Monday, August 06, 2012

De Re Osaka

Okumura Jun has laid down the gauntlet on the complaints Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru made about the bunraku puppet theater, the viewing of which so irked the Hashist that he broke the silence he fell into after revelation of his affair with a bar hostess.

[An aside - but when one considers the depth of contrition the heretofore unabashed Hashimoto has displayed since the publication of the Bungei Shunju article detailing the affair, one has to guess this was not a first offense. There is a strong sense of the wife and mother of his seven children having issued an ultimatum on the order of "if it ever happens again..."]

Okumura presents a synopsis of Hashimoto's five-day long rant against the performance he saw:

"1. Bunraku is a popular art form. As such, it must reach out to masses.* If the cultural elite disagree, it should not ask for public handouts. Maintaining Intangible Cultural Assets is the national government’s business.

2. The current script for The Sonezaki Shinju, which was Hashimoto’s second Bunraku experience, is actually a 1955 adaptation. Maybe they should try something new that appeals to contemporary tastes or go back to the original.

3. It’s hard for the novice audience member to ignore the dressed-up, in-your-face, head-and-right hand puppeteer. They should do something about that."


As for the three points, the easiest one to dispense with is the second. Hashimoto is absolutely correct: the performance he saw was a 1955 translation of the Chikamatsu original into modern Japanese. However, if the original were performed, not a soul in the house would understand it. As for performing something more modern, archaic-sounding pseudo-Japanese has not changed much since 1955.

As for the third point, Okumura is dead wrong. In live performance, the three puppeteers manipulating the puppet, including the master who performs with his head exposed, actually disappear. Televised performances give no hint of this -- one's cognitive functions get hung up on the thought, "Hey, I can see the puppeteers' heads!"

As for the first point, bunraku is one of only two things of note in Osaka, the other being Janne Morén.

Much longer is the list of the afflictions Osaka imposes upon the rest of this blessed land, for which the city makes no attempt to atone:

- Osaka Castle, the ugliest remake in the country -- and the town's preeminent landmark

- Kuidaore Taro, the giant moving crab and the Glico man: the city's three most recognized sui generis tourist attractions, all of them advertisements

- the Hanshin Tigers (when Hashin plays the Yomiuri Giants, all persons of conscience mutter, "Amaterasu, is there not a way for them both to lose?")

- Hanshin Tigers fans

- Osaka-style okanomiyaki

- modern manzai

- Yoshimoto Kogyo comedians (see "modern manzai")

- Osaka ben (no, I'm sorry, it does not sound naturally funny)

Osaka should get some credit for birthing our morning reads, the Mainichi Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun having been founded there. However, the active centers of all the papers switched to Tokyo after the Easter Capital rose from out of the demographic catastrophe that struck it following the abandonment of the sankin kotai rotation system.

The preservation of bunraku is therefore very much in the interest of the Osaka City government. Without the traditional puppet theater, Osaka is little more than a lead candidate for the world's most annoying conurbation.


Jan Moren said...

Hmm... First, to dispense with Hashimoto:

There are good reasons to support bunraku: The city should support local culture; as a famous asset, it should be supported to promote the city and increase tourist revenue.

There are good reasons for not supporting it: the city should not be in the business of favouring some entertainment over other; cultural assets are a matter of national, not city, support; culture, nice as it is, should come second when the city if bleeding red ink.

But a very bad reason for either supporting it or not is "I, personally like it/do not like it, and that determines what the city should do". The reasons above are the reasons of an administrator, tasked to run an organization to its benefit. This, on the other hand, is the reason of a despot, running an organization for his own benefit. Are we going to see city support of tobita-shinchi going forward?

On to more important matters: You not only disparage okonomiyaki, you also make no mention of takoyaki, surely one of the foremost culinary experiences in modern Japan. And Osaka-ben is the language of my wife and my relatives, and not, last time I looked, supposed to be funny other than in the minds of Yoshimoto comedians (who, I do agree, should be tarred, feathered and driven out of town).

But overall, Osaka is open and refreshingly unpretentious; largely free of the clenched-sphincter like stuffiness of the Kanto area. To each their own, I guess. ^_^

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

I do not eat octopus. They are animals too intelligent for me to contemplate killing and eating for food, any more than I could kill and eat a primate, a cetacean or an elephant.

As for clenched-sphincter stuffiness, it falls off rapidly once one is 60 kilometers out from Tokyo Station.

Jan Moren said...

You do know pigs are smarter than any animal you listed above except primates? Time to cut out the tonkatsu, the porkchops, the sausages, the ham and bacon...

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

This is where my years in New York and New Jersey come in handy:

"Oh yeah? If they're so smart, how come they're still just pigs?"