The Chanter (Tayu)

Bunraku plays develop through the chanting of gidayu-bushi, and their mission is to see to what degree an expressionless doll made of wood can be filled with the breath of life through the gidayu-bushi. The chanter (tayu) not only recites the dialogue for all the characters, but also relates the spectacle of the scene and explains the background behind the event taking place. Long pieces take about 90 minutes, and the number of characters can vary from only a few to around fifteen. And the chanter performs them all―young and old, male and female, warriors and townspeople―in different ways appropriate to each character, all by himself. So it is not an easy task. Moreover, his greatest objective is to express the actual emotions of each of the characters. Someone who listens for the first time to a chanter perform might feel besieged by exaggerated emotions. But that is itself the uniquely expressive power of gidayu-bushi ―to give the audience a strong impression about the character's personality. And even if the story is about something that took place in the ancient past, still our basic humanness and human emotions are very carefully portrayed, and even today's young performers can elicit the same responses from the audience.


The Shamisen Player

There are three types of shamisen: futo-zao ('thick-necked'), chu-zao or naka-zao ('medium-necked'), and hoso-zao ('thin-necked'). True to its name, the futo-zao shamisen is the largest and lowest pitched of the three types, for which reason it is made use of in gidayu-bushi, which requires singing from the lower abdomen, and it produces a very powerful timbre. Unlike other types of accompaniment, the shamisen used in gidayu-bushi must "play the strings of the heart." Just as the chanter, when reciting, places more importance on expressing the feelings of the tale than on musicality, it is important for the shamisen player too to fill his playing with the "heart" of the piece, and also to assist the chanter in his recitation. But even if it produces exceptionally beautiful tones, or allows us to listen to the freshness of the dexterous use of its large plectrum, the futo-zao shamisen produces a type of music whose feeling is quite different from joruri, and is not proper as the gidayu shamisen. For that reason, the ideal is that the shamisen player must become one in spirit with the chanter. Unlike with the recitation, which is expressed through words, with the shamisen, it requires extremely difficult techniques to express human emotions through a single tonal color. That is why even a first-time theatergoer who listens to a shamisen master cannot help but come away filled with emotion.

 


Shamisen

Copyright 2004, by the Japan Arts Council. All rights reserved.