Tag Archives: bunraku

Puppetry in the Philippines

The Philippines has little local puppet tradition to draw on. During the late 19th century, there were shadow play performances called carrillo which means “small cart.”  Carrillo is also known as potei, kikimut and titire in Pampanga (a province in Central Luzon). 

The higante (giant), which is similar to the mascots or big puppets, lead the procession during the Higantes Festival, also known as the Feast of San Clemente, celebrated every November 23 in Angono, Rizal. San Clemente is the patron saint of fishermen. Leading the procession are three higantes—father, mother and child—with the body made from bamboo, the head from papier mache.  The costumes are bright and colourful, and the hands are always on the waist. Each higante is controlled by one person who is inside the body of the higante.

Photo from WikiPilipinas [1]

In the late 1930s, film actor-director Manuel Conde introduced ventriloquism through his puppet Kiko. At present, Kiko is owned by Jun Urbano, also a ventriloquist, an actor and a film director.

Manuel Conde, National Artist for Film [2]

Kiko (left) was Manuel Conde’s puppet.  In this photo, he is manipulated by Mr. Shooli, one of Mr. Jun Urbano’s characters. Mr. Urbano is the son of Mr. Conde. [3]

Puppetry became popular with the introduction of Jim Henson’s “Sesame Street” in the 1970s. 

Groups inspired by the muppets were the Alsa Balutan Puppet Group Inc. (founded by Tessie Ordoña, 1976), National Media Production Center (headed by Lolit Aquino, 1978) which later became the Black Theater of Manila and now known as the PIA (Philippine Information Agency) Puppet Theater, Roppets Edutainment Production Inc. (founded by Danny Liwanag, 1987) and the Quezon City Public Library Puppeteers.  

Puppet Enggoy is the PIA Puppet Theater’s host of the segment “Alam Mo Ba?” shown on the Facebook page of the Philippine Information Agency and PIA Puppet Theater and in their Youtube channels. [4]

The Anino Shadowplay Collective (founded in 1992 by students of the Philippine High School for the Arts) specializes in shadow puppetry while Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (founded by Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, 1977) ventures into rod and shadow puppetry and the bunraku technique. 

Anino Shadowplay Collective’s Manong Pawikan (Older Sea turtle) (Photo from Anino Shadowplay Collective)

Puppets from Teatrong Mulat show Ang Paghuhukom (The Trial). (Photo from Teatrong Mulat collection)

Another group that practices the art of bunraku is the University of the Philippines Center for International Studies (UPCIS) Bunraku Ensemble led by Dr. Jina Umali. Members of the ensemble are given the opportunity to undergo intensive training with the women puppeteers of the Naoshima Onna Bunraku in Naoshima, Japan.

UPCIS Bunraku Ensemble members perform Ebisu Mai, UP Diliman, 2014

 Ventriloquism, or the art of ‘throwing one’s voice’ was made popular by ventriloquists  Ony Carcamo and Wanlu. They perform with their puppet or known as a ‘dummy’.  Ony and Wanlu are founding members of the International Ventriloquist Society IVS Philippines, an association which aims to professionalize the art of ventriloquism in the country. 


[1] https://365greatpinoystuff.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/higantes_festival.jpg

[2] http://viewsfromthepampang.blogspot.com/2009/12/177-manuel-conde-kapampangan-khan-of.html

[3] https://www.facebook.com/1736706413013289/photos/eto-po-kiko-pangalan-siya-dati-manyika-sa-national-artist-manuel-conde-si-kiko-i/1742180792465851/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/PIAPuppetTheater/photos/a.719104941470105/3568538203193417

Puppetry in Japan

Japan has been known for practicing one of the oldest traditions of puppetry known as bunraku.  A certified UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, bunraku was birthed in Osaka during the Edo period to serve as entertainment for commoners, and later evolved into artistic theatre in the 17th century. 

(Photo from Teatrong Mulat collection)

Bunraku Puppets

Made from Japanese cypress wood, bunraku puppets are about one half life-size manipulated by three puppeteers. Typically, the master puppeteer (omo zukai) would hold the head and right arm, while two other puppeteers would hold the left arm (hidari zukai) and the feet (ashi zukai). 

Puppeteers usually take 10 years to master one segment of the puppet starting with the feet before moving on to the left arm and then the head and right arm. Traditionally, one would need to dedicate a lifetime to master this art of puppetry. 

These puppets typically do not have strings, instead they have wooden handles for each body part. Strings are sometimes added as mechanisms for the eyebrows, eyelids, eyes and mouth, to help the puppet show more expression. There may also be some mechanism for the hands in order for the puppet to grasp an object. These additional mechanisms are added depending on the movement needed from the puppet.

When performing bunraku, the puppeteers are still seen by the audience on stage dressed in all black to symbolize their invisibility, at the same time the energy they provide to make the puppets come to life. This practice is called the transferring of souls. In addition to that, since the puppets are quite large, the puppeteer holding the head would need to wear geta or elevated slippers made of wood. It is worn to help the puppeteers in manipulating the puppet so that they would not need to slouch too much because of the higher level of the puppet. 

Bunraku now is still very much popular among locals and tourists, and the traditional form is still being practiced up until today. Throughout the years, puppet theatre groups that have modernized the traditional practice have also emerged in the country.