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Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe to bring Japanese art form to BYU Jan. 16-17

Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe will perform ancient Japanese puppetry Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16 and 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pardoe Theatre at Brigham Young University.

Tickets are $11, or $6 with a BYU or student ID, and may be purchased online at, by phone at (801) 422-4322 or in person at the Harris Fine Arts Center Ticket Office.

All dialogue and narration will be in Japanese, but English supertitles will be provided.

The only troupe in North America to perform this traditional Japanese puppetry, Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe has appeared at the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as the Iida Puppetry Festival in Nagano, Japan.

BYU alumnus Martin Holman, coordinator of the Japanese studies program at University of Missouri, serves as director of the troupe. He was the first non-Japanese individual ever to be trained in Bunraku.

“There is a lot of color, movement, music and dance. It’s very visual,” Holman said. “Even without a knowledge of Japanese, the stories are accessible to the audience.”

Though this performance will be family friendly, Bunraku is intended for adults. Some thematic elements could frighten young children, Holman said.

Bunraku puppet theatre, more accurately known as ningyo joruri or puppet drama, originated in western Japan, quickly gaining popularity. Bunraku puppets range in size from three to four-and-a-half feet tall and have intricately carved facial features and wigs made of real human hair.

Since traditional Japanese puppet plays can have up to 15 characters, they can require small army to produce. Most puppets, with the exception of minor characters, require three puppeteers to operate — one for the head and right hand, one for the left hand and one for the feet. Unlike marionettes of the European tradition, Bunraku puppets are operated by hidden controls within the puppet and rods extending behind the puppet. Puppeteers appear onstage in full view of the audience, typically wearing black robes and hoods.

Typically, a single “chanter” provides narration and recites every character’s lines using different voices, accompanied by the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed instrument.

For more information, contact Martin Holman, Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe director, at (573) 882-3368 or at

Writer: Brady Toone

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