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Bunraku, Japanese puppet theater, is an unusually complex dramatic form, a collaborative effort among puppeteers, narrators, and musicians. It was first developed in the seventeenth century, with the growth of an audience with the leisure and funds to appreciate a popular theater, the availability of the newly imported instrument called the shamisen, and the productivity of talented playwrights. Its popularity reached a peak in the eighteenth century with major Edo-period (1603-1868) playwrights writing the text, the most famous of them Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). Often the plays written for kabuki were adapted by Bunraku, and vice versa. By the end of the 1770s, the popularity of Bunraku began to diminish, following the death of some of the best narrators, playwrights and puppeteers. Although Bunraku flourished during the Meiji period (1868-1912), it experienced difficulties in the early part of the twentieth century and during the war years, and the public lost interest. However, Bunraku has revived remarkably over recent decades, with a growing, and younger, audience. Bunraku is once again a popular form of entertainment in Japan and performing to sold-out crowds.
In November 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially recognized Bunraku as a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”