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Angel Morrison
Angel Morrison


Bunraku (文楽) (also known as Ningyō jōruri (人形浄瑠璃)) is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre, founded in Osaka in the beginning of the 17th century, which is still performed in the modern day.[1] Three kinds of performers take part in a bunraku performance: the Ningyōtsukai or Ningyōzukai (puppeteers), the tayū (chanters), and shamisen musicians. Occasionally other instruments such as taiko drums will be used.The combination of chanting and shamisen playing is called jōruri and the Japanese word for puppet (or dolls, generally) is ningyō. It is used in many plays.


Bunraku shares many themes with kabuki. In fact, many plays were adapted for performance both by actors in kabuki and by puppet troupes in bunraku. Bunraku is particularly noted for lovers' suicide plays. The story of the forty-seven rōnin is also famous in both bunraku and kabuki.

Bunraku is an author's theater, as opposed to kabuki, which is a performer's theater. In bunraku, prior to the performance, the chanter holds up the text and bows before it, promising to follow it faithfully. In kabuki, actors insert puns on their names, ad-libs, references to contemporary happenings and other things which deviate from the script.

The increase in interest in bunraku puppetry has contributed to the establishment of the first traditional Japanese puppet troupe in North America. Since 2003, the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe, based at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, has performed at venues around the United States, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as in Japan. They have also performed alongside the Imada Puppet Troupe.[2] The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, has an extensive variety of bunraku puppets in its Asian collection.[3]

Unlike kabuki, which emphasizes the performance of the main actors, bunraku simultaneously demonstrates elements of presentation (directly attempting to invoke a certain response) and representation (trying to express the ideas or the feelings of the author). In this way attention is given to both visual and musical aspects of the puppets as well as the performance and the text. Every play begins with a short ritual in which the tayū, kneeling behind a small but ornate lectern, reverentially lifts their copy of the script to demonstrate devotion to a faithful rendering of the text. The script is presented at the beginning of each act as well.

The joshiki-maku is a large, low hanging curtain hanging off of a ledge called the san-n-tesuri. It is used to separate the area where the audience is sitting from the main stage. The puppeteers stood behind the joshiki-maku, holding their puppets above the curtain while being hidden from the audience. However, the dezukai practice established later in the bunraku form would let the actors be seen on stage moving with the puppets, nulling the use of the curtains.[12]

Nowadays, bunraku is mostly performed in modern theaters with Western-style seats. A day's performance is usually divided into two segments (one in the early afternoon and one towards the evening), and each segment is further divided into acts. Tickets are usually sold per segment, although in some cases they are also available per act. They typically cost between 1500 and 6500 yen.

Bunraku, or Japanese puppet theater, is probably the most developed form of puppetry in the world. It is closer in style to Punch and Judy than Pinnochio as there are no strings and in its early days the puppeteers were hidden behind a curtain. The puppets are large - usually about one-half life size - and the main characters are operated by three puppeteers. Many bunraku plays are historical and deal with the common Japanese theme of giri and ninjo - the conflict between social obligations and human emotions. The greatest works by Japan's most famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) are bunraku plays, many of which are written around this kind of conflict.

Bunraku as we know it today, combining puppetry, joruri and musical accompaniment provided by the three-stringed shamisen, began in the Edo Period (1600-1868) in Osaka. Like kabuki before it, in the 1600's bunraku became the common man's equivalent of the noh, which only the aristocracy were allowed to study. It flourished from the end of the 17th century, thanks particularly to the popular collaboration of the chanter Takemoto Gidayu I with Chikamatsu. Chikamatsu's Love Suicides at Sonezaki (1703, Sonezaki Shinju) is equivalent in stature and theme to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The play, based on an actual recent love-suicide, was so popular that it caused an increase in this kind of suicide - until the government made it illegal. The concept of basing a play on a recent event was revolutionary and really caught the imagination of the public. The most famous bunraku play is probably Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon Chushingura), a story of heroics, loyalty and revenge, which has also been made into a famous kabuki play and filmed many times.

Since the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Western culture became increasingly popular, bunraku has been in decline and relies on government sponsorship and revenue from the National Theater in Tokyo and the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka. When the National Theater opened in 1966, it was the first permanent home bunraku had had in almost 150 years. Although there are occasional increases in popularity, the real problem lies in the fact that the craftsmen who create the puppets and costumes are dying out and the long apprenticeship necessary to take their place does not appeal to today's young generation.

A bunraku performance is narrated by the tayu or chanters and accompanied by shamisen players. Naoshima now has two local chanters and three samisen players, which means the puppet troupe can perform to live accompaniment. Once a year, the troupe receives instruction from a professional bunraku performer from the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka. Expectations are high, and the group has been given many bunraku puppet heads, some of which are displayed in the Naoshima General Welfare Center.

Kabuki and bunraku theater developed as popular forms of entertainment in the seventeenth century. Kabuki combined contemporary music, acrobatics, and mimicry like that of No, and it was originally performed by troupes that included actresses. Women were soon barred from appearing, so the often large casts consisted entirely of male performers. Classical Kabuki somewhat resembles Western drama, except that dialogue was supplemented by chanting and accompanied by music provided by the samisen, a threestringed lute perfected during the seventeenth century. The plot was often clarified by the use of a storyteller who recounted the major action, as was also customary in No. Kabuki conventions include the use of artificially high-pitched voices, exaggerated gestures and miming, and flamboyant costumes and makeup, but no masks. Elaborate stage devices--trapdoors, revolving stages, and runways through the theater--heighten the excitement. Historical and legendary themes were extended to include events from the urban life of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as a townsman's dislike for the samurai. A common theme in the late-seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century works of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, "the Shakespeare of Japan," is the conflict between personal desires and the Confucian sense of loyalty and duty. By the early 1990s, there were two national Kabuki theaters in Tokyo featuring a growing repertoire of lesser known as well as classic work. Among contemporary masters working to "update" Kabuki and attract modern audiences were Ichikawa Ennosuke III, whose deft acting, clever acrobatics, and swift costume changes evoked nearly magical illusions, and Tamasaburo Bando, the top player of a wide range of feminine roles. These and other superb Kabuki actors brought record audiences to performances in the late 1980s. Bunraku, puppet theater native to Osaka, was regarded as a serious dramatic medium for adults (unlike puppetry in many Western countries), and it flourished along with Kabuki begining with the Tokugawa period. Chikamatsu turned to writing for the bunraku when he became dissatisfied with the liberties some Kabuki actors took with his plays. A narrator, who sings all the parts, and a samisen-playing chorus are the main elements of bunraku. The narrator-singer conveys the emotional content of the play and generates the illusion of life in the large puppets, who move realistically in complex roles, manipulated by a master and black-hooded, robed assistants. These narrator-singers derive from the ancient tradition of storytellers, whose exponents continue to flourish in modern forms, now including women and such uproarish comics as Katsura Shijaku.

The new form of puppetry, bunraku, the result of the fusion of three art forms, reached its artistic peak in the early 17th century. During the early 18th century the originally rather small puppets grew to their present dimensions. Their mechanism became so delicate and complex that three puppeteers were required to manipulate one puppet.

Jidaimono is the older of these two types of play, since it had been customary for the joruri storytellers to narrate the great epics of the feudal period, such as The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari) and the Tales of Ise (Ise Monogatari). This tradition was then transformed into the historical bunraku plays.

It had been customary for bunraku plays to be kinds of collaborative works by several authors including narrators, puppet masters etc. However, now Chikamatsu focused on writing and Takemoto specialised in narration, which led to the golden age of bunraku and to the birth of sewamono plays. 041b061a72


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