Miguel Romero
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   Bunraku
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   Two Puppet Collections
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Two Important Puppet Collections

Takeda teaching

I was privileged to have had an introduction to Sennosuke Takeda, head of the Japan chapter of UNIMA, the international organization of puppeteers, and also the leading proponent of the Japanese string puppet tradition. He lives in Iida which is not far from Nagano and on the way to Kyoto. There he teaches and maintains a museum that bears his name.

Marionette control.

 

I arrived in time to observe the final session of a workshop Mr. Takeda was teaching on Japanese string technique, not a tradition for which the Japanese are well-known, but very interesting in the hands of a master. Figures are generally small - no more than 15" high. They are able to achieve very subtle and expressive movement, even though the puppeteers manipulate the strings from very high above the stage, perched precariously on narrow planks in several parallel horizontal ranks. Unlike most marionette traditions in which the puppets all move in the same plane, Mr. Takeda’s string puppets can move on different horizontal planes in more interesting and realistic configurations on the stage.

Takeda MuseumMr. Takeda’s Museum is dedicated to the company, of which he is the heir and leading proponent and also to string puppetry from all around the world. Puppet masterpieces designed by Kinosuke Takeda are prominently displayed alongside those of Philippe Genty and Albrecht Roser. Takeda Marionette Theatre, a major company employing dozens of performers and artisans, was designated an Intangible Cultural Property of the Metropolis of Tokyo where it thrived in it’s own theater for nearly fifty years. Today, his company is relatively small and performs for children in a theatre in the museum. After the workshop, Mr. Takeda graciously hosted me in his home. The next day, he provided me with one of the most fascinating and unusual highlights of my sabbatical.

Takeda heads

Insosuke Kinosuke Takeda creating a puppet head.

Farmers rehearsing.

Together we attended a rehearsal of local farmers who perform an amateur Bunraku-style puppet folk art. It was very moving and touching to watch, because these ordinary farmers were so serious about and proud of their art form. There had been a puppet theatre in this same village for over 200 years. Recently condemned, the original old theatre building has now been replaced with a beautiful new theatre where the rehearsal took place with a stunning interior all in natural pine. Farmers heads

They gave me a tour of the condemned building, and the morning after the rehearsal they showed me their collection of antique puppets and demonstrated how they manipulate them. After the rigorous secrecy of the National Bunraku Company, it was refreshing to see these puppeteers eager to show off their traditional techniques to a stranger.

Farmers 4 demos

 

En route to Kyoto after leaving Takeda, I stopped at the Torokko Puppetry Library and met with its curator, Katami Eimei, a puppeteer who performs children’s plays with his wife. He has what is acknowledged to be one of the most comprehensive collection of books from all over the world on puppetry and representations of puppets (woodcuts, Japanese prints, puppetry ephemera and puppets themselves). The library has a particularly interesting collection of Chinese puppets. Mr. Katami and his wife spent the day demonstrating puppets from their collection as well as from their company, plus many woodblock prints and paintings.

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