From Puppet to Robot

Technology and the Human in Japanese Theatre

Authored by: Cody Poulton

The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance

Print publication date:  July  2014
Online publication date:  July  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415705400
eBook ISBN: 9781315850115
Adobe ISBN: 9781317911722


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String Puppet Sanbasó, a kabuki dance performed to the accompaniment of a n agauta ballad, 1 is one of a long series of felicitous sanbasó plays, a performance type that can be found in every major genre of traditional theatre. Indeed, the sanbasó (a kind of divine clown who is the sidekick of another god, the Old Man okina) is a character whose performance predates Japan’s oldest full-fledged dramatic genre, the , and points to the sacred and ritual origin of all traditional Japanese performance. In the kabuki dance, two actors play a marionette of the little god and its puppeteer. When the puppeteer pulls an invisible string, for example, the puppet’s hand rises, and it seems as if his entire body is at the beck of his manipulator: limp, inert matter until animated by his controller. It is a brilliant dance, the actor mimicking the jerky, awkward – yet gravity-defying – movements of the little god made of wood and strings.

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