The Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection


The Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection, given to Columbia's C. V. Starr East Asian Library in 2001, is one of the most extensive collections in the world, visually documenting this rich performance tradition. The collection represents four decades of close contact and respectful collaboration between Ms. Adachi and the Japanese National Bunraku Troupe, the leading performance group of Bunraku in the world, and documents the significant revival of Bunraku's popularity in the second half of the twentieth century. "The Barbara Adachi Collection is a rare and valuable collection of puppet theater artifacts and photographs by a photographer and collector who had an unique inside view," said Haruo Shirane, Shinchō Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University.

The Bunraku gallery is divided into plays, productions, authors, backstage subjects, kashira (puppet head types), and characters. It documents the form's revival in the second half of the 20th century, through more than 13,000 slides and over 7,000 black-and-white photographs of rehearsals and performances.

The website provides integrated real-time searching and browsing of both English and Japanese content. Staff at Columbia University’s Starr East Asian Library prepared detailed metadata for each component of the collection, allowing the web site to provide rich contextual navigation so that relationships among the performers, characters and plays can be explored dynamically.

The Adachi Bunraku Collection Web site is a collaborative effort of the Starr East Asian Library, the Libraries’ Preservation and Digital Conversion Division, and the Libraries’ Digital Program Division. The project was funded with a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation and builds on an earlier preservation and access grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities.

A Brief History of Bunraku Puppet Theater

Bunraku, a type of Japanese puppet theater, is an unusually complex dramatic form involving a collaborative effort among puppeteers, narrators, and musicians.

The bunraku form developed early in Japan's Edo period (1603-1868), when large, half life-size puppets, a traditional three-stringed musical instrument called the shamisen, and original dramas of contemporary or historical interest were combined to create a new type of theater. Along with kabuki, bunraku represented a major new form of truly popular culture in the developing cities of Japan. Some of the most famous works in the current repertory were written by one of Japan's greatest playwrights, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). Although Monzaemon also wrote for the kabuki theater, he preferred to write for puppets rather than for actors who, following the performance practices of the time, felt free to change playwrights' lines as they saw fit.

Bunraku's cultural importance spans four hundred years, from the early seventeenth century to our own time. Since the end of World War II there has been a revived interest in bunraku, and Japanese audiences have steadily grown younger. Today Bunraku performances are seen advertised in the subways and, in 2001, were even featured on a special subway farecard.