26 March 2015

Ancient art of Bunraku gets a revamp

Bunraku Theatre in Osaka, Japan  (Photo: Britannica)

The ancient Japanese art of Bunraku puppet theatre, 'Ningyō Jōruri', began in Osaka more than three hundred years ago. Bunraku's history goes as far back to the turn of the 18th century when Uemura Bunrakuken came to Osaka from Awaji and began his own theatre.

The National Bunraku Theatre Troupe offers five or more seasons every year, each running for two to three weeks in Osaka before moving to Tokyo for a run at the National Theatre. The troupe also tours within Japan and occasionally abroad. Until the late 1800s there were also hundreds of other professional, semi-professional, and amateur troupes across Japan that performed traditional puppet drama. Nowadays, like many other forms of traditional theatre, it has become a dying art. But let's not give up hope quite yet. Bunraku is going through a rejuvenation program in Japan and is trying to re-invent itself for the younger generation. I discovered this short documentary (here) that shows what is being done to keep the form alive. Of course it has evolved and changed and is used nowadays by puppeteers throughout the world and adapted to different styles and texts, but what about the 'original' theatre of Bunraku?

The increase in interest in Bunraku puppetry contributed to the establishment of the first traditional Japanese puppet troupe in North America. Since 2003, Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe, currently based at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, has performed at venues around the United States, including the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as in Japan.

Did you ever think you would see traditional Bunraku theatre perform at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro?  You can view a wonderful short report on the modernisation of Bunraku theatre here!

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