. If you ever find an opportunity to watch a little bit of Bunraku, it’ll be at least an unique experience.

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