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Bunraku Performance

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    National Theatre (Small Theatre)
    Bunraku Performance

    Program Ⅰ
    Kanadehon Chushingura
    Program Ⅱ
    Katsuragawa Renri-no Shigarami

    Performance Dates
    December 3 (Thu.) - December 15 (Tue.)

    Performance Time
    Program Ⅰ 5:00 p.m.- 6:30 p.m.
    Program Ⅱ 7:30 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.  ※except 4 (Fri.), 11 (Fri.), 13 (Sun.), 14 (Mon.)

    4 (Fri.), 11 (Fri.), 13 (Sun.), 14 (Mon.)
    Program Ⅰ 2:00 p.m.- 3:30 p.m.
    Program Ⅱ 4:30 p.m.- 6:00 p.m

    Venue : National Theatre (Small Theatre)

    *End times are estimates and could vary.
    *Japanese audio guides are available for rent. 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.
    *There will be no intermission.

    Tickets(Tax included)
    Adults:1st Grade 4,500 yen / 2nd Grade 3,800 yen
    Students:1st Grade 3,200 yen / 2nd Grade 1,900 yen
    Seating plan

    Booking Opens
    November 14, 2020 

    Counter Sales at the Theatre 
    November 15, 2020

    Bunraku Performance for Begginers / Bunraku Performance for Begginers (Evening)
    Discover BUNRAKU
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    What's BUNRAKU?
    BUNRAKU is one of the representative traditional performing arts in Japan, designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2003.
    Please see an Invitaion to Bunraku to learn more about BUNRAKU.




    in Japanese



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


    1. Kanadehon Chushingura
    (The Treasury of Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers)

        Among Japan’s many year-end events, classical concert audiences look forward to performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Kabuki and Bunraku aficionados have their own annual treat: something from that mammoth stage version of the Chushingura ‘ronin’ saga that features duty, obedience, obligation, absolute loyalty, vengeance, and a successful suicidal vendetta.
        Why are performances common in December? Well, the bloody climax of the actual events was the capture and beheading of the less-than-angelic court official Kira (Morono in the play) by 46 loyal retainers of Lord Asano, and their subsequent mass suicide. It took place on the snowy night of the 14th day of the 12th month according to the lunar calendar. In fact, that was around the end of January on the Gregorian calendar, but it’s December 14th that has become a special date for the Chushingura faithful.
        The play depicts the events before and after the incident in which Lord Asano drew his sword inside the Shogun’s palace and injured Kira, who had been abusing him. It was a rash act that demanded Asano’s immediate death by ritual suicide. The rest of the play presents the infamous story of the retainers’revenge.
        This 1921 print by Kobori Tomone shows the incident in Act III, with Asano in yellow court costume.


        Complete performances of the 11-Act original play are rare because they take over 10 hours, although the play was chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre in 2016 (minus a few wise cuts). In this year’s December performances we can see three popular action-filled scenes from Acts V and VI, featuring the Hayano Kanpei sub-plot.
        Rather reminiscent of the way Shakespeare used other countries and eras to present contemporary English themes, the three 18th century writers avoided Tokugawa censorship and wrath by presenting the events as a 14th century story. The names of the real participants were only thinly disguised, so Kayano Sanpei became Hayano Kanpei on stage. He was the 47th loyal retainer who was filled with guilt for not protecting his lord during the incident. Okaru, a lady-in-waiting to Lord Asano’s wife, persuades him to return home with her to await being reinstated as a samurai.



        In this 1862 print by Kuniaki, we see them on the road passing Mt. Fuji, with the black-and-white zizgag border that was often used for Chushingura prints to represent the retainers’ vendetta costumes.
        The action in Acts V and VI includes a daughter sold to prostitution, a robbery and murder by a highwayman who wears black, a boar hunt on a dark and rainy night, an accidental killing by a man who likes blue, matching money bags, a mistaken judgment, and a seppuku death scene.
    *Trivia: ‘Kanadehon’, meaning ‘kana primer’, is not usually included in the English translation of the title. It refers to the fact that the number of ‘the treasury’ (=loyal retainers) was 47, the same as the number of kana characters in the Japanese syllabary.


    2. Katsuragawa Renri no Shigarami
    (The Love Suicide of Ohan and Choemon at the Katsura River)

        The second half of the December programme features another well-known play based on real events. It was produced for the puppets in 1776 and adapted by Kabuki eight years later.
        One day in the first half of the 18th century, two bodies were found in the Katsura River in Kyoto: a man around the age of 50 and a woman around 15. It appeared to have been a love suicide. The literal translation of the title of the stage version is ‘Inseparable Bonds at the Katsura River’. It presents the tragic love affair between a 38-year-old obi (kimono sash) dealer called Choemon, and Ohan, the 14-year-old daughter of his merchant neighbour. It begins when they happen to meet by chance at an inn on the Tokaido Highway. Spiced with a smattering of typical Osaka humour, the dramatic story involves lust, passion, missing money, sword swapping, a loyal wife, a greedy second wife, and a confusing love letter which could have been addressed to either of two men.


        Sharaku’s print of the 1794 Kabuki version shows Bando Hikosaburo III as Choemon and Iwai Hanshiro IV as Ohan. (All prints from the Varnam-Atkin Collection)