Kabuki traces its origins to exactly the same era as Shakespeare. As the legendary Izumo no Okuni was entertaining spectators with her "kabuki dance revue" in Koyto, Shakespeare's four great tragedies were opening in rapid succession in London.
The art of Kabuki was never intended to mirror life but to be something more grandiose, more spectacular. Kabuki unashamedly makes use of the crudest as well as the most subtle theatrical devices to achieve its ends. The magnificence of the scenery, the costumes, and the music are devised to excite even the most jaded theatergoer.
With an introduction by Donald Keene explaining the Kabuki Theater and an informative commentary by Kabuki literati Iwao Kamimura, Kabuki Today captures the essence of Kabuki its characteristics, tradition, principal stage features, makeup and costumes, stories, characters, outstanding actors, dance and music, and ongoing growth.
Including beautiful photographs by Shunji Ohkura, a devoted follower of the art for over thirty years, Kabuki Today is a visual marvel sure to thrill Kabuki enthusiasts, as well as those who have never experienced its magic firsthand.
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About the Author
SHUNJI OHKURA, born in Tokyo on May 2, 1937, studied at Dokkyo High School. He was taught basic techniques of photography by Tominari Tadao, specialist in botanical photography. Co-authored Butterflies (Pelican Photo Library, Heibonsha) with Tominari at nineteen years of age. Studied with Miki Jun (documentary photographer for Life) just three days. Studied fashion photography with Sato Akira, specialist in female photography, and became freelance photographer at twenty-two. Having been working on fashion, cooking, insects, ikebana, performing arts, documentary, posters for theater, commercial photography, and so on, was given Kodansha Publications Cultural Award in 1971, and Annual Award of the Photographic Society of Japan in 1987.
Among his books are Tokyo X (Kodansha International), EMMA (Mainichi Shimbun), Japanese Cooking (Bunka Shuppan), Toybox of a Painter (Co-authored with Inokuma Genichiro, Bunka Shuppan), Actress Matsuzaka Keiko (Shueisha), Authors'Index (Shueisha), Onnagata Tamasaburo (Heibonsha), Kabuki of Onoe Kikugoro VII (Heibonsha), The World of Ueda Itsuko (Heibonsha), The Ecology of Butterflies, Zephyrus 24 (Asahi Shimbun), Matsumoto Koshiro no Haiyu Haidan (Asahi Shimbun), Musashino (Single Cut-sha), and others.
Read an Excerpt
Tachiyaku: Male Roles
Tachiyaku is a general term for male roles apart from those of the onnagata. The nimaime, or "second," for example, is the handsome lover, while the sanmaime, or "third," is the clown, with these terms referring originally to the ranking of the roles played by the actors.
The terms aragoto, wagoto, and jitsugoto on the other hand refer to styles of acting used for different characters. The aragoto acting technique involves distortion of the characteristics of righteousness and strength by exaggeration/magnification. Righteous superheroes like the lead in "Shibaraku" represent aragoto in its purest form; however, when aragoto is used for a wakashugata, or youngster, the role becomes a mukimi role like that of Soga no Goro, and, if a touch of wagoto is added, a dandy like Sukeroku -- a strong and just man with the added feature of an elegant erotic appeal.
Wagoto roles complement those of the onnagata courtesan, and combine the sophistication of the ladies' man flirting with courtesans in the erotic and playful surroundings of the pleasure quarters with the fragility of a man who abandons all for love, and occasional touches of slovenliness and humor. In terms of roles this is the nimaime, or lover, but not all nimaime roles are in the wagoto style. A dashing type of nimaime warrior known as a sabakiyaku, who appears in jidaimono (historical plays) and resolves disputes perfectly through a combination of reason and emotion, is also known as a namajime from the type of wig he wears.
The jitsugoto style, while used for righteous characters in the same manner as aragoto, does not employ exaggerated expressions of strength, but represents a dependable, sober man in the prime of life, courageous and intelligent in a more realistic manner. No matter how strong he might be, no one would want an aragoto hero for a leader. The greatest leader in Kabuki, Oboshi Yuranosuke of "Chushingura," is a typical example of a jitsugoto hero, while Benkei of "Kanjincho" is probably the ideal hero, a scholar/warrior combination of the valor and childlike simplicity of the aragoto and the cool control of the jitsugoto.
Katakiyaku, or "foes," come in many forms. They may represent evil on a massive scale, wearing aiguma, or blue makeup, as opposed to the aragoto hero in his beniguma, or red makeup -- for example as superhuman villains like the kugeaku, or "villainous nobles," plotting to usurp the power of the emperor, or the villains who plot to bring down the state, kunikuzushi -- or they may be minor crooks, at the other end of the scale, known as hagataki. There are also female villains. The allure of evil is just one facet of the allure of Kabuki and is the domain of the tachiyaku.
[Here are two photographs from the book. The first shows shows a scene from the play Sukeroku Yukari no Edo-zakura, with Danjuro (left) as Sukeroku and Kikugoro as Agemaki. The second photo shows a scene from Hirakana Seisuiki, with Koshiro playing the role of Higuchi.]
Table of ContentsIntroduction by Donald Keene What Is Kabuki?
Traditions: Inheriting the Art
Hanamichi: The Flower Path
Kabuki Juhachiban: Eighteen Favorite Plays of Kabuki
•Mie and Kimari
Types of Kabuki Plays
Tachiyaku: Male Roles
Onnagata: Female Roles
Leading Onnagata of Modern Times: Utaemon and Tamasaburo
Odori: Kabuki Dance
Hanagata: The Youngest Generation of Actors
List of Photographs