Can dolls be a national treasure?
In all cultures, dolls initially carried a mystical meaning. This is all the more true for Japanese dolls, whose history is inseparable from Shinto – the national religion, which is a synthesis of the cult of ancestors, the worship of natural elements, and magical rites. The first dolls on the territory of Japan appeared, probably already in the 3rd millennium BC, and maybe even earlier.
Puppet theater was fond of kugutsusi hunters, for whom doll making and puppet shows were a common leisure activity. Later, similar representations began to be organized by followers of the Buddhist sect of jodo.
On a tiny stage, which was hung around the neck with the help of laces, the puppeteers depicted the stories of a temple or a Buddhist deity. Puppet shows combined with sekkyo – a musical exposition of Buddhist stories – used by courtesans to entertain their patrons. Features of thinking of the Japanese led to the emergence and development of a rather distinctive theater. In the last quarter of the 16th century, a puppet show and a traditional musical recitative came together.
The peculiarity of puppet performances in Japan was that a special narrator spoke behind the dolls, sitting aside and chanting the text for all the characters involved to the accompaniment of a shamisen. This ancient musical instrument with three strings appeared in China, there it was covered with snake skins. In Japan, for this purpose, cat skins were used. This is how the art of the joruri theater was formed. One of the first ones used for “joruri” was the story “Joruri”, from which came the name of the genre itself. It was a story about the romantic love of the hero Minamoto Yoshitsune and Princess Joruri.
Famous painter Joun, performing under the pseudonym of Torai Jiroemon and Koheida, founded a puppet theater in the Shogun capital of Edo. He made the speech of his heroes exalted and noble. Dolls and their costumes were performed in a classic style. True, some changes were made. Instead of the former clay dolls, wooden tetras were played in his tetra; curtains of luxurious silk were used instead of simple paper curtains. The art of the Joruri Theater was finally formed in the first half of the 18th century, when its classical image was formed, which has survived to the present day.
At the same time began its true flourishing. The most outstanding creators of the classical form are considered to be the playwright Tikamatsu Mondzaemon and the singer-narrator Takemoto Guida. In the plays that Tikamatsu wrote for the puppet theater, two main types of plots were used: ji-dai-mono — plays on historical themes and seva-mono — about the tragic love of ordinary people. Sometimes these plots are quite easily combined in one view. The traditions of the Joruri Theater are still preserved. They are continued by two troupes – Awaji and Bunraku.
Bunraku Theater, founded in Osaka in 1871, was named after the famous puppeteer Uemura Bunrakuken. This name has become a symbol of the Japanese traditional puppet theater. For Bunraku performances, large dolls of ½ − 2/3 human height are made. An open pupillating system is used, i.e. the actors are not hidden behind the screens, but act in front of the viewer.
Since the doll is large and hard to manage, it is usually led by three actors. The most experienced of them controls the movements of the head, face and right hand. The second moves the doll’s left hand, the third moves it with its legs. Actors are wearing black hooded kimonos covering their faces. A few minutes after the beginning of the performance, viewers no longer notice the operators, attention focuses on the expressive movements of the dolls. Sometimes the most famous artists performing the role of the first operator are allowed not to cover their faces with a hood. Classic performances last for 7−8 hours.
Carefully crafted dolls are passed from one acting generation to another and are highly valued. The art of puppelling actors are not trained in schools, which are not in Japan, but directly in the theater. Usually they start as assistants dressed in black (chicken), serve the actors on the stage with the necessary objects, set the seats, etc. With the increase in skills they rise to the level of masters. Of course, the guide – the singer-narrator – the main person in the play. The performance goes to his voice and rhythmic musical accompaniment on three-string shamisenakh and drums. Guidao speaks on behalf of all the puppets involved in the presentation, regardless of gender and age.
By changing the voice, it means who owns the words. He reads author’s remarks, sings, laughs, cries, accompanying himself on shamisen. As in the old days, the stories told are divided into two genres: historical plays, in which we are talking about real characters, and everyday plays, which are similar in structure to European melodramas. Bunraku is a puppet theater for adults. The main conflict of the plays, as in antiquity, is a conflict between duty and feelings, characteristic of Japanese art.