Osaka, the Merchant's Capital of Early Modern Japan

By James L. McClain; Wakita Osamu | Go to book overview

C H A P T E R F I V E
Takemoto Gidayū and the
Individualistic Spirit
of Osaka Theater

C. Andrew Gerstle

Ariyoshi Sawako's novella Ningyō jōruri ( The Bunraku Puppet Theater), published in 1958, depicts in fiction a very real crisis that occurred in 1949 when one of Japan's most famous theatrical troupes, already weakened by the depredations of the war, split into two rival camps.The contention that racked the world of bunraku puppetry during the postwar years seemed rooted in contemporary conditions, as the economic dislocations that accompanied defeat added themselves to the miseries of the war years, and as the opposing groups articulated solutions that relied on the rhetoric of a newly democratic Japan. Despite the apparent modernity of the conflict, however, at the heart of the dispute lay fundamental beliefs and patterns of behavior that were nearly as old and venerable as the puppet theater itself.

The economic difficulties that beset the puppeteers in the late 1940s were only too real. In the wake of defeat, the people of Osaka had precious little time or money to spare for such traditional entertainments as the puppet theater and, as a consequence, ticket receipts were simply insufficient for the troupe's sponsor, the Shōchiku Company, to cover the salaries of everyone in the organization.Still, the senior star performers remained relatively well-off—they commanded much of the takings and drew extra income from their patrons and amateur disciples. The junior performers, in sharp contrast, were not earning enough to survive, and some suggested that the troupe share out its proceeds so as to allow the young to eat, even if they did not perform. The argument was set within the "new democracy" ideology of the postwar epoch, and the veterans castigated the junior rebels for having "communist leanings" when the younger generation proposed to use a performers' union to pressure the company to accede to the profit-sharing scheme.The older performers' se

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