Bungo Yoshida – the traditional Japanese puppeteer whose experiments with rock and roll brought a new generation to the centuries-old art of Bunraku – died of liver cancer on Wednesday.
He was 73.
The Bunraku Association says he died at his home in Osaka, western Japan.
Yoshida, whose real name was Teruo Takahashi, staged his last performance in Tokyo last September.
In 1980, he used rock and roll music for his performances of Sonezaki Shinju (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), a popular 18th century classic about a suicide pact between a merchant and a harlot.
Japanese rock singer and songwriter Ryudo Uzaki wrote the score and played it for the performances. Yoshida also experimented with a full orchestra for performances of Sonezaki Shinju.
“I have loved rock myself since I was young. I used to listen to [Elvis] Presley and the Beatles and I did not hesitate [to use rock music],” Yoshida said last year.
He said he had been alarmed by a sharp decline in Bunraku’s audience and a shortage of young people following in his footsteps.
“I had always thought that I would try something new to attract visitors when I can afford to do so,” he said.
The eldest son of a traditional joiner, Yoshida was initiated into the Bunraku theatre as a disciple of Tamagoro Yoshida II in 1951. He manipulated female puppets for some 20 years before switching to male roles.
In 2003, Bunraku was recognised by UN agency UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
“We have since had more foreigners in the audience than before. At times, more than half of the audience are foreigners. It is like performing abroad,” Yoshida later quipped.
Yoshida also performed abroad, mostly in Europe.
“In Italy, they applaud even in the middle of a performance. The puppet theatre is something that has existed in Italy. In France, I received six curtain calls at a time and I couldn’t prepare for the next performance.”
He was one of the most senior of the 38 Bunraku puppeteers alive.
Two others are designated as living treasures by the Government.