A real American wife, a Japanese object: puppetry and the Orient in Minghella’s 'Madam Butterfly'

Poster-Su, T (2023) 'A real American wife, a Japanese object: puppetry and the Orient in Minghella’s 'Madam Butterfly'.' In: Bell, J, Cohen, M.I and Song, J, eds. Representing alterity through puppetry and performing objects. University Of Connecticut, Storrs.

Official URL: https://digitalcommons.lib.uconn.edu/ballinst_alte...


In Anthony Minghella’s celebrated 2005 production of Madam Butterfly, three men manipulate the small, fragile body of Sorrow (Butterfly/Cio-Cio-San’s child) and, in a dream sequence, Cio-Cio-San herself. Both characters are Japanese or part-Japanese, and are portrayed by puppets, with American characters all portrayed by human beings. The puppets were built and originally manipulated by the British puppetry company Blind Summit, which drew partly on the traditional Japanese form of bunraku. What to make of the racial dynamics of the piece when principal Japanese characters are played by white actors? How does this interact with Puccini’s text, itself a European vision of Japan? Are the puppeteers “playing” Sorrow or is Sorrow played by the puppet? How might notions of the agency of the puppet lead to a diffusion of responsibility? How do we read Japanese American identity into the features of a puppet child sculpted by Nick Barnes, a British man? When Cio-Cio-San returns in the guise of a puppet, looking both radically and racially different to her human form, how does this shape our understanding of character and identity? At the core of these questions is the following line of inquiry this paper will trace: How does this production use puppetry to represent the racialized Other, and how might this subvert, reinforce, or make visible Orientalist views of the East within the source text?

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section

Part of the published proceedings for the online symposium 'Representing Alterity through Puppetry and Performing Objects' sponsored by Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the Puppets Arts Program of the University of Connecticut. The symposium took place on 9-10 April 2021.

The paper is available to read at the link above.

Keywords: puppet, representation, race and ethnicity, opera, theatre
Divisions: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2023 09:21
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2023 09:21
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/15770
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