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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Unbound from Conventionality: Conveying Traditional Performing Arts to the Modern World

[From August Issue 2010]

YOUKI Magosaburo XII,
Leader of the Marionette Theatre Company Youkiza

The “Youkiza” marionette theater company was established during the Edo Period, in 1635. On stage they perform the Japanese traditional art form “Edo ito ayatsuri ningyou.” The troupe’s founder, YOUKI Magosaburo, has had his name passed down from generation to generation, and in 1993, the 12th-generation leader took it on. Magosaburo XII was born as the second son to Magosaburo X and started performing when he was only four years old. Now, at 67, he is still on stage.

A puppeteer uses “teita” (hand boards) to control the marionette’s expressions and movements. More than 10 strings from the teita are tied to the marionette’s various joints, including the head, shoulder, arms and legs. Magosaburo says, “It is different from acting done by humans because the marionette has a limit to its expressions and movements. So it is an art with insufficiency and imperfection.”

“But that is all the more reason that I feel it is worth the effort,” he says. However, it wasn’t until his early 30’s that he became fascinated with the art of the puppeteering. “Ever since I was in elementary school, I would have to go to 3 after-school lessons a day, including Japanese dance, kyogen (traditional comic theater), and noh (traditional masked theater); and then on weekends, I would help my father who worked on marionette TV programs. When I was a latter teenager, I yearned for the ordinary life that my friends had – like going to college and becoming a businessman,” he recalls.

Although displeased, he continued as a puppeteer. After getting married, and expecting a child, his mentality changed. “I worked all my life as a puppeteer, so I did not know any world beyond it. Finally at that age, I learned to accept the art as my work and it became very interesting,” he said adding that “I decided that instead of becoming a good puppeteer, I would aim to become a unique one.”

And he did. He remembers that he would “try various staging styles that were, until then, considered taboo, such as leaving a marionette on the stage for a full scene, or biting on dolls. Of course I did all this because it was effective staging.” He recalls that “it was much better than expected and was well received,” especially when he had inexperienced audience members learn basic puppeteer skills, and then have them control a scene where the puppets flee from an air-raid, producing a more realistic effect.

During overseas productions, which the company began during his father’s era, Magosaburo XII was bold. “In Britain not only did we perform traditional Japanese plays, but we also daringly performed Shakespeare. We always perform stories that are familiar to the people of the country we visit so that our show is reviewed for its storytelling and performance, and not just as a traditional art form from a foreign country,” he explains.

More recently, Magosaburo XII has started giving workshops to elementary and middle school children who live in the area around his studio. “I hope many people, young, old and non-Japanese, will come to casually experience the art of puppeteering and enjoy it. Personally, I would like to continue performing on stage for another 10 years, to ensure that our performance company will be there for the next generation.”

Youkiza


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