Arts & Leisure

Japan, PHL puppets come together

Posted on August 24, 2016

IF IT TAKES two to tango, it takes three to handle a Japanese puppet.

MAIN PUPPETEER Yoshida Minoshiro holding the puppet of Oshichi.
Japanese puppeteers showcased their skills in traditional puppetry art alongside homegrown Filipino puppeteers, in the two-show performance PuppetXChange: Arts of Puppetry from Japan and the Philippines, on Aug. 16 at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), in Pasay City.

PuppetXChange, presented by the CCP and the Japan Foundation Manila, brought bunraku puppet theater performers to show how the stage art is done.

Bunraku, or ningyo joruri bunraku, ranks with noh and kabuki as one of Japan’s foremost stage arts. It emerged during the early Edo period (ca. 1600) when puppetry was coupled with “joruri,” a popular 15th century narrative genre. It is a blend of sung narrative, instrumental accompaniment, and puppet drama.

During the demonstration, Japanese narrator Toyotake Yoshihodayu explained that there are three elements that make up a bunraku: the tayu or the narrator, who expresses all the scenes through talking and singing; the shamisen player who plays music to depict the scene of the drama, and the three puppeteers who manipulate the ningyo or puppet.

“When the tayu, the shamisen player, and puppet controlled by the three puppeteers work together, that is when we have the ningyo joruri bunraku,” he said.

A synchronized team of three operates the puppet -- the main puppeteer for the head and right hand, another puppeteer for the left hand, and a third for the feet. It takes 10 years of experience before one becomes a main puppeteer.

“Unlike plays with people acting, these are puppets so there are constraints in the emotions they express, which are why the story is even more complex. There is depth. And these masterpieces and repertoires have been staged for a hundred years,” Mr. Toyotake said.

After the lecture, the group of Japanese puppeteers performed The Red-Hot Love of the Greengrocer’s Daughter: The Fire Watch-Tower Scene (Date Musume Koi No Higanoko: Hinomiyagura No Dan), about a young lady named Oshichi who is upset when she finds out that her lover lost his sword. She wishes to inform him immediately, so she climbs the watch-tower and rings the bell, despite knowing that sounding a false alarm is a serious crime.

Next to take the stage was Filipino group Teatro Mulat which presented several types of puppetry including shadow play and a bunraku-inspired adaptation in two Philippine folktales, Ang Paghuhukom (The Trial Among Animals) and Ang Awit ni Baylan (The Song of Baylan).

Puppeteer Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete said during her introduction to Philippine puppetry that even if the Philippines has little local puppet tradition to draw on, it would be an advantage because there is still more to explore and learn.

“Of course, you are looking for roots or foundation for the art form. But since there is more freedom, then you will be able to experiment,” she said.

She said, however, that there are other conservative theater forms they could not adapt, while some are open to share their tradition with them.

The day before the show, the Japan Foundation held a workshop led by the Japanese bunraku group which was participated in by Teatro Mulat and students from the University of the Philippines Diliman and Philippine High School for the Arts.

“What’s interesting now is that like the Japanese bunraku group, they are now open to workshops and allow people to hold their puppets. That’s a breakthrough already,” Ms. Ramolete said. -- Camille Anne M. Arcilla