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Friday, March 4, 2011


Bunraku gets film treatment

Staff writer

Canadian filmmaker Marty Gross had been fascinated with Japan's traditional puppet theater, bunraku, since he saw a production during his first visit to Japan in 1970. But it was only later in that decade, when it was suggested that he make a film of a production, that he took the time to study the art form closely. "I was stunned by the beauty but also by the complex structure," he tells The Japan Times.

News photo
The Lovers' Exile

It was in 1979 that Gross committed a portion of the Chikamatsu Monzaemon tragedy, "Meido no Hikyaku" ("The Courier for Hell"), to film, giving it the title "The Lovers' Exile," for its doomed-love story line.

The project involved building a stage inside the Daiei Uzumasa Studios in Kyoto and having the best bunraku performers of the day — the late Yoshida Tamao, Yoshida Minosuke III and others — perform on it for the camera. Like bunraku itself, the faces of the puppeteers are visible in the film.

While the film received positive reviews in the United States, it was never shown on the big screen in Japan. Until now, that is. On March 5, a month of screenings will commence at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo's Ebisu district.

"Over the last few years, due in part to digital technology, there has been an opportunity to show more specialized works in smaller cinemas," Gross says of the new screening. "If this goes well we will try to present the film in other Japanese cities."

The screenings on March 29 and 30 will be with English-language subtitles.

"The Lovers' Exile" screens March 5-April 1 at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-3 Mita Meguro-ku Tokyo. For more information, call (03) 3280-0099 or visit bunraku-movie.com.

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