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    Bunraku Performances in May

    <NOTICE: This performance is CANCELLED>

    Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura
    (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees)

    Performance Dates : May.9(Sat.) - May.25(Mon.)
    Venue : National Theatre(Small Theatre)

    Programme Ⅰ (10:45-15:20)
    Act 1 - 2
    1. Sento Gosho (The Sento Palace)
    2. Kitasaga (The Nunnery at Kitasaga)
    3. Horikawa Gosho (The Mansion at Horikawa)
    4. Fushimi Inari (Fushimi Inari Shrine)
    5. Tokaiya/Daimotsu no Ura (The Shipping Agent at Daimotsu Bay)

    Ticket Prices for Programme Ⅰ (including tax)
    Adult: 1st Grade ¥7,500; 2nd Grade ¥6,200; 3rd Grade (limited view) ¥1,800
    Student: 1st Grade ¥5,300; 2nd Grade ¥3,100; 3rd Grade ¥1,300
    Seating plan 

    Programme II (16:00-21:10)
    Act 3 - 4
    6. Shii no Ki (The Nut Tree)
    7. Kokingo Uchijini (Kokingo’s Death)
    8. Sushiya (The Sushi Shop)
    9. Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi (The Travel Dance on Mt. Yoshino)
    10. Kawatsura Hogen Yakata (Kawatsura Hogen’s Mansion)

    Ticket Prices for Programme Ⅱ(including tax)
    Adult: 1st Grade ¥7,500; 2nd Grade ¥6,200; 3rd Grade (limited view) ¥1,800
    Student: 1st Grade ¥5,300; 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.

    Telephone & Internet booking starts on Apr.7(Tue.), 2020

    Box Office
    0570-07-9900 (From overseas: +81-3-3230-3000) in Japanese and English(10:00~18:00)
    Internet reservations: https://ticket.ntj.jac.go.jp/top_e.htm

    Counter Sales at the Theatre : available from Apr.8(Wed.), 2020

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

    Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura
    (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees)

    The stage set for The Travel Dance on Mount Yoshino with Yoshitsune’s armour and the hand-drum amldst the blooming cherry trees (Konobu)

     The three programmes being performed in Tokyo in February offer a splendid selection of classic Bunraku themes, famous characters, and riveting scenes.
     There’s a real Bunraku treat in store for us in May: an all-day ‘toshi-kyogen’ presentation of Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees, an immensely popular drama in both its Kabuki and Bunraku versions. It will be divided into two programmes, with five ‘scenes’ in each part. First performed as a puppet play in 1747, it was created by the same three playwrights who produced those other perennial heavyweight favourites, Sugawara’s Secrets of Calligraphy and The Treasury of Loyal Retainers.
     We’re again in the period of the Genji (Minamoto)-Heike (Taira) wars of the twelfth century. As the title suggests, the focus is on the legendary real-life figure of Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89). But although the fanciful happenings in the play are all related to him, he only plays something of a supporting role on stage.
     We also get to meet several other historical stars. One of them is Yoshitsune’s lover, Shizuka Gozen (1165-1211), known for her beauty and stylish dancing.

    The Bunraku Shizuka (Akihiko Mori)

    Shizuka dancing in Kamakura in front of Yoritomo, Yoshitsune’s brother
    (Inoue Yasuji, 1885)

     Another is the mighty warrior priest Saito Musashibo Benkei (1155-1189), Yoshitsune’s right-hand man. He was spotlighted in Kanjincho in February.

    Benkei with his impressive arsenal of weapons (Kunimaro)

    Programme Ⅰ

     The play is packed with famous and highly dramatic scenes. The climax of Programme I features the defeated Taira general Tomomori, the anchor-wielding poster puppet for this month. Also appearing are the child Emperor Antoku (1178-85) and his wet nurse Suke no Tsubone. According to the chronicles, in real life these three figures perished at the infamous Battle of Dan-no-ura. This section of the play is loosely based on two Noh plays, Funa Benkei, in which Shizuka dances and the ghostly Tomomori rises from the waves, and Ikari-kazuki, in which Tomomori’s ghost describes his suicide holding a huge anchor.

    The young Emperor Antoku with his nurse staring at the approaching Minamoto banners (Kuniyoshi, 1845)

    Programme Ⅱ

     Several of the scenes in Programme II are often performed independently. One of them is The Sushi Shop, which was banned for a while by the Occupation Forces after World War Two for its strong ‘loyalty’ theme. It includes something very unexpected hidden inside a sushi tub.
     And then, perhaps most famous of all, there are the scenes featuring two versions of Sato Tadanobu, Yoshitsune’s loyal retainer, one of them the real warrior and the other an energetic and moving fox in disguise. That storyline centers around a magical Noh-style hand-drum made from the skin of the fox’s parents. Watch out for flying action!
     All in all, it’s a feast of Bunraku treasures.

    Trivia corner

     This seems a suitable place to mention the intimate connection of Yoshitsune with what in English is usually referred to as ‘Bunraku Puppet Theatre’. Actually, the use of the term ‘Bunraku’ (literally ‘Art-Music’) only dates from the 1871 opening in Osaka of the Bunraku-za theatre. It was named after Uemura Bunrakuen (1737-1810), who made great efforts to revive the art after it had lost its popularity to Kabuki. The much older name of Ningyo Joruri more accurately describes the combination of puppets (ningyo) with joruri storytelling.
     But why was the storytelling element called ‘joruri’, and what is the connection with Yoshitsune? Well, the tayu-and-shamisen combination we see and hear today originated as one–man storytelling with biwa lute accompaniment. And that was named after Joruri-hime Monogatari (The Tale of Lady Joruri), a very long, very popular romantic story from the fifteenth century. It described how the handsome young Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) happened to meet the lovely Lady Joruri. He enchanted her with his flute playing, they fell in love at first sight, and then spent the night together…

    Here are two prints related to that famous story. Chikanobu’s print (1885) shows the moment they met, with Lady Joruri playing the koto as her maid talks to Ushiwakamaru in the moonlit garden. Kuniyoshi’s print (c.1845) shows him leaving the next morning, gazing back at her house.

    (All prints from the Varnam-Atkin Collection)

    in Japanese