There were three authors in particular who played a key role in the history of Bunraku. Their works have been adapted into not only Bunraku plays but also plays for Kabuki and other forms of theatre, and are still widely performed to this day.
Japan’s leading playwrightChikamatsu Monzaemon 1653–1724
Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote many masterpieces for the narrator (tayu) Takemoto Gidayu and established the style of Ningyo joruri, later called Bunraku as we know it today. At a time when only jidai-mono plays dealing with historical incidents and characters were being performed, Chikamatsu pioneered a new category called sewa-mono that portrays the sentiments and love affairs of the commoners living in cities at the time.
Of samurai background, Chikamatsu also worked to elevate the status of authors through various means, such as incorporating signatures in the works. His beautifully written works are highly valued in literature as well, earning him the title of a leading playwright of Japan.
Famous works: Kokusenya Kassen (The Battles of Coxinga), Heike nyogo no shima (The Priest in Exile), Sonezaki shinju (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), Meido no hikyaku (The Courier for Hell)
Playwright who supported the golden age of Bunraku Namiki Senryu also known as Namiki SosukeYear of birth unknown–1751
Bunraku gained popularity particularly in the mid-18th century. Complex and long works were increasingly co-authored by multiple writers, and Namiki Senryu, as the lead author, displayed his talents to the fullest.
Of a Buddhist priest background, Namiki served as the lead author at rival theatres, Toyotake-za and Takemoto-za. He went onto create a succession of intricate plays depicting the profoundness of human sin, the unreasonableness of society, etc., including the jidai-mono works that came to be known as the three masterpieces (Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami [Sugawara and Secret of Calligraphy], Yoshitsune Senbon-zakura [Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees], and Kanadehon Chushingura [The Treasury of 47 Loyal Retainers]).
Other famous works: Natsumatsuri Naniwa kagami (A Passionate Drama in Summer), Ichinotani futaba gunki (Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani)
Playwright who brought glory to Bunraku during its transition periodChikamatsu Hanji 1725-1783
In the late 18th century, Chikamatsu Hanji brought glory to Bunraku as Kabuki gained momentum and Bunraku performances fell into decline.
From a family of scholars, he used a pen name that capitalized on the prestige of Chikamatsu Monzaemon and left masterpieces of both jidai-mono and sewa-mono. His works featuring grand and complicated plots, brilliant stage compositions, and uses of techniques such as riddles and unexpected twists are still actively performed to this day.
Famous works: Honcho Nijushiko (The Japanese Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety), Imoseyama Onna Teikin (Husband and Wife Mountains: An Exemplary Tale of Womanly Virtue), Shinpan Utazaimon (The New Scandalous Ballad of Osome and Hisamatsu), Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku (Travel, Along the Tokaido Highway: Karaki Masaemon and the Vendetta at Iga Ueno)