Friday, March 28, 2008

Chikamatsu on the Art of the Puppet Stage [from "Naniwa Miyage" 『難波みやげ』by Hozumi Ikan 穂積以貫]

This just in from Cniva Albinus:
In Naniwa Miyage (1738), Hozumi Ikan recalls a chat he had with Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) on the art of the puppet stage, in which Chikamatsu made the following points about his craft.

1. It’s the Audience, Stupid

Chikamatsu talks about his art primarily in terms of the audience’s response-- a mode of discourse which seems to be the norm in the Japanese tradition. A play is successful, he argues, only when it produces in the viewer a desired effect.

This is a doubly difficult task for the writer for jōruri theater, who has no human actors at his disposal, and must instead “impart to the lifeless wooden puppet a variety of emotions, and attempt in this way to capture the interest of the audience.” He cites as an example of effective rendering the scene from “The Village of Falling Flowers” in Genji monogatari, in which an anthropomorphized pine tree, annoyed at the surrounding snow’s being cleared away, recoils its branches and shakes off some of its snow. It was from scenes such as this that Chikamatsu learned to impart life unto dead objects in a way that effectively moves the viewer.

2. Well-Tempered Feelings

While feelings may be “the basis of writing,” they must, Chikamatsu insists, be presented in a controlled and deliberate manner. “I take pathos,” he says, “to be entirely a matter of restraint. It is moving when the whole of a play is controlled by the dramatic situation, and the stronger and firmer the melody and words, the sadder will be the impression created.” Note again that he speaks of success not in terms of the internal components of the work― as, say, Aristotle did ― but rather in terms of the work’s capacity to move the viewer. Still, Aristotle might have agreed with Chikamatsu on one important point: that the viewer is moved more deeply when the emotion is not simply stated in the narration, but rather is revealed through the controlled manipulation of dramatic tension within the play.

3. The Tyranny of Meter

Chikamatsu advocates a language that is suitable to the jōruri form and free from all excess, whether that excess is the result of a strict adherence to the 5-7-5 pattern, or from unnecessary "grammatical junk" (e.g., the particles such as wa, or the -te form of the ren’yōkei construction), which is often meaningless and cumbersome. He warns, “If an author adheres implicitly to the rules of metrics, his lines may prove awkward to recite.” Chikamatsu then provides an example where he contrasts an awkward, metrical line ― “Toshiha mo yukanu, musume wo ba”― with a more fluid, unmetrical rendering― “Toshi mo yukanu musume wo.” He concludes by confessing, “I am not concerned with metrics in my writings and I use few particles.” Despite this claim, however, many of his lines, and in fact some of the most moving passages of his plays, do in fact conform to the 5-7-5 pattern.

4. Toward a “Notional” Realism?

Chikamatsu holds that each character should meet the audience’s expectations of social class; for example, the role of a low-class prostitute should be written so that her dress, speech and behavior conform to the audience’s expectation of such a person. Though it sounds at first as if Chikamatsu is advocating a realism of sorts, he is in fact describing a kind of realism once-removed, which I call “notional realism.” Chikamatsu does not seek to mirror nature as it is; rather, his aim is to preempt the expectations of the audience, and present them with an exaggerated image of their own notions. “Would it prove entertaining if an actor,” he rhetorically asks, “were to appear on the stage and perform with his beard growing wild and his head shaken?” The answer is, of course, no; in fact, the audience would be bored to death with a makeup-less actor who was an exact duplicate of a real retainer.

Whereas with Plato’s idealism the “ideal form” has an existence independent from the perceiving mind, with Chikamatsu’s “notional realism” the characters correspond only to the anticipated notions of the audience, which may or may not be reliable representations of reality. In this sense, Chikamatsu’s “notional realism” is perhaps more akin to Berkeley’s idealism than to that of Plato. (Then again, perhaps it is inappropriate to draw comparisons to either.)

Such a “notional realism” may remind one of the works of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965), who, whether or not consciously influenced by Chikamatsu, seemed to share a similar notion of representation. When attacked (as he often is by feminist critics) for creating female “types” rather than “individuals,” Tanizaki can be defended on the grounds that his fiction is not concerned with the presentation of women as they are per se; rather, he is interested only in presenting woman as they are perceived and altered by the imaginations of men. (An exception to this might be his Sasame yuki.)

In conclusion, it seems that the rising demand for realism among the Edo public was all but ignored by Chikamatsu, who stubbornly (and correctly!) insisted that realism, in the colloquial sense, is artless, insipid, and to be avoided whenever possible, as it “would permit no pleasure in the work.” If real women never speak in such a way, so be it! This is how they would speak if they could, Chikamatsu seems say. “Such things fall under the heading of art,” he insists, and “it is because they say what could not come from a real woman’s lips that their true emotions are disclosed.” He points out that exact copies of life are indeed vulgar, as is illustrated in the famous example of the court lady who, unable to meet her lover, had his exact duplicate made, only to soon grow bored of it. Successful art is always artificial, and the more stylized it is, the better. Recalling Chikamatsu’s words, Hozumi sums up this idea:

“This is what I mean by the slender margin between the real and the unreal. It is unreal, and yet it is not unreal; it is real, and yet it is not real. Entertainment lies between the two.”

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