On O's Stage 'CHIKAMATSU MONZAEMON'


Chikamatsu Monzaemon

The acute attention to detail that the Japanese culture lends to every aspect of their life is unmistakable. One such aspect is Bunraku, the Japanese puppet theatre. It is performed to a highly literary sung narrative called Jōruri. The performance is a marvel of lifelike movements, vocals and music. Despite having all the elements of distraction, as emphasised by the Brechtian theatre, to encourage audience to see the world like it is, Bunraku's elements and performance style, instead, stimulates audiences to engage wholly with its narrative. Thus failing even the highly regarded Brechtian approach. Chikamatsu Monzaemon, the celebrated Japanese dramatist, is credited with having refined, perfected and popularised this form of theatre during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


A Kabuki playwright, too, Chikamatsu, in his later life is thought to have focussed entirely on Bunraku, having successfully written and staged many Jōruri. In his time, Bunraku touched new heights, as his literary Jōruri were considered remarkable in its style and literary prowess. His writing made way for puppet operators to come out of the shadows and flourish, giving the art form and its artists the much-needed cheering and prominence.



"Art is something that lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal,"

—attributed to Chikamatsu Monzaemon



A total of 130 plays are attributed to Chikamatsu, and literary historians suspect 15 other plays, now labeled anonymous, to be part of his canon of work. A dramatist of the Edo period, his plays were divided into two genres: historical romances and domestic tragedies. Chikamatsu, however, found success in his theatre career with his domestic plays, which portrayed middle class characters dealing with domestic love problems. His history plays failed to find favour with critics and audiences. Aside from his unique thoughts and distinctive style of writing, Chikamatsu's refusal to act in his own plays, too, made him stand out.

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