Bunraku, one of the world's most highly developed forms of puppet theater, is an unusually complex dramatic form, a collaborative effort between puppeteers, narrators, and musicians. First developed in the seventeenth century, Bunraku was officially recognized as a "masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 2003.
Barbara Curtis Adachi (1924-2004), who lived most of her life in Tokyo, witnessed her first Bunraku performance in 1935, at the age of eleven. Her extensive involvement with the troupe began in the 1960s and continued throughout the rest of her life. She attended over four decades of Bunraku and kabuki performances, conducted over one hundred interviews of performers and craftsmen, and took thousands of photographs of both traditional Japanese theater and crafts. Adachi toured with the National Bunraku Troupe both in Japan and in the United States, appearing with them for demonstrations, lectures, and television performances. Adachi, a former columnist for two Tokyo newspapers, lectured widely on Japanese crafts and theater, and wrote several books including "The Voices and Hands of Bunraku" (1978) and "Backstage at Bunraku" (1985).
The Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection at Columbia's Starr East Asian Library represents four decades of close contact and respectful collaboration between Adachi and the Japanese National Bunraku Troupe, the leading performance group of Bunraku in the world. Adachi's numerous superb photographs of rehearsals and performances reflect the depth of her understanding and knowledge, as do the other diverse artifacts she selected over the years for inclusion in her collection. The comprehensive combination of visual, audio, and textual materials provide researchers with the foundation for studying all aspects of the Japanese puppet theater in modern times, and for studying these aspects in relation to each other.