Japanese troupe founded in Osaka in 1948. Inspired by and mirroring the work of Ningyō-Gekidan PŪKU (PUK Puppet Theatre), Osaka students and workers, founded an amateur group to produce their own puppet shows.
The troupe chose the name La Clarte (French: la clarté, clarity, light or knowledge) after the French pacifist and internationalist movement led by Romain Rolland and his friends in the aftermath of World War I. The name was a political declaration clearly referencing and reacting to the then current ideas espoused among the Japanese Left. Yoshida Seiji, until his death in l996, remained the pillar of the group and simultaneously was dramaturge, sculptor, and director of the shows.
La Clarte (Japanese: Kurarute) became a professional company in 1949 with the production, The Three Little Pigs, performed in schools in the western part of Japan. Although the troupe dissolved in 1953, it was reestablished in 1955, and in 1958 took the grand prize in the Osaka City Arts Festival with a play based on a Chinese folk tale, Kiiroi kōnotori (The Yellow Stork), which won the Osaka City Arts Festival Award, a success they repeated five years later with Mafuyu ni haru ga yatte kita (Spring Comes in Midwinter).
In 1973, for the 250th anniversary of the death of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, the troupe presented one of the greatest classics of ningyō-joruri (see Bunraku), the drama Onnagoroshi abura jigoku (The Woman-Killer and the Hell of Oil). This was the first time modern puppets were used in a production of Chikamatsu Monzaemon and the performance attracted remarkable attention in the theatre world. The success led the troupe to expand the repertoire to other dramatic masterpieces chosen from the sewamono (domestic tragedies) with their tales of double suicides and the jidaimono (historical plays), such as Shusse Kagekiyo (Kagekiyo Victorious). Their series of Chikamatsu Monzaemon plays was very popular, and the group celebrated its fortieth anniversary with his best-known historical play, Kokusen‘ya kassen (The Battles of Coxinga) for a presentation in the Kokuritsu Bunraku Gekijyō (National Bunraku Theatre) in Osaka.
La Clarte – Ningyō-Gekidan Kurarute – also explored the possibilities of the old recitative style, sekkyō-bushi, and kojōruri, the even earlier puppet narrative style characteristic of the first era of puppetry. Then with the production, Chiru wa sakura no hana nomi ka (Is It Not the Cherry Blossoms that Fall?), Yoshida Seiji and the troupe again won the grand prize in 1990 of the Osaka City Arts Festival.
In 1998, to celebrate the fiftieth year of its founding, the troupe conducted a multi-city tour through Japan with its adaptation of Miyazawa Kenji’s story, Sero hiki no Gōshu (Gorsch Gauche or Goshu the Cellist). For this production the group arranged the collaboration of orchestras, professional or amateur, in cites where it presented, exploring a new way of working with the local communities. For its fifty-fifth anniversary, also at the National Bunraku Theatre, La Clarte innovated again with the first puppet theatre version of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, under the direction of Ida Kuniaki, an opera director who worked in Italy.
In addition to the performances for a general audience, the troupe mounts a number of productions aimed at children, generally using its small group of two to four manipulators.
The major interests of the work of La Clarte are reintroducing puppetry in a resolutely modern way, with expressive and often violent faces, in a pruned treatment, playing in front of minimal scenery, with a monochrome backdrop from which the few props can be detached while creating the grand works of the classical repertory.
Technically speaking, the puppets are moved by a single manipulator with the head and left hand in the operator’s left hand and the right hand of the puppet moved by the operator’s right (in exceptional instances a second manipulator may do the left hand or the legs). The dialogue is delivered by the manipulators but the narration and musical accompaniment are prerecorded and played back.