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Bunraku Performances

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    Bunraku Performances in September
    Performance Date : Sep.7(Sat.) - Sep.23(Mon.)
    Venue : National Theatre(Small Theatre)

    In September, there will be different matinee and evening programmes.

    Programme Ⅰ (11:00–15:00)
    Shinju Ten no Amijima
     (The Love Suicide at Amijima)
    by Chikamatsu Monzaemon
    Ticket Prices for Programme Ⅰ (including tax)
    Adult:
1st Grade ¥7,300; 2nd Grade ¥6,100; 3rd Grade (limited view) ¥1,800
    Student:
1st Grade ¥5,100;
2nd Grade ¥3,100;
3rd Grade ¥1,300
    Seating plan 

    Programme II (16:00-20:10, *End times are estimates and could vary.)
    Musume Kagekiyo Yashima Nikki
     (The Blind Exile and His Daughter)
    Hadesugata Onna Maiginu
     (The Resplendent Costume of the Female Dancer)
    Ticket Prices for Programme Ⅱ(including tax)
    Adult:
1st Grade ¥7,300; 2nd Grade ¥6,100; 3rd Grade (limited view) ¥1,800
    Student:
1st Grade ¥5,100;
2nd Grade ¥3,100;
3rd Grade ¥1,300
    Seating plan 

    *End times are estimates and could vary.
    *Audio guide: Available for rent in English and Japanese. Click here for details.
    *Subtitles: Available only in Japanese. Displayed on screen beside the stage.
    *English synopsis is available. It is included in the paid Japanese program.

    Booking Opens
    available from Aug.8(Wed.), 2019

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     +81-3-3230-3000 (10:00 - 18:00(JST)) in Japanese and English
    Internet reservations : https://ticket.ntj.jac.go.jp/top_e.htm
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    Counter Sales : available from Aug.8(Thur.)

    in Japanese

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


    Shinju Ten no Amijima

     Edo Period audiences were fascinated by the stage presentations of tragic ‘double suicide’ stories imbued with subtle, sometimes ironic, comments on class distinctions, marriage and family ties, complex relationships, Buddhist beliefs, personal revolt against society and social responsibilities, and the deep conflicts between love and duty. The term used is shinju, which literally means ‘the depths of the heart’.
     In September, we have the chance to see and hear one of the most famous Bunraku plays, a double suicide play which has been popular ever since its first performance in Osaka in 1720. It was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), long known as the ‘Shakespeare of Japan’ for his psychological insights and powerful tragedies. Based on real events, it’s a story about the doomed love between a weak but hot-blooded Osaka paper merchant and a courtesan, and the dreadful consequences on all those involved. But just like Shakespeare, Chikamatsu included a few comic moments, such as the singing monk in the first scene.
     The importance of the play was indicated in 2000 when it was chosen for the final 20th century performances at the National Bunraku Theatre. Two Living National Treasures, reciter Takemoto Sumitayu (1924-2018) and puppeteer Yoshida Tamao I (1919-2006) performed together in the Kawasho scene, with today’s Tamao Yoshida II operating the left hand of Jihei with his mentor. This year’s performance also includes two Living National Treasures: shamisen player Tsuruzawa Seiji (shamisen, 1st scene) and the newly-designated Toyotake Sakitayu (reciter, 3rd scene).
     The play has special personal meaning as it introduced me to the world of Bunraku before I ever stepped foot into a Japanese theatre. In London in 1972, I saw the movie Double Suicide, which is closely based on the play. The director Masahiro Shinoda opened it with backstage scenes of the puppets and their operators. The theatrical environment runs all through the film, with black-hooded kurogo manipulating the human actors, as if to symbolize the fatalistic nature of the love story, driven by the irresistible force of destiny. Kabuki actor Nakamura Kichiemon played the merchant and Shima Iwashita (Shinoda’s wife) played both his mistress and his wife. Highly recommended as a follow-up to the stage performance.



    (Varnam-Atkin Collection)

     Kitagawa Utamaro (1750-1806) designed this portrait of the two lovers around 1798. Just before their suicide, Jihei bends to blow out the candle in his paper lantern; Koharu, veiled in black, leans against him, almost smiling with the conviction they will be together for ever.


    Musume Kagekiyo Yashima Nikki

     The evening programme features a real historical figure who appears in The Heike Monogatari as well as another tragic Edo Period love story. First, The Blind Exile and His Daughter, by Wakatake Fuemi and other writers (1764), which focuses on the final sad days of the mighty 12th-century Heike clan general Taira no Kagekiyo, a name familiar today from his appearance as a ghost in video games. After the Heike’s defeat by the Minamoto clan in the Battle of Dan-no-ura, he was imprisoned in a cave, and eventually starved himself to death.
     Kagekiyo is the central character in various stage plays. The Bunraku version is based on the Noh play titled Kagekiyo, in which the defeated warrior (having blinded himself so that he could not see the world ruled by his enemies), lives as a beggar on the island of Hyuga in Kyushu. His daughter, who has sold herself to servitude in order to help her father financially, comes in search of him. Kagekiyo relates the tale of his final fight at the Battle of Yashima and asks her to leave him to his solitude. The Bunraku ending is different.
     During the performance, note the special kashira (head) used for Kagekiyo (operated by Yoshida Tamao II): rough crepe suggests a long exposure to the sea wind, and the eyelids, normally closed to suggest his blindness, open to reveal blazing red eyes.


    (Varnam-Atkin Collection)

     In this 1840s print designed by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, we see the warrior glaring in disgust at the Minamoto crest of bamboo leaves and bell-flowers.


    Hadesugata Onna Maiginu

     The son of an Osaka sake merchant and a courtesan committed suicide together in 1695. One of the plays based on that tragic event is The Resplendent Costume of the Female Dancer, sometimes translated as ‘A Tragic Love Triangle’. Written by Takemoto Saburobei and other playwrights, it was first staged by puppets in 1772, featuring characters with the same names as the real tragic figures. The story involves a married man’s love affair with a courtesan, the reactions of his faithful but unloved wife, and a father’s sacrifice for his son. Particularly famous is the wife’s long soliloquy taking blame for the way her husband has behaved.