The Japanese tradition of puppet theater is a very dedicated and involved process. Not only is it an act of story telling, it is also uses skilled visual art, and amazing coordination among the storyteller, the puppeteers, and the music.
The stories of the Bunraku usually entail complicated plots and drama that usually questions social and cultural roles. These dramas also included some wild plots twists at the end of the story, much like you might find in some Japanese dramas that a re popular today. The stories are told in the style of joruri that incorporates chanting lyrics along with music. This type of theater was unusual for its long, intricate story plots and drama that represents human emotion and inner conflict, instead of myths and folk tales.
The puppets are moved around the stage by three puppeteers, one for the head, one for the arms, and one for the legs. Since the dolls are heavy and complicated, lots of practice and coordination are required to make the figure move together gracefully. Not only do the puppeteers have to coordinate with each other, they all have levers that control eye, head, eyebrow, mouth and hand movements. One interesting element of these puppeteers is that they are in plain sight of the audience instead of painstakingly hidden. Although they do wear black and sometimes cover their face so as not to draw too much attention away from the puppet. Having the puppeteers visable is unique to Banraku theater, it also allows the puppet to act on a much larger stage since it have more freedom of movement.
The puppets themselves are a wonderful work of visual art. Sizing up to 3/4 of a human, they are quite large and heavy. A lot of detail goes into making the hair, costumes, armor, and other accessories for the puppet. However, the faces are usually simple, smooth, and white in an almost geisha style. As mentioned before, each part of the puppet is skillfully assembled with levers and strings to control the eyes, mouth and eyebrows. This allows for a much more dramatic and realistic representation of emotion compared to previous styles of puppet and mask theater.
I personally find Bunraku a beautiful craft of theater, visual art, music, and story telling. The time, effort, and attention to detail that goes into making these plays is simply astounding. The very unique and complicated style really makes the puppetry stand out from other styles. I think I can honestly say this has been one of my favorite styles of theater.