"Although father-to-son transmission has always been less common in the puppet theater than in the other traditional performing arts, many performers are still trained in the traditional manner, studying from childhood to become puppeteers, shamisen players, or chanters."
--Karen Brazell, Traditional Japanese Theater
Shaman, Chapter 3
released 26th September, 2004
"This is the Edo period. Righteous vendettas rule!" his older cousin taunted Sakon.
Ukon snapped out of character in a heartbeat and glared at Kunosuke. "Do you mind?" the puppet demanded. "He and I are trying to get inside Sakuramaru's head."
"Sorry," the junior puppeteer murmured, not sounding repentant, but looking away.
Ukon continued glaring.
"Ukon," Sakon soothed, glancing at Kunosuke. "Let it go."
"But he--" Ukon said, then broke off with a sigh. "Right, from the beginning?"
Sakon nodded, and they began again.
Kaoruko slipped inside the theater with a wave to the doorman, the Sumeragi close behind her. "You've been here before, right?" she asked, proceeding down the steps.
"Not for a long time," he replied, glancing around.
Kaoruko found her father sitting in the seats, watching the practice. He might have been retired for his health, but he still came to the theater every day, a resource of skill none of the troupe was ready to let go of yet. Even Sakon, good as he was, still had a lot to learn from him. "Dad," she said, coming down to the step next to him, "how's it going?"
"Not too badly," he opined, eyes on the stage. "Sakon's struggling. Kunosuke's not helping."
"Kunosuke never does," she drily replied. "Dad, may I introduce you to someone?"
Saemon turned his eyes from the stage to the young man shadowing his daughter. "Ah, Sumeragi Subaru, I presume?"
"Sir," Subaru replied, bowing.
"Please, have a seat," Saemon invited. Subaru took an aisle seat, leaving one chair free between them. Kaoruko moved down a row and twisted to include herself in their conversational space.
"They're practicing The Secrets of Sugawara's Calligraphy," Saemon said, nodding at the stage.
"I remember seeing you play in it, sir," Subaru replied. "You were the lead on Matsuomaru. It was spectacular."
"So you've seen our performances," Saemon commented, studying Subaru closely. Saemon straightened. "Your grandmother was quite the handsome woman when she was young, you know. If she and I had met before her marriage with your grandfather was arranged--who knows. But she and I were both well married before we were ever introduced."
Subaru blinked. "You knew my grandmother?"
Saemon nodded. "Quite well."
"She... never mentioned it, sir."
Saemon nodded in acknowledgement. "She was a very private person, especially after the loss of her husband."
"My sister and I were very young when he died, sir," Subaru replied respectfully.
"You find it hard to hear me speak of her?"
Subaru collected threads of himself, wove them into a tenuous sense of surety. He was the Sumeragi, the Sakurazukamori, and a Dragon. Talk of things such as a daily life surely had no place making him uncertain. "Not hard, sir, merely strange."
The older man settled back into his chair, the walking stick cradled between both hands more of a tool, Subaru suspected, for conversation manipulation than a walking aid. He looked down at Kaoruko and found her smiling, her chin resting on crossed arms as she watched the debate.
"It is often disturbing," Saemon said, "to look at familiar things in a new light. It casts different shadows around them and we come to realize that we may not know them at all as we thought we did." His eyes were on the stage, on a young figure dressed in black. "It shakes us up and makes us young again, to have to reconsider our worldviews."
Kaoruko was looking at the stage too, at the young man who moved easily with two others, manipulating a large puppet. "That's Sakon," she said, looking back up at Subaru. "What do you think?"
Subaru watched the young man's movement with careful eyes, the way that even unmasked he seemed to fade into the background of the play, more of a puppet than the puppet he brought to life. Lithe feet and even breathing patterns, a deep calmness and steadiness that reminded Subaru a bit of the inner strength of a certain Esoteric Buddhist monk from Mount Kouya.
"He's talented," he said, seeing Saemon nod from the corner of his eye. And the man knew, had to know, that his grandson was more than an ordinary puppeteer, had to know why Subaru was there, because he waited. Waited for more. "He's a medium," Subaru said softly, changing the world around him with those words, releasing and confirming knowledge, perhaps dangerously, to the family of the young puppeteer before him. Changing the shape of that one person's future. "He's a natural spiritual medium, with no training whatsoever in his gifts." Subaru looked up and met Saemon's eye. "How long?"
"He first called Ukon in the wake of his father's death," Saemon said evenly, and in the tone of "death," Subaru easily read "suicide."
"Nine years," Kaoruko added. "Sakon's only sixteen."
Nine years, with no training. It was nearly inconceivable. With all the demons and restless spirits with ill or misguided intent--nine years?
He looked back at the boy. "Incredible," he murmured.
"His ability?" Kaoruko asked.
Subaru looked at her, hoping she could read the starkness of the truth in his eyes. "No," he replied. "Incredible that he's still alive."
Sakon glanced up into the seats to see what his grandfather thought, and faltered. His aunt was there as well, which didn't concern him--she often stopped by the theater for a few minutes or hours at a time--but the two of them were talking with someone else.
Dressed in soft grays, the man was slight, taller than Sakon, but what concerned Sakon more was the sense of power, of mastery, pouring off of the stranger. Not worldly power or wealth, but something more substantial and infinitely rarer.
It was only a second, and Sakon was moving again, liquid in the embrace of the shamisen music and the joruri chanting, pulled by the needs and demands of the puppet's motion as well as the play's. But he knew his lapse had been noted, and felt ashamed for it.
Still, he could not keep his thoughts from the stranger sitting in the stands.
When a break was called, Sakon went to where Ukon slept, resting in his box in a corner of the stage, and took him out, feeling more than ever the need for his friend against the unknown he was about to face.
"Sakon?" Ukon asked curiously, sensing his mood. "What's wrong?"
Not replying, Sakon left the stage, heading for the small party in the seats who had all stood, waiting for him. A liquid ripple of darkness, a rustling of barred wings, and a purity that would equal the sun--through these impressions Sakon moved up the suddenly unfamiliar stairs, Ukon sheltered in his arms against that that purpose, that person whose shape he could discern through all the weightless pressures surrounding him, but whose intent he could not yet know.
"Sakon," Kaoruko said once he'd reached them, "I'd like to introduce you to someone. This is Sumeragi Subaru."
"A pleasure," Sakon said, bowing as Sumeragi did.
Across the short distance between them a pair of mismatched eyes changed color, ever so briefly, meeting Sakon's, and he knew, feeling the chill running down his spine that he usually identified with murder, that a wind of change was blowing.Back to Chapter 2 On to Chapter 4 Tales From a Ramen Stall page Send comments to author