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Dogugaeshi

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  • Other Names: 襖絡繰 (fusuma karakuri)
  • Japanese: 道具返 (dougu gaeshi)

Dôgugaeshi is a technique employed in puppet theatre traditions, in which a series of sliding screens which provide the background for a scene are changed out, in various dramatic ways, sometimes a number of them in sequence, for dramatic effect or purely as spectacle.

The term literally means simply the gaeshi (changing, or exchange) of dôgu, a term which in general usage means "tools," but which in the theatre can mean props or set pieces. The technique is also known as fusuma karakuri, with fusuma referring to sliding screens, and karakuri meaning a mechanism, trick, or contrivance; karakuri ningyô ("mechanism doll"), for comparison, is the term used to refer to early modern clockwork automata, i.e. dolls or puppets that move themselves.

Though used to a limited extent in the bunraku theatres of Osaka and Tokyo, as merely background or scene-change elements in plays that focus chiefly on the puppets, dôgugaeshi is used to particularly great effect on Awaji Island and elsewhere in the Inland Sea as an artform and spectacle of its own. Dôgugaeshi, and indeed the predecessor forms of bunraku itself, originate on Awaji, where elaborate fusuma-e were painted to serve as backgrounds for rural puppet shows, beginning in the 16th or 17th century. Various tricks were used, including painting screens with perspective drawings of interiors, and small openings with smaller screens, which could be opened in succession to give the impression of peering down a long audience hall, such as when a character in the play was meeting with a great lord, or with the shogun. Over time, the screens, and the way they were used, became more and more elaborate, and in some communities, they came to overshadow or replace the puppets themselves.

Today, the Awaji Puppet Troupe is the only professional group to continue to use dôgugaeshi extensively, though a number of folk groups in various parts of Tokushima prefecture continue to make use of the screens and the technique. One such theatre, a thatch-roofed structure in the village of Inukai, boasts a collection of 132 painted screens, which they claim date back to the Meiji period or earlier. The screens feature a variety of scenes and images, ranging from bamboo, maples, and cherry blossoms, to eagles and elephants, to ink landscapes, and the theatre itself contains a number of devices allowing screens to be opened or moved in a variety of ways. Screens can of course open from the middle, sliding to the sides; they can also be lifted straight up, spun to reveal their reverse sides, or slid left and right across the stage. This theatre was named an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 1998, and holds annual performances every November, which end with a segment highlighting dôgugaeshi.

In recent years, the artform inspired New York-based puppeteer Basil Twist to create a fusion production titled, simply, Dogugaeshi, in which he uses traditional Awaji dôgugaeshi techniques, and replicas of traditional screens and puppets he found on Awaji, combined with video projection, live shamisen accompaniment and pre-recorded music and sound, among other effects. The production, commissioned by Japan Society (New York), debuted there in 2003, and has since toured Japan and the United States on several occasions.

References

  • Playbill, CalPerformances 2013-2013 Season, University of California at Berkeley.
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