[编辑 Editor 刘大人 英译 Translator 刘大人]
Before the invention of film, humans depicted motion in art as far back as the 15th century, when Puppetry as an art form was used as a variation to storytelling or human theatrical productions even before the advent of human actors. Without the aid of sound technology and special effects, ever wonder how some of these earlier ancient cultures are keeping to their roots, evolved and still practised today? Here’re two familiar forms….
Designated by the Japanese government as an Intangible Cultural Property and by UNESCO as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Bunraku involves a number of puppeteers (ningyotsukai)—dressed in black against a dark backdrop as if invisible—who manipulate lavishly costumed large puppets. A single chanter (tayu) is responsible for expressing the dialogue and emotions for all characters in a script; while a shamisen player enhances the atmosphere of the play through his three-stringed lute.
Ranking with Noh and Kabuki as one of Japan’s foremost stage arts, the Ningyo Joruri Bunraku puppet theatre is a blend of sung narrative, shamisen music and puppet drama. This theatrical form emerged during the early Edo period when puppetry was coupled with Joruri, a famous fifteenth-century narrative genre. The plots related in this new form of puppet theatre are derived from two principal sources: historical plays set in feudal times (Jidaimono) and contemporary dramas exploring the conflict between affairs of the heart and social obligation (Sewamono). Approximately 160 works out of the 700 plays written during the Edo period have remained in today’s repertory. Nowadays, it attracts numerous young performers and the aesthetic qualities and dramatic content of the plays continue to appeal to modern audiences.
The visit marks the fourth time the group has stepped foot into Malaysia, and finally making its long-awaited debut in Johor Bahru to display the spellbinding appeal of the 300-year-old dramatic art. Members were part of a pioneering entourage that presented South East Asia’s first full-scale Bunraku performance in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. The following year, these masters-in-training returned to the capital for a joint demonstration with a wayang kulit troupe led by Kamrulbahri Hussin. They then debuted bunraku in Penang at the inaugural Butterworth Fringe Festival in 2015, which saw them share the stage with local practitioners of Potehi glove puppetry.
Teochew Iron-rod Puppetry
The history of Teochew iron-rod puppetry began in the Central Plains of China as shadow puppets, which were two-dimensional made of dried leather strips and controlled with three long iron-rods attached to the arms and the torso.
During the Southern Song period (1127–1279 CE), refugees fleeing south away from the instability and barbarian invasions of the time brought the art to the Chaozhou (or Teochew) region. There, it adopted many aspects of the rich local operatic tradition. From the Qing dynasty onwards (c. 17th-century), in order to improve its visual impact, these shadow puppeteers experimented with removing the white screen (usually paper) between the audience and the puppets, so that the puppets became directly visible. To take full advantage of the greater dynamism this allows, the puppets became three-dimensional, first with hay, then more robust wooden bodies. These puppets have, however, retained the method of control of their shadow puppet antecedents that are their most unique feature, hence their classification as “iron-rod” puppets.
Kim Giak Low Choon Teochew Puppet Troupe
In the 19th century, Ling Goh’s great-grandfather (first generation) brought his “Lao Sai Yong Feng Opera Troupe” from Chaozhou (Teochew) to Singapore. “Lao Sai Yong Feng” was the first opera troupe to arrive in Southeast Asia. “Lao Sai Yong Feng” travelled and performed across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia before settling in Penang. The troupe then renamed itself as the “Lao Rong Xiu Chun Puppet Troupe” and mainly performed with puppets. It was later renamed again as “Kim Giak Low Choon Teochew Puppet Troupe”.
The “Kim Giak Low Choon Teochew Puppet Troupe” has persevered until the current 5th generation, helmed by Ling Goh, current curator of the Penang Teochew Puppet and Opera House. In 2008, it was recognised as a Living Heritage Treasure by the Penang Heritage Trust.
Asian Traditional Puppet Exchange
Watch the 300-year-old art of Bunraku brought to life before your eyes this Sunday afternoon at The Black Box @ MAP, Mall of Medini. In collaboration with Johor Bahru: International Festival City, The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur is bringing six young leaders of the Japanese Bunraku scene who will astound audiences in Johor with an elaborate showcase of poignant storytelling, live music and large puppets. Set to exhibit the techniques that have been handed down over three centuries, the programme will debut with an excerpt from “The Red-Hot Love of a Greengrocer’s Daughter”, one of 160 plays written during the Edo period (1603-1868) that remain in the national archive, for its only appearance in Malaysia this year, so don’t miss this!
莲香戏鞋(Love of the Celestial Fox)
The Black Box @ MAP, MAll of Medini 黑箱子
Tickets are sold at the door.
中间座位 (Front) RM50
旁边座位 (Side) RM10
A thousand-year-old celestial fox called Lotus descends upon the mortal realm, meeting a mortal man named Sangsheng. The two fall madly in love. Sangsheng had been betrothed before, but his betrothed, Li Wan, passed away before they could marry. Returning to Sangsheng under another guise, her spirit inhabits an embroidered slipper. There, she competes with Lotus for Sangsheng’s affections in a series of escalating antics. It all comes to a head when Lotus’ true form is eventually revealed. Lotus resolves to leave, but when Sangsheng falls gravely ill, Li Wan begs Lotus to help. Seeing Li Wan’s love for Sangsheng, Lotus appeals to the Divine High Sage of Virtue and the Guanyin Bodhisattva for a cure to save Sangsheng, as well as to reincarnate the spirit of Li Wan in a new body, so that the two betrothed may be together again. After her good deed, she leaves the mortal realm for good to continue her ascension to full divinity.
伊達娘恋緋鹿子 / Date musume koi no higanoko(The Red-Hot Love of the Greengrocer’s Daughter)
The Black Box @ MAP, MAll of Medini 黑箱子
The “Fire Watchtower” scene from The Red-Hot Love of the Greengrocer’s Daughter
Oshichi, a greengrocer’s daughter, is upset after she finds a sword lost by her lover Kichisaburo. The price for having made such a mistake is none other than seppuku. Oshichi wishes to inform him immediately but is unable to exit the city centre as all gates are closed and will only be reopened come daybreak. However, fire alarms are an exception to this rule. A desperate Oshichi spots a watchtower in the distance and proceeds to ring the bell, knowing all too well that sounding a false alarm is a serious crime.