“The Lovers’ Exile”, a Japanese movie directed by Marty Gross, based on the ancient bunraku play “The Courier from Hell” (Meido no kikyaku) a love-suicide play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon in 1711. It was first staged in Osaka at the Takemotoza in the third month of 1711. The Lover’s Exile is not a tradional form of movie with changing scenes and camera angles, it is just a filming of the Lovers’ Exile.
“The Courier from Hell” tells the tale of Chubei, an adopted son of a courier who is in love with Umegawa, a prostitute in his local town of Osaka. Chubei steals letters and packages from customers of his father’s courier house as he tries to buy out Umegawa’s contract before another man chooses to do so. Returning from a visit to the pleasure house, Chubei’s friend Hachiemon runs into him and demands he returns money he owes him. After discussing, Chubei breaks down and admits to Hachiemon that he is trying to buy out Omegawa’s contract. Hachiemon is impressed by Chubei’s honesty and forgives the debt.
Later on however, Chubei finds a large sum of gold has to be given to a samurai and initially he attempts to do, but his emotions take over his reasoning and he finds himself going to the brothel instead, ending Act 1. Once at the brothel he finds Hachiemon there, pleading him not to do anything stupid, however Chubei is offended by his friends’ mistrust and in his anger breaks the seal on the container of the gold, a crime punishable by death, and pays his debts to Hachiemon along with the Umegawa’s contract. The couple then decide to escape, however they are eventually caught by soldiers. The tale ends with the lines “What further fate was theirs tongue need not recite. Suffice to say their names remain upon the roll of those whom passion made its prey.”
To perform “The Courier from Hell” in its bunraku style, it is vital to understand the rules and limitations of it. The bunraku style began with simple puppets which could be manipulated by only one puppeteer, however they were then gradually altered to have three puppeteers to make the movements appear more lifelike. The bunraku style differentiates itself from all other puppet theatres, as the puppeteers are clearly visible to the audience at all times. These puppets usually vary in size between 1 meter 50 cm and 1 meter 30 cm, and they are controlled by three puppeteers who all control a different area of the body. There is the omo-zukai (head puppeteer) who controls the puppets head and face, by holding a stick with levers in his left hand, and uses his right hand to control the doll’s right hand.
Then the hidari-zukai (left-hand puppeteer) who controls only the left hand of the puppet with his right hand, lastly there is the ashi-zukai (foot puppeteer) who uses his hands to control the legs and feet of the puppet. The puppeteers work together with each other as the ultimate bunraku theatre makes the doll as life like as possible with a heart guiding it, when all three puppeteers function together perfectly. The puppeteering is an extremely arduous task, junior puppeteers begin as leg manipulators, after having spent ten to fifteen years to master the art, then they need ten to fifteen more years to learn the left-arm operation.
As seen here, the three puppeteers controlling the puppet, all dressed in black to inspire the idea of nothingness. The idea of nothingness is supposed eliminate the puppeteers from the audience perspective, the audience simply ignores their presence as if they were not there. Along with the puppeteers, bunraku theatre uses chanting of gidaya-bushi, trying to make an expressionless puppet as life like as possible. The chanter (tayu) communicates the dialogue of all characters, but also the spectacle of the scene and the background to a scene. The chanter is a form of chorus, which is performed by only one person who must portray everything: male, female, young or old, all in a different manner by himself.
The primary objective of the chanter is to give emotions to every character, on first viewing; the chanter can seem exaggerated emotion wise, but that is the idea behind the gidaya-bushi-giving audience members a strong impression of a characters’ personality. Besides singing and expressing the voices of individuals, the chanter can also act as a narrator to bring a text to life for the audience. Along with the chanter, there are three Shamisen Players, the Shamisen is a “three-stringed musical instrument played with a plectrum.”
There is a futo-zao (thick-necked), chu-zao or naka-zao (medium-necked) and hoso-zao (thin-necked). The futo-zao is the largest of the three and is used alongside the chanter, which requires singing from the lower abdomen, and it produces a very powerful timbre. A unique property of the shamisen is that it is a musical instrument, which does not put any importance on the musicality but instead, on expressing the emotions of the play, the shamisen must “play the strings of the heart”. Because of the difficulty of expressing human emotions through a single-tonal colour it usually leads to a first-time theatregoer who listens to a shamisen master leaving a theatre filled with emotion.
The chanter and the Shamisen player working together on the set of a bunraku play.
The chanter’s range of emotions while depicting different characters solely with his voice The puppets are carved out of wood and their heads are hollow, and placed on the top of a dogushi (special head-grip stick), which is placed through the shoulder board. The stick is used by the head puppeteer to control the doll. Lengths of fabric are draped to the back and front of the shoulder board which are attached to bamboo hoops. Loofahs sponges are attached to both shoulders to create round shoulders. The limbs are attached via strings to the shoulder board, usually females do not have legs at all, as the foot puppeteer places his fists in the hem of the doll’s robe to make it appear as if the puppet was walking. A sashigane (long wooden armature) is attached to the puppet’s left hand allowing the left-hand puppeteer to operate the left arm and hand.
A traditional Bunraku puppet out of costume. The kashira (head) of the Bunraku puppets are divided into male and female, and then accordingly to age, social class, and distinguishing personality traits of the role they portray, every single one has a special name which reflects their unique character. The same head can be used for different characters in different plays, however sometimes it is repainted or the wig is changed to match the character more closely.
There are some puppets which are specific for certain roles, such as children and numerous other characters which are attached to tsume- ningyo (one man puppets). These are taken care of by the kashira tanto (head master) who prepares them and checks all the levers inside of them for each performance. The head can be manipulated into moving its eyebrows, mouth and eyes by the main puppeteer by moving the levers attached to the dogushi stick inside the doll’s neck. One can even make the puppet nod its head in synchronisation with the shamisen music.
In the Lovers’ Exile, Chubei’s an adopted son who lives and works with his mother. His real father is Magoemon who lives in farm out of the town; initially he is only known by name and referred to along with Chubei as his backstory. Chubei is a 24 year old clerk in the courier business, who is talented in Japanese arts, is a very childish character who allows his love for Umegawa to take over his rationality: when he is given the money to bring to the samurai, his first idea is to bring it to him immediately, yet as he slowly walks on, he suddenly realizes he is heading in the direction of Umegawa’s quarters. “He pocketed the money and stepped out into the forst-ribbed street. His intention was to walk northward, but his legs according to their wont carried him farther and farther south until he came to Komeya-cho. “What? Am I not to visit the yahiki at Dojima? What ails me? Am I possessed by a fox?”
He retraced a few steps, but halted. Let me see, I came here by no means of my own accord. Surely it must be because my tutelary diety in person compels me to Umegawa because she must want to see me on some important business. I will pay her a short visit.” He turned south again. “No, I must not. I should be tempted to spend the money there. That’s dangerous. Shall I give up the idea of the visit? . . . or shall I go? Yes, I must go.” Despite his knowledge of his actions, and the potential consequences, he completely ignores them and lets his love for Umegawa guide him into a dangerous situation. Later a very similar scene occurs when Chubei encounters his friend Haciemon at the brothel, and as the two discuss, Hachiemon eventually lectures him about his actions and the potential consequences which they could have, specifically the act of stealing money from customers’ of his courier service. Still Chubei’s emotions get the better of him and with his wounded pride he acts impulsively opening the letter and sealing his own fate.
“This well-intentioned lecture infuriated Chubei all the more. “Enough of your hypocritical benevolence! So you think this money belongs to somebody else, do you? I haven’t three hundred ryo, haven’t I, eh? Since you were good enough to put yourself to the trouble of estimating the worth of my property in the presence of this sort of company, it seems that I am the more to pay you your money to save myself in their eyes. “He tore open the packet and counted out ten, twenty . . . thirty . . . fifty Ryo and wrapped it in paper. “ This entire action just shows exactly Chubei’s character, his impulsiveness, allowing his emotions to get the better of him, making choices which lead to no good outcome. Yet this also shows that Chubei loves Umegawa too dearly that he will even kill himself, just to be together with her.
After understanding what type of character Chubei has, this is then applied to the head of the puppet. For a group of puppeteers to accurately portray the emotions felt by Chubei in the final scene in Act 1, in the Lovers’ Exile, they would have to know the strict rules which apply to the puppeteering in bunraku. The puppeteers would have to control the puppet in a manner which can portray the confusion, love, sense of morals and almost despair which Chubei feels, furthermore the puppeteering group have to work in synchronization with the music and also with the stage.
In the specific scene Chubei walks along the Yokohama canal and as he attempts to keep himself from going to Umegawa, at this point the backdrop moves vertically indicating his mental progress. Besides this, the puppeteers must also be working in synchronization with the chanter and the Shamisen player as to achieve a believable life like puppet with movements that can cause the audience to forget the fact that it is a doll controlled by puppeteers in a bunraku style.
For this group of actors to portray this set of emotions, in said scene, initially they would have to demonstrate total normality within the characters emotions, therefore no personal clashes, this means that in a previous scene it must have been established how Chubei normally behaves. This is important as it demonstrates to the audience the internal battle which Chubei is experiencing, furthermore this struggle would also have to become previously stronger as his rational side loses and his emotions take hold of him and force him to go to Umegawa. Initially the puppeteers would just have Chubei move normally with the ashu-zukai (foot puppeteer) taking normal slow steps, while keeping the arm and head movement in synchronisation with the hidari-zukai (left hand puppeteer) and omo-zukai (head puppeteer).
Then as the chanter tells expresses Chubei’s emotions, the puppeteers would force him to slowly question himself, stopping his walk and instead using both his arms, his head and torso, moving them with great frequency to portray his exasperation and state of mind. This would partly also be achieved by him the puppeteers moving his upper body between the left side when considering going to Umegawa and the right side when considering going to the Samurai and giving the money to him. Both arms would have to be used to display this distress, as first the doll would have to depict its thinking about the upcoming events, its thoughtfulness with movement of the arm to the chin, then using the other arm to direct him to the opposite direction to portray his chaotic state of mind as he has two completely opposing ideas driving him forward.
Chubei will continue this conflict and stop completely in the middle of the stage, then the head puppeteer and the left arm puppeteer both move in synchronisation with a drum played backstage as Chubei slams his hands to the ground as he fails to make a decision. Soon Chubei rises from the floor and decides that he will go to the samurai, however as he walks towards his destination, he realizes that his mind has tricked him, as he is actually going towards Umegawa’s quarters.
Now he portrays total surprise, shown by the head puppeteer raising his eyebrows, moving his head backward while moving his right hand backwards as he mistrusts his own senses, Chubei’s left arm is also moved backwards as well to emphasize this total surprise. However he cannot muster sufficient willpower to resist his love for Umegawa and in a final slam to the ground with drum he walks off stage ending the first act and concluding his internal conflict.
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