The use of vocaloids, artificial singers programmed on a computer, has created its own niche in online art. Thousands share their individually crafted songs using one of the dozens of synthetic voices available posting them to sites such as Niconico for the fun and entertainment of all.

Their popularity has risen to the point of vocaloids getting adopted by highly acclaimed musicians and artists. The figurehead of vocaloids, Hatsune Miku, has collaborated with Louis Vuitton, Lady Gaga, the Japanese Self Defense Force’s Central Band, Pharrell Williams, and Isao Tomita to name a few.

This time, however, artificial performers of the present will be merged with artificial performers of the past in Vocaloid Opera AOI with Bunraku Puppets. I love it when a name perfectly explains what something is so I don’t have to, so let’s get right to looking at trailer for this human-free opera.

The story itself is a modernized adaptation of Aoi no Ue a traditional Noh play derived from one of the oldest written books known to man Genji Monogatari. In the original story Prince Hikaru Genji’s wife, Aoi no Ue, has fallen ill, and it is later discovered that her illness is in fact the spirit of his former lover Rokujo no Miyasudokoro, which has entered her body. An exorcism is arranged to save Aoi no Ue from the vengeful spirit.

This opera follows the same story arc but places the characters in a modern setting and all the smartphones and techno music that comes with it. In this vocaloid version, Hikaru is a successful music producer whose new artist Aoi is injured in a car accident and suddenly possessed by a vocaloid he had worked with before named Midori.

In both stories the question is whether Aoi is truly possessed by spirits or merely tormented by her own personal mental anguish. This is symbolized in the names Aoi which means “blue” and Midori which means “green” but also sometimes “blue.”

The cast of Vocaloid Opera AOI with Bunraku Puppets consists of three puppets representing Aoi, her manager, and her psychiatrist. Each puppet is voiced by their own vocaloid (in parentheses) resulting in a total of zero human performers… unless you want to get into an argument over whether a puppeteer is a “performer” in the strictest sense of the term.

▼ Aoi (VY1 V3)

▼ Manager (Nekomura Iroha)

▼ Psychiatrist (Yuzuki Yukari)

The opera was recorded into a 30-minute film which made its world premiere in London last July to a crowd of 1,000 during the Hyper Japan festival. The Japanese premiere was in Setagaya, Tokyo at the Tollywood short film theater. It will continue to show there until at least 3 October.

Although the merging of these two seemingly distant art forms may feel unusual they actually have a lot more in common than they appear. Perhaps bunraku puppeteer Kosuke Yoshida who works on this project said it best.

“While it goes without saying, operating a puppet is something done with emotion. In other words, a performer breathes a soul into a puppet in order to make it seem like a flesh and blood human to the audience. That first experience with VOCALOID made me realize that the way we feel has stayed the same throughout the ages.”

Indeed, whether it’s a mechanized doll or series of digitized sample utterances from a voice actor the art is always about breathing life into the lifeless. This is a theme runs through both the story of Vocaloid Opera AOI with Bunraku Puppets and the production itself.

Vocaloid Opera AOI with Bunraku Puppets
Tollywood Short Film Theater
5-32-5 Daizawa, Setagaya, Tokyo

20 September to 3 October
20:00 Wed to Mon and 12:00 on Sat
Admission: 1,000 yen (US$)
Official Website (English/Japanese)

Source: Japaaan (Japanese)
Vocaloid Images: Amazon 1, 2, 3