Bunraku is a form of Japanese puppet theater that dates back to the early 17th century. Its musical element, known as gidayubushi, traditionally consists of two people: a vocalist/storyteller (who is known as a tayu) and a shamisen player (who is called a gidayu-shamisen). While gidayubushi is an essential component of Bunraku theater, a gidayubushi recording can be enjoyed away from the stage. One example of a gidayubushi recording is this CD, which unites the late vocalist Tsudayu Takemoto (the tayu) with shamisen player Danshichi Takezawa (b. 1935, Nagoya, Japan). Together, they provide the gidayubushi for the play Kumagai Jinya No Dan, which consists of a five-minute prologue followed by seven acts. First performed in Osaka in 1751, the play is based on an historic battle in 12th century Japan and continued to enthrall Bunraku enthusiasts in the late 20th century. Takemoto (b. 1916, Osaka, Japan, d. 1987) puts a great deal of emotion into his narration, which would be among his last -- the well respected tayu, who had been active in Bunraku theater since 1932, was in his early '70s when he died the following year. Those with only a casual interest in Japanese culture might find Japan: Music of the Bunraku Theatre to be a bit too esoteric, but the more adventurous and seasoned world music enthusiasts will be captivated.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson