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Bunraku Performance

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    Bunraku Performance in December

    In December, there will be one main programme (some performances in the afternoon, some in the evening) as well as special “Discover BUNRAKU” presentations in Japanese and in English.

    Main Programme

    Ichinotani Futaba Gunki
    (Chronicles of the Battle of Ichinotani)

    1. Jinmon (The Gate of the Heike Camp)
    2. Suma no Ura (The Bay of Suma)
    3. Kumi Uchi (The Battle between Atsumori and Kumagai)
    4. Kumagai Zakura(The Cherry Tree at Kumagai’s Camp)
    5. Kumagai Jinya(Kumagai’s Battle Camp)

    Venue : National Theatre(Small Theatre) 

    Performance Date : December 3(Tue.) - December 15(Sun.)

    Performance Time :
    2:00 p.m. - 5:40 p.m. =4(Wed.), 6(Fri.), 8(Sun.), 9(Mon.), 14(Sat.)
    5:00 p.m. - 8:40 p.m. =3(Tue.), 5(Thu.), 7(Sat.), 10(Tue.), 11(Wed.), 12(Thu.), 13(Fri.), 15(Sun.)
    *The ending times may vary.

    Price (Including Tax) :
    1st Grade = 6,400yen
    2nd Grade = 5,400yen
    3rd Grade = 1,800yen
    1st Grade = 4,500yen
    2nd Grade = 2,700yen
    3rd Grade = 1,300yen 
    Seating plan

    *An audio guide (English and Japanese) is available for rent. Click here for details.
    *Japanese subtitles are displayed on the screen beside the stage.

    *An english synopsis is included in the Japanese program.

    Reservations (Telephone / Internet) : available from November 7, 2019

    Box Office
     +81-3-3230-3000 (10:00 - 18:00(JST)) in Japanese and English
    Internet Reservations : https://ticket.ntj.jac.go.jp/top_e.htm

    Counter Sales : available from November 8, 2019

    A View from the Stalls
    (by Stuart Varnam-Atkin, Japanologist and writer)

    Ichinotani Futaba Gunki

     A fascinating feature of Japan’s performing arts is the continuing significance and popularity of stage storytelling for adult audiences. In its traditional forms, the most obvious examples are Rakugo, Noh and ‘Joruri’ as presented by the Bunraku tayu. The tayu is an unusual combination of narrator, voice artist, chanter, singer, and actor — all in all, a supreme type of storyteller. The tayu present the powerful dramatized stories to the audience with shamisen accompaniment, and the puppets on the main stage mime animated illustrations of the action.
     Japan is also home to one of the world’s great oral narratives for public telling from long, long ago: the massive Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), a lively account of the Genpei War in the 12th century. Like those other great warrior tales from ancient times — such as Homer’s Iliad, the Scandinavian sagas, and King Arthur — it’s a fascinating mix of myth, legend and fact. It was a very demanding and significant part of the repertoire of the medieval professional storytellers, the biwa-hoshi. They were wandering priests, many of them blind, who accompanied themselves on the ‘Heike-biwa’ Japanese lute. Significantly, they were the ancestors of the Joruri tayu and shamisen players we see and hear today.
     In December, we have the chance to experience five major scenes from the very long and very famous play based on the story of the momentous Battle of Ichinotani, which took place at Suma, just west of Kobe, in 1184. The Genji (Minamoto) clan under Yoshitsune defeated the Heike (Taira) clan. Renowned for its fine poetry, the play was first performed in 1751, just after the playwright’s death. Such is its fame even today, the Bunraku and Kabuki versions have both appeared on Japanese postage stamps.
     The story centres around two great figures who seemed destined to be brought together: the sixteen-year-old Heike general Taira no Atsumori and the veteran Genji general Kumagai-jiro Naozane. In reality, Kumagai slayed and beheaded the young warrior in a bloody beach confrontation. That tragic incident is the focus of the original Noh version of the story titled Atsumori. Even if you’ve never seen it, you may be familiar with the dance from it that was performed by Oda Nobunaga in Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha, to the words “Life is a fleeting dream…Nothing lasts forever.”
     However, Namiki Sosuke (1696-1751), the principal writer of the ningyo joruri version of the play, decided to add a surprising and heartbreaking migawari (substitution) scene. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Village School’ scene in Sugawara’s Secrets of Calligraphy, which appeared in the 2018 Discover BUNRAKU programme, but no more spoilers....
     Highlights include the appearance in Kumagai Zakura of the signboard bearing a cryptic message from Yoshitsune with a very sad and deep meaning, and Kumagai’s well-known soliloquy in Kumagai Jinya in which he uses just his folding fan to describe his fateful meeting with Atsumori. The very moving climax of the play, filled with pathos and representing the evanescence of life, ends with heartbreaking words from the former fearless warrior, now a grieving father: “Ah, the sixteen years have passed in a moment like a dream…like a dream”.

    (Varnam-Atkin Collection)

    Bunraku Atsumori (Hasegawa Sadanobu IV, 1950s)

    (Varnam-Atkin Collection)

    The Kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro III as Kumagai (Kunisada, 1852)

    in Japanese