Bunraku Plays with Animated Backgrounds to Go on U.S. Tour; Featuring 9 Shows in 5 Cities

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

Dramatic scenes from famous bunraku puppet plays that have been jazzed up with animated backgrounds will be performed at five U.S. cities in September and October.

This fusion of the Japanese traditional performing art with modern “Cool Japan” elements was first performed in Tokyo in March and was hugely popular, especially among foreign 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 countries overseas, the theater was unable to perform abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. The upcoming tour will be the theater’s first overseas performances in five years.

The shows will feature “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. Lasting about 30 minutes, the performance tells the tale 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 eventually taking each other’s lives. The fantastical, intricately detailed background images depicting a lush forest and starry sky were masterminded 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-performance tour will feature stops in five cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Washington, between Sept. 28 and Oct. 12. Each show will also feature a performance of the iconic fire watchtower scene from “Date Musume Koi no Higanoko” (“The Red-hot Love of the Greengrocer’s Daughter”) in which a puppet climbs a ladder. English explanations will be provided.