An introduction to BUNRAKU

Plays

Various masterpieces have been created and handed down during the 300-year-plus history of Bunraku.

Types of plays

There are three major categories of plays.

Jidai-mono (historical plays), which contains the largest repertoire of the three categories, depicts historical incidents and characters predating the Edo period (1603–1868).

Sewa-mono (contemporary, domestic plays) portrays the commoners’ love affairs and the sentiments played out in everyday life and events during the Edo period. This was the so-called contemporary theater of this time.

In Keigoto / Keiji, plays in which dances and music have a large component are performed gracefully and beautifully.

Composition of the plays

Jidai-mono is made up of dan or acts. A single jidai-mono play is usually comprised of five dan. The first dan provides introduction to the story. In the second dan, an incident occurs, and in the third dan, a major struggle arises within and/or between the characters. The fourth dan is a dancing scene that changes the atmosphere of the story. In the fifth dan, a final resolution is reached and the story comes to an end. In this way, the role and the rules of each dan, for the most part, are predetermined. Long and complex pieces having more than ten dan essentially share the same basic structure as a five-dan play. There is often a climax in the second half of each dan, and this is called “kiriba.”

Sewa-mono, on the other hand, typically consists of three sections (first, second, and third). Sometimes historical play-like elements such as family feuds are included in the plays, giving sewa-mono longer and more complex structures.