How Japanese Are Entertained Through Puppetry Essay

Length: 2 pages Subject: Music Type: Essay Paper: #21522557 Related Topics: Musical Theatre, Japan, Theater, Costumes
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Impression

The wonderful combination of beautiful, almost life-like Japanese puppets with traditional music makes this film quite musical, along with theater. The puppets used in the film, and seen throughout about 400 years of traditions, are not puppets as Americans would think of as puppets. They do not dangle from strings, and there is no one with a hand inside the puppet to make it move, the way children are entertained at typical American puppet shows.

These are beautiful doll-like figures, moving at the command of the performer holding the puppet. Watching a show at the Bunraku Theater in Osaka (which begins with someone clapping two wooden instruments together as the curtain opens) a viewer notes that the narrator sits next to a man playing a long banjo-like instrument which is called a shamisen (it has a long neck and three strings).

The film's narrator explains that there are three kinds of shamisen instruments. One has a thick neck, one a medium size neck and one with a thin neck. On the thin necked shamisen the sound is quite high, and it gets lower with each level of thickness.

The narrator holds the script up to his forehead in a show of respect. It is interesting that the narrator sings (and speaks in a high voice) all the lines for the actors holding the puppets on the stage.

The unique presentation features three men with each puppet; the man holding the puppet moves it around, synchronized with the song being sung and the drum being beaten. He operates the head and the right arm. The other two puppeteers (with black hoods over their heads) operate the legs...


The swaying and other movements by the puppet keep the audience (a full house) riveted on the puppet, with painted face in ancient Japanese traditional style.

Every now and then the narrator screams, his voice matching the action of a puppet. The play takes an entire day to perform, but it is broken up into acts. In the background while the narrator is singing / wailing / screeching is the sound of the shamisen. Unless the film viewer speaks or understands Japanese language, the play cannot be fully understood. But the intricate heads that are backstage, with over 100 wigs available, shows the film viewer how serious this puppet theater is about creating plays with every conceivable expression and every emotion familiar to Japanese people available on display with the puppets.

The film narrator says there are about 30 different kinds of male heads, and about ten female heads. These heads have faces with every imaginable expression, so they are interchangeable and can be substituted depending on what kind of character the play calls for. The faces can change without changing the head, too; the film shows how a woman's face on a particular head suddenly becomes a demon-like face, due to the puppeteer pulling a string or tripping a level behind the head.

One head even splits in two, when hit by a sword; so there is violence associated with these cultural puppet shows. These are not necessarily stock heads. They get painted before…

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