70 Years of Berliner Festspiele

Sonezaki Shinju (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki)

Bunraku Theater Osaka
Text: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Composition: Nozawa Matsunosuke
Schiller-Theater Berlin, 29.9.1999

The classical Japanese theatre form bunraku has existed for over 300 years and has UNESCO cultural heritage status. This type of puppet theatre rarely goes on tour. One exception, however, was the visiting performance of the Osaka Bunraku Theatre at the Berliner Festspiele in 1999.

A female Japanese doll figure wearing a traditional costume in white. Behind the doll on the left, the head of a male read person can be seen. The lower part of the image depicts the phrase "Before it's light, we'll be big in the newspapers."

Bunraku Theatre Osaka, “Sonezaki Shinju. The Love Suicides at Sonezaki“, Berlin 1999. Film, colour, sound. Film still

© RBB | Courtesy of the artists

  • 85 min
  • In Japanese with German subtitles

Bunraku is a formally demanding art form conducted in highly ritualised fashion – when the curtain rises, a figure shrouded in black enters and announces the play and introduces the narrator and the musician, who both sit down at the side of the stage on the right. Each of the puppets that appears is an art work in its own right, barely one metre high, elaborately crafted and dressed, each one is operated by three men, two of which are shrouded in black. One operates the legs, another the left arm and the third the head. In bunraku this puppetry forms an artistic unity together with the expressive story-telling skills of the narrator and a lutenist, who beats his three-stringed instrument spanned with cat skin in accompaniment. The text is a mixture of narration, dialogue and poetry. “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki”, which was presented in Berlin is about a young man who is deprived of his fortune and his inappropriate bride, a young courtesan. A more or less classic bourgeois drama, formally presented with an attention to detail and sensitivity that seems both equally lifelike and uncanny when the puppets move not only their limbs but also their eyes and mouths, gently wiping tears away from their cheeks or touching each other with tenderness. Movements that in the theatre are best seen from the first few rows but which no one need miss in this recording made by SFB in 1999.

© RBB | Courtesy of the artists