by Jyana S. Browne
Opera Aoi opens with a digitally altered voice singing a few simple syllables.1 The isolated syllables begin to layer. The rhythm builds, and the singing climaxes with the syllables, "mi-do-ri." Midori is the name of a software program, a vocaloid. In the film, Midori was once a world-famous pop star. Ten years have passed since she was the reigning pop queen, and the composer who brought her to fame, Hikaru, has found a new singer for his muse, Aoi, a human being. Midori cannot bear being replaced, but she cannot make music on her own. As a vocaloid, she requires a human intermediary. Opera Aoi tells Midori's story using another, older technology that requires human manipulation to come to life: bunraku puppets.
Recently, bunraku puppets have been appearing in a variety of new collaborations that extend beyond the traditional bunraku framework. In 2002, Sonezaki-Shinjū Rock took Chikamatsu Mon-
The film's blending of multiple traditional elements drawn from noh drama and bunraku with the contemporary technology of film, digitized music, and
The source for the opera comes from an early noh play, Lady Aoi, which in turn drew from the classical literary masterpiece, The Tale of Genji. Both in the noh play and the original, the story centers around the jealousy Genji's mistress, Rokujō, feels toward his wife, Aoi. In her jealousy, Rokujō's spirit possesses Aoi, which makes her dangerously sick and, in the original, causes her death. In Opera Aoi, the creator, Hiroshi Tamawari, adapts the slighted mistress into a forgotten artistic muse, Midori. Midori, the
This central theme, the importance of the human being who uses the
Additionally, the camera generally frames the puppets to include the presence of the puppeteer. Three puppeteers operate the puppet for Aoi: one for the feet, one for the left arm, and the lead puppeteer for the head and right arm. The other two characters, Aoi's manager and the psychiatrist, are both operated by a single puppeteer. The puppeteers wear black and cover their faces in hoods, but their presence behind the puppets and their movements as they manipulate the puppets are a visual presence throughout the film.
In traditional bunraku, the puppeteers are not the only artists who bring emotion to the puppets. The chanter, who recites descriptive passages, portrays all the characters in the dialogue, and sings the lyrical passages, is a critical element in conveying the emotions of the characters. For this reason, replacing the
Ultimately, bunraku is the star of Opera Aoi. At the climax of the film, Midori possesses Aoi, who is hospitalized. Aoi's movements become less human and more like a doll being animated by an external force. Her hands hang
By focusing on the physical puppet, the puppeteers, and the expressive possibilities of the bunraku puppetry, as showcased in the use of the
1 Opera Aoi. Dir. Kano Shin. Perf. Yoshida Kōsuke, Yoshida
2 The Vocaloid Opera Aoi with Bunraku Puppets. Press Release. Opera Aoi, 2014. Print.
3 Josiah. "Hyper Japan 2014: Vocaloid Opera Aoi with Bunraku Puppets Interview." Parallax Play. 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.