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Bunraku plays with animated backgrounds to go on US tour; with 9 shows in 5 cities


The Yomiuri Shimbun
A scene from the bunraku puppet show “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki,” featuring highly detailed animated backgrounds, will be performed at the Yurakucho Yomiuri Hall in Yurakucho, Tokyo in March.

In September and October, dramatic scenes from famous bunraku puppet shows, complemented by animated backdrops, will be performed in five American cities.

This fusion of Japanese traditional performing arts with modern “Cool Japan” elements was first performed in Tokyo in March and was extremely popular, especially among overseas visitors. The National Theatre in Tokyo planned and produced the upcoming tour to encourage more tourists to visit Japan. Although bunraku is incredibly popular in many overseas countries, the theatre has been unable to perform overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. The upcoming tour will be the theatre’s first overseas performance in five years.

The shows include “The Forest by the Tenjin Shrine,” the climactic scene from “Sonezaki Shinju” (“The Love Suicides at Sonezaki”), a bunraku masterpiece from the early 18th century. The performance lasts approximately 30 minutes and tells the story of Tokubei, who works in a soy sauce shop, and a prostitute named Ohatsu. In this scene, they wander through a forest in Osaka before ultimately taking each other’s lives. The fantastical, intricately detailed background images of a lush forest and a starry sky were created by Kazuo Oga, who is known for his involvement in creating background art for Studio Ghibli films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke.

The nine-show tour will include stops in five cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Washington, between Sept. 28 and Oct. 12. Each show will also feature a rendition of the iconic fire watchtower scene from “Date Musume Koi no Higanoko” (“The Red-Heat Love of the Grocer’s Daughter”) in which a puppet climbs a ladder. English commentary will be provided.

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