The 2003 Laureates / Arts and Philosophy Category / Theater, Cinema

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Tamao Yoshida (Personal name: Sueichi Ueda)

Japan / January 7, 1919 - 2006
Bunraku Puppeteer

"The foremost master puppeteer of Bunraku, a major classical performance art of Japan"
Tamao Yoshida is at the summit of the world of Bunraku puppet theater, one of Japan's classical stage arts. Going beyond the mere transmission of puppetry techniques, he has added original and creative insight in puppet movement, with a virtuosity cultivated over the course of many years through a deep knowledge of the scripts and essence of the roles. Capable of emotional depictions that surpass the abilities of human actors, Mr. Tamao has contributed to Bunraku's current status as the world's most highly developed and refined form of puppet theater.

Commemorative lecture

Download(PDF): Full text of Commemorative Lecture (English) Full text of Commemorative Lecture (Japanese)

Abstract of the Commemorative lecture
Man of Bunraku

The culture of men in any field inevitably involves competition.As a result, male-dominated environments are typically rife with such feelings as envy, jealousy, resentment, and spite—perhaps to a greater extent than are feminine realms. The world of Bunraku is probably no exception.

In reviewing long career of Tamao Yoshida, however, it appears that he has somehow managed to escape this destiny. Indeed, Tamao seems to have remained completely divorced from such matters. How can this have been possible?

I was struck with the answer to this question when I heard Tamao say, "People tell me that I am very quick to the point."Tamao's compendiousness results from his practice of omitting everything unnecessary and focusing only on his work, without allowing himself to be distracted.

Tamao is not a naturally dexterous person. Nor is he capable of false flattery. Knowing this, he vowed to himself early on to put his work first, believing that his only hope was to focus all effort on manipulating his puppets, perfecting his artistry, and pleasing his audience. Tamao's achievements today are the result of his faithful adherence to this tenet. He must have been entirely indifferent to such familiar aspirations as gaining fame by succeeding the name of a famous predecessor, but it is this humility that makes his art almost unbearably beautiful.

Tamao's puppetry places strong emphasis on interpretation of the essence of his characters, which he does with a dignified allure and an economy of movement. Over the years, he has cultivated the polished quality of his art into an extraordinary refinement. If likened to a Bunraku puppet head, Tamao's sensitivity might be represented perfectly by the head "Komei."

The title of this lecture, "Man of Bunraku," refers not only to Tamao himself but also to each of the roles he plays, as Tamao specializes in male parts. Through today's lecture, I hope the audience will gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy and the gentle personality of this man who has devoted his life to Bunraku.

(By Shizuo Yamakawa, interviewer)

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