Loughborough University
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Otome Bunraku and the materials of puppeteer presence

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posted on 2020-07-22, 09:26 authored by Caroline Astell-Burt
Following a long and controversial tradition of Japanese women in puppetry being banned by law from theatres from 1629, in 1926 something quite extraordinary happened which was both liberating and enriching for some female puppeteers only destined for careers outside theatres. Puppet-maker Hayashi Jiboku designed and made a special brace to enable one young woman on her own, to carry and manipulate in sight of the audience, one of the large, forbidden, three-man-operated bunraku puppets. The brace called udegane allowed the puppet to float apparently unsupported in front of her, to the delight of spectators. The puppeteer, bare-faced and “inhabiting” the inert stuff of the puppet, offered what became a performative bodily presence encapsulated in what later became otome bunraku. For this study, the nature of the visibly present puppeteer exemplified in otome bunraku can allow us to draw conclusions about puppeteer presence even when they are unseen in such as film or television and furthermore might be applied to puppetry in general. Seeing the Japanese otome bunraku puppeteer co-present with the puppet enables the spectator to validate and critique the artist’s performance of the puppet object manifested in its materials and techniques and the puppeteer’s own corporeality. Crucially, the excitement generated by watching the otome bunraku puppeteer operate puppets introduces us to the potential of the living puppeteer juxtaposed against the non-living puppet-object. Curiously, this is a reminder that although puppetry is commonly found in all kinds of theatre, surprisingly, although puppetry is a performance art, it is rooted not in theatre per se, but the world of objects and our relationships with them, how we own them and make performances out of them. Out of such fascination emerges the art of puppetry which has traditionally venerated the puppet and “its” performance while illogically, critically disinterested in the existence of the puppeteer. Grasping this historical moment in puppetry post Muppets and post War Horse, a puppeteer who is a maker, spectator, performer and teacher interweaves professional practice with the role of researcher and the specific medium of otome bunraku to produce a study which in conclusion disposes with any supposed unitary autonomy of the puppet replacing it and giving recognition to the ethical presence and intersubjectivity of the puppeteer-with-puppet-with-spectator.



  • Design and Creative Arts


  • Creative Arts


Loughborough University

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© Caroline Astell-Burt

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A doctoral thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Catherine Rees ; Fred Dalmasso ; Dan Watt

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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