Bunraku Performers: Puppeteers

The puppets for major characters are about two-thirds life size, and each one is manipulated by three men: the omo-zukai, who controls the movements of the head – sometimes including opening and closing eyes and the mouth – and the movements of the right hand; the hidari-zukai, who moves the left hand; and the ashi-zukai, who controls the feet or the bottom of a female character’s kimono.

Puppeteers Puppeteers
Omo-zukai without a black hood
(GloPAD Image 1006589)
Kagezukai ("shaded manipulator") denotes that all performing pupeteers appear on stage hooded and in the black robe (kuroko) (GloPAD Image 1006574)

The major characters in a scene have a remarkable range of motion and emotion. A woman weeping holds a handkerchief to her face as her shoulders move in sobs, and an angry villain raises and lowers his eyebrows in astonishment and fury. The life they project is a product of exquisite timing among the three puppeteers.

The Battles of Genji and Heike
(Hirakana Seisuiki)

(GloPAD Image 1006552)

Minor characters in a play, who run errands or serve tea or deliver mail, have no need for such subtlety of movement, and consequently are handled by only one puppeteer.

Hitori zukai Puppeteers: Hitori zukai
A minor character in The Battle of
(GloPAD Image 1006665)
Minor characters in Sugawara's Secrets of
(GloPAD Image 1006012)



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