The Master Puppeteer

"Who is the man called Sabura, the mysterious bandit who robs the rich and helps the poor? And what is his connection with Yoshida, the harsh and ill- tempered master of feudal Japan’s most famous puppet theater? Young Jiro, an apprentice to Yoshida, is determined to find out, even at risk to his own life. Meanwhile, Jiro devotes himself to learning puppetry. Kinshi, the puppet master’s son, tutors him. When his sheltered life at the theater is shattered by mobs of hungry, rioting peasants, Jiro becomes aware of responsibilities greater that his craft. As he schemes to help his friend Kinshi and to find his own parent, Jiro stumbles onto a dangerous and powerful secret...." (text from Alibris)
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Average: 5 (2 votes)


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The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Patterson

Field of Interest/Specialty: Global Studies
Posted On: 06/01/2011

The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Patterson
Reviewed by Kathy Lenski/ Avonworth High School: Global Studies-Chinese Program
Initially this novel appears appropriate for middle and high school students and appealing due to the insights into Japanese culture, the description of the art of creating puppets, and the training necessary for the puppeteer, his assistants, and young apprentices. The reader enters this exotic setting easily since the premise of the novel with its characters is believable. As a result, the plot, the engaging style of the author, dialogues, and intrigue draw the audience into the daily challenges of life in a city plagued by food shortages and the economic tension between social classes. However, students may find the ending disturbing and graphic without discussion and explanation.
Students can research the time period in Japan and the historical moment in which the novel is set in order to understand the background and the motivation of the characters. Investigating the art of the puppeteer and his importance in Japanese society may spark interest in this novel. Further inquiry into family structure, apprentices, the performing arts, and differences between city and country life may add another focus for study.
The early action deals with the relationship between the families of Hanji the puppet designer and Yoshida the master puppeteer. Hanji supports his wife Isako and son Jiro through his work as a puppet maker for the Hanaza Theater. Due to Hanji’s solid reputation as a craftsman within his city, he is regularly occupied in this worthy and fulfilling family enterprise. As a result, Hanji’s family maintains a simple life sustained by his creation of specific puppets for the puppeteer’s script. Jiro is intrigued by the masterful, artful touch and care that his father uses while crafting his puppets, and he assists, not as deftly as a professional, in the final stages of the process.
While carrying water from the river, thirteen year old Jiro cautiously passes the desperately hungry residents who simultaneously fear the roaming samurai and admire Saburo the legendary night bandit who usually targets wealthy rice merchants. The merchants’ profits enable them to spend leisure time at the Hanaza Theater, and in turn, they support the puppet-making industry in Jiro’s home and help the arts to flourish despite desperate times for many.
Accompanying his father on a delivery to the Hanaza Theater, Jiro is intrigued by many appealing aspects of the puppeteer’s life, especially with the perception that food is not a scarce commodity there. On that visit, Yoshida suggests to Hanji that he would accept Jiro as an apprentice. That offer, in time and as a result of unpleasant circumstances at home, inspires Jiro to enter the next phase of his life in the Hanaza Theater.
Yoshida’s son Kinshi, Okada the blind chief chanter, and other young apprentices, musicians, and puppet operators support Jiro in his new home in the puppeteer’s world. Practice and learning for perfection dominate the daily stage activities for all involved in the collaborative performance of this closely-knit family.
Surrounding the theater, Saburo continues his imaginative raids against the rice merchants. As hunger increases, so do the daring exploits of this Japanese Robin Hood. However, the attacks have no negative impact on the Theater because collected debts fill the merchants’ pockets. At one point, Jiro suspects that a mysterious basket in the Hanaza may link an individual to Saburo’s activities and realizes that his father has not created more puppets for Yoshida. In a secret home visit, Jiro learns that Hanji’s failing health causes his departure to the country and increases Isako’s anxiety and desperate circumstances as a night rover. In time, secret departures, secret meetings, and secrets revealed dominate the highlights at the end of the novel. As the drama surrounding Saburo unfolds, the well-knit tale yields a surprising, sad conclusion based on a culturally acceptable resolution of the plot.
Discussing this novel as a study of Japanese culture by listing unique practices and traditions is one plan. Students keep a reading log and then share their ideas with the group. Further research of the topics generated on the list enhances student awareness and interest. At the same time, discovering universal themes and characteristics of the human condition is a way to uncover the connection and unity between Asian and Western cultures.

Review of Master Puppetteer by Doug Bertanzetti

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese art history
Posted On: 04/30/2009

Review of Master Puppetteer by Doug Bertanzetti
I enjoyed the Master Puppeteer and found it to be an excellent piece of historical fiction for middle school age kids and adults. The book covers one of the famine periods in Japan in the 18th century. Jiro is a young boy whose family is poor and starving. His father makes puppets for Yoshida, the master puppeteer and owner of the Hanaza Theater. Yoshida offers to take Jiro on as an apprentice. Jiro jumps at the chance and leaves home to the Hanaza. As Jiro works to learn the art of puppeteering, he must also work hard to please Yoshida. Yoshida is not an easy man to please. Soon he learns that the theater life is not all it’s cracked up to be. It is a difficult place to succeed. No one will teach him what he is supposed to do; he must learn by watching. Jiro is befriended by Yoshida's son Kinshi, who dislikes the ruthless culture of the theater world. Kinshi helps Jiro and the other boys as they learn the art of puppetry, although he himself is constantly being put down and punished by his angry father.
Outside the theater, the famine continues to burden the people. The people terribly resent the wealthy rice merchants. A mysterious bandit called Saburo becomes a key character who robs from the rich and gives to the poor and who seems to have some sort of connection to the Hanza Theater. As Jiro struggles to make his way in the theater and take care of his bitter mother, he finds himself caught up in the mystery surrounding Saburo's identity. He asks Okada, the theater's blind senior reciter and Yoshida's former master, for help. This draws him even further into the intrigue as the elusive bandit, Saburo, moves his “puppets”.
This is an enjoyable book and I recommend it highly.