01 November 2010

Kabuki: A Trip to a Land of Dreams

Westerners seeing a Kabuki play for the first time frequently call it “wonderful.” That’s perhaps more appropriate than they imagine, for the world of Kabuki is a world of wonder—a world of poetry, color, spectacle, grace, energy, and artistry. It is, to be sure, a world more of dreams than of reality, if by reality we mean everyday life. That quotidian reality so cherished by Western theater has little place in the Kabuki theater. The word kabuki, for example, is made up of three Chinese characters: ka = song; bu = dance; ki = skill or technique (sometimes rendered as “acting skill”). The whole word, however, is derived from the verb ‘to tilt’ or ‘to lean to one side’ and means ‘something abnormal or askew’ in the sense of deviating from the ordinary. Kabuki, therefore, actually means ‘off-beat performance,’ something deliberately outrageous.

Kabuki actors have often admonished their fellows to imitate life. “A Kabuki actor,” remarked Sakata Tojuro I (1646-1709), “should singlemindedly try to copy real life in performing whatever role he is cast in.” This wasn’t the reality of everyday life, however, but the reality of imagination. In The Actors’ Analects, a collection of commentaries on Kabuki by 17th-century actors, Sugi Kuhe (dates unknown, fl. 1670-80) says, “The realism of a play springs from fiction . . . ,” and Yoshizawa Ayame I (1673-1729) advises, “It is probably good, after all, to make a mixture of half realism and half imagination.” The Kabuki world has its own “reality” and like Alice passing through her looking glass, the Kabuki audience passes into the Kabuki wonderland.

The non-representational nature of Kabuki is unsurprising considering its roots. There’s no room here for a detailed history of this 17th-century Japanese theater, but it should be noted that its father was the older, highly stylized Noh drama, its mother popular dance, and its sibling the Bunraku puppet theater. Given this lineage, a nonrealistic performance style was only natural. Nonetheless, within its strict techniques and traditions, Kabuki seems to generate a good deal of emotion both in its actors and its audience. At first glance, this might seem unlikely, especially to a Western observer who understands neither the language nor the traditions of Kabuki theater. On closer examination, however, this seems not only less incon­gruous, but downright inescapable.

How, in fact, are Kabuki actors trained to express the feelings of their roles? Are there means other than acting that are used in Kabuki to express feelings?

Though they are not impenetrable, the performance traditions of the Kabuki stage aren’t loose or flimsy. The Kabuki actor has learned his techniques from his predecessors by years of observation and imitation. Each gesture, movement, pose, and inflection has been carefully worked out and perfected over three hundred years of use. These techniques, including movement and vocal practices, costume, make-up, properties, music, sound effects, stage assistants, and so on, are called kata; they’re passed on from generation to generation, inherited along with the names of the actors themselves within an acting family. (I’ll address some of these non-acting kata later.) A young Kabuki actor must be born or adopted into a perform­ing family to gain access to its kata, and he learns them by rote from his father or other senior male relative. The restrictive iemoto system under which the Kabuki world operates dictates that the head of the family, the iemoto, determines who’ll be allowed into the family and what happens within it. The training of Kabuki actors, all of whom are male, is unlike Western training in many respects. Though some formal classes have been instituted in recent years, the traditional training system for Kabuki actors is by master and disciple. The new system speeds the process up a little, but it’s still a long, rigorous, and highly disciplined one. The Kabuki actor’s theat­rical education is based “upon exact and unquestioning imita­tion,” not explanations of theories or principles. It is largely unwritten, passed on in secrecy by word of mouth from master to student.

The formal training I’m referring to here is artistic or theatrical training. Today, many Kabuki children attend regular schools for a general education. Samuel Leiter, one of the most respected Western scholars of Japanese theater, points out, “The number of college-educated Kabuki actors is growing though there are those who complain that the time spent in college is a waste for the Kabuki actor who aspires to greatness.” Because of the hereditary nature of the kata and the privacy of the teaching, the actor-training process remains largely secret and inaccessible to most outsiders. Very little has been published regarding the specific training of Kabuki actors within the family. Since the advent of the National Theater’s training program, though, some description of the work is available, and Kabuki actor Nakamura Matazo II (b. 1933), an adoptee who’s devoted himself to demystifying the Kabuki world by lecturing and teaching abroad and to foreigners in Japan, has published Kabuki Backstage, Onstage: An Actor’s Life which details aspects of the life of a Kabuki actor off stage.

In 1969, the National Theater launched its Kabuki Actor Training Center which trains young men (and, lately, some women, though they won’t be members of the Kabuki troupes) who aren’t members of any of the traditional families. The training center is subsidized by the Japanese government and the program is free for those accepted. The training, which lasts two years, includes voice production and vocal expression, make-up, dance and movement, singing, and music (particularly, playing the samisen), but the kata still remain private preserves of the families that own them. A graduate who wishes to perform with the great Kabuki companies must still become an apprentice (deshi) to an actor in one of the families (though there are independent and experimental companies, as well as filmmakers, who adapt traditional Kabuki techniques for modern performances). Nakamura Matazo, who (along with most other sources) puts the start of the training center in 1970, has taught there and reports:

We have found that the biggest problem is in placing the students once the two-year training program is completed. In March 1972 our first group of students demonstrated the skills that they had learned in a graduation recital at the conclusion of two years of hard work. But even though they had completed the program, they were by no means ready to play starring roles on major kabuki stages, and those of us responsible for the program had no idea what to do with these young kabuki actors of the future.

In the iemoto system, training in classical dance, which begins almost as soon as the little boy can walk, takes up most of his formal training. This, as we’ll see, is an important factor in shaping the Kabuki world. In addition to dancing, the Kabuki actor must be capable of some very demanding physical performances, including animal roles, such as tigers, rats, or parts of horses, and elab­orate somersaults and flips for battle scenes. Part of his training, therefore, includes strenuous acrobatics and martial arts. Though he will have a master for dance and acrobatics, his knowledge of the theater and the family’s traditional roles and kata will come from his father or adoptive father. His first lessons come not from classes, but from watching his father and the other senior actors in the company. Later, still at the very young age of three or four, he’ll play small parts in actual performances, often appearing with his father in early roles. In the 1985 U.S. tour of the Grand Kabuki, there were several such multi-generational performances. In The Scarlet Princess of Edo (Sakura-hime Azuma Bunsho), Kataoka Takao (b. 1944) starred in a dual role while his teenaged son Takataro (b. 1968) played a small part. In the dance-play The Earth Spider (Tsuchigumo), Onoe Shoroku II (1913-89) appeared with both his son, Tatsunosuke (1946-87), and his then-ten-year-old grandson, Sakon (b. 1975). (Kataoka Takao took the prestigious name of Nizaemon XV in 1998. Onoe Tatsunosuke I died unexpectedly at 40 and was posthumously elevated to his father’s name as Shoroku III in 2002. Onoe Sakon II became Tatsunosuke II in 1991 and Shoroku IV in 2002. Kabuki actors are traditionally called by their given names. In Japanese tradition, the family name is given first, though many publishers of European-language texts, and some Japanese born since World War II, follow Western custom.)

As the young actor watches and copies his elders, learning the kata he hopes to be called upon to perform himself in later years, he’s expected to act each new role exactly as he learned it. The roles a master teaches his student are carefully chosen according to the young actor’s physical and temperamental qualities. Though younger actors are permitted to make minor variations if their teachers feel there’s a physical or temperamental need, any changes must be requested by the student and agreed to by the teacher. As he rises from one level to the next, each step granting him more interpretive freedom—within very narrow limits—he’s constantly being tested and judged by his family, the Kabuki community in general, and the audiences. Even after long years of training, the process of study and discipline doesn’t stop, and a Kabuki actor isn’t deemed to have reached the level of mastery, if he ever does, until well into middle age. With each step of the actor’s development, he faces the knowledge that, although he has achieved one level of artistic skill, he must still face another, higher level. Many actors, such as Bando Tamasaburo V (b. 1950), the popular onnagata, or female-role specialist, continue to study the techniques of earlier actors whose physical appearance resembled their own.

It’s interesting to note, incidentally, that Tamasaburo, one of the best onnagata actors of his day, is an adopted member of the Morita acting family. At 60, he’s still performing as a young girl. The first Kabuki onnagata to appear in a western female role when he played Lady Macbeth in 1976, he remains extremely popular in Japan, appearing in films as well as modern stage performances. Other onnagata also continue to play girls and young women well into their 80’s: Sakata Tojuro IV (b. 1931), a Living National Treasure and the first since 1774 to hold that name, still convinces audiences he’s a young girl on stage. Nakamura Utaemon VI (1917-2001), like Tojuro a Living National Treasure, last performed one of his signature roles in 1988 at the age of 71. In 1988, as Nakamura Senjaku II, Tojuro toured western North America and Honolulu—where I saw him—with the Grand Kabuki company. He appeared then as Chubei, a wagoto male principal, in A Messenger of Love in Yamato (Koi Bikyaku Yamato Orai) opposite his own son, then Tomotaro (b. 1959), as Umegawa, a courtesan—a role Senjaku II, his father, had played opposite Kanjaku IV, his grandfather. (Tomotaro took the name Kanjaku V in 1995.)

The Kabuki actor faces this never-ending process because he’s entered onto the “way of art,” or geido, which is the “known path to knowledge and the initiate is guided in his steps along the path by a master already proficient in its secrets.” Although this path includes specific kata, the Kabuki actor “looks beyond them to a total approach to kabuki acting.” The “way of art” and the total approach to Kabuki are important in the examination of how this stylized theater creates its emo­tional effect. We’ll see that the effect itself is somewhat different than its counterpart in the Western theater.

If Kabuki is not concerned with factual truth but imagina­tive truth, it’s because drama refines truth and an actor should be able to perform so that the audience is impressed with the refined beauty (yugen) of his performance. In Japanese esthetics, yugen is the epitome of truth. Unlike the Western representa­tional theater, in which an actor must convince his audience that he is someone he’s not, in Kabuki drama, because it has its roots in dance, the actor needn’t do this. His audience easily accepts him as an artist; they know they’re watching a play whose performers are as much dancers as they are actors. The spectators aren’t there to be fooled, or to be moved by a vision of daily existence. They’re there to be moved “by images clearly distin­guished from reality by the precision of their design.” Readily accepting, even demanding this, the Kabuki audience is moved by the technical skill and virtuosity of the actor as he executes kata they have seen before, and which they know almost as well as the actor does. (Even Westerners at a ballet don’t demand realism or the realistic portrayal of emotions. Yet the Western audience, just like the Japanese Kabuki audience, might weep or cheer, too, if etiquette permitted it. They, too, may have been moved by the grace of a Gelsey Kirkland pirouette, the power of a Mikhail Baryshnikov leap, or the beauty of a grande promenade.)

This isn’t to say that Kabuki actors don’t feel any of the emotions of their characters. The strength and importance of the technique notwithstanding, they do experience the feelings, too. Nakamura Utaemon VI, one of the best onnagata of the 20th century, explained, “My father, Utaemon V [1865-1940], used to teach me and other apprentices to learn the interiorization of characters before anything else. . . . What was important was that [the actor] had the internal conception correctly. The first thing is internal characterization. After it comes the external.” Not all Kabuki stars agreed. Bando Mitsugoro VIII (1906-75), an expert in aragoto male roles and one of the founders of the National Theater training program, insisted, “I don’t believe that an interiorization is absolutely essential to kabuki acting. The external is enough.” However, “If you are just presenting a form—with no feeling, no heart—you are just a doll,” said Onoe Baiko VII (1915-95), another famous onnagata (and Living National Treasure). “There is no impact.” A talented actor may learn the kata perfectly, Baiko added, but unless he also has kimochi, the feeling true to the character and the situation, he will give empty performances. An example of how this comes out can be seen in the following moment from a performance of Nakamura Kichiemon I (1886-1954), admired for his line delivery, as Jirozaemon in Kagotsurube Sato no Eizame (The Courtesan or The Bewitched Sword):

After the scene of “the first encounter” is over, Jirozaemon, a hick, a pock-marked merchant, realizes that in all his life he has never seen such a wonderful woman and, umbrella in hand, stands there, watching her walk away on the hanamichi. His servant is behind him, but, he, his mouth agape, keeps watching the end of the hanamichi, as if he’d been robbed of his soul. His haori coat [jacket worn over a kimono] starts sliding down, so his servant calls out, “Master, sir.” Jirozaemon says, “Yado e kaeruwaa.” As you know, the complete line is, “Yado e kaeru wa iya ni natta” (I no longer want to go back to my inn). But saying, “Yado e kaeruwaa,” he continues to watch the end of the hanamichi, entranced. He’s holding an umbrella, you see, and he will drop it, but he doesn’t do it for a long, long time. The audience keeps watching. “Yado e kaeruwaa” having been said, the audience is waiting to see what comes next. Then the umbrella drops with a thump. The wooden clappers give the first clap, then comes “iya ni natta,” the clappers continue, and the curtain falls.

This description, by controversial Japanese novelist and poet Yukio Mishima (1925-70), a devotee of Kabuki theater, is fraught with emotional content—at least as Mishima responded to the performance. When they were originally conceived, the kata were methods devised by actors to convey emotions or other meanings. Over the centuries they’ve become codified, and the modern Kabuki actor learns them technically. (They may be compared superficially to the stage gestures and expressions devised by François Delsarte in the early 20th century.) For instance, a female character might show grief by holding her hand in front of her face to conceal her tears. Constant repetitions, however, “lead the actor to an appreciation of the interior truth behind his physical exertions in the role.” In fact, he learns the original reason for the kata’s creation. Though he comes to feel the emotions of the character he’s playing, a Kabuki actor doesn’t ordinarily motivate his actions the way a Western actor does. (Many contemporary Kabuki actors study Stanislavsky and other Western acting theories, but not so much for practical use as to be conversant with other interpretations of their art.) In his preparation for his entrance, for example, a Kabuki actor sits before a large mirror in the small room at the end of the hanamichi entrance ramp. He studies the external appearance of his character so he can absorb its nature. His character isn’t based on something internal but on the outer image.

Kata, though they’re traditional techniques many of which have been used for centuries, aren’t always as rigid as this may seem to make them. There’s considerable variation in the perfor­mance of kata, though it may take a very experienced eye to notice. Specific kata may be performed differently by different actors doing the same role; even if the general shape of the kata, say a mie, is the same, it may be invested with different energy and feeliings by different actors—thus communicating a different psychological or emotional state. “If I can use a traditional form [kata] to portray an emotion, I do so,” explained Baiko. “If the traditional form in a certain scene does not suit my style, I think it over and proceed to perform as I see fit, even if it means a change from the conventional manner.” Novelty for its own sake, of course, isn’t a virtue in Japanese art, but variation has its place.

Some deviations in kata are the result of several versions existing from the past. Earlier Kabuki actors had far more freedom to create kata to suit both their needs at the moment and their physical strengths and limitations, and these kata have each become part of the available tradition for today’s per­formers. An actor may choose one of the variations at his dis­cretion, providing he has the artistic stature to do so. Often, the difference may seem minuscule, but occasionally the choices are quite dissimilar. In one common scene in many Kabuki plays, for example, in which a character must inspect the head of an executed child, the actor may use one of a number of distinct kata. He may lightly touch the sides of the box containing the head and look into it, he may shade his eyes with his hands, or he may draw his sword on another character and look into his face. The kata themselves are traditionally executed, but the actor has a choice of which one to use, and each will convey a different emotion for the character.

Even the traditional kata of past generations can be altered. It’s not easy, and the adjustments may be very subtle, but as an actor achieves higher and higher levels of proficiency, he may personalize the kata he’s inherited. He may, for instance, impatiently tap his hand at a significant moment, or walk in one scene with is toes pointed out instead of in. These refinements and interpretations may be abandoned after one performance, or they may become part of the tradition themselves. Actors change kata for several reasons, not all of them aesthetic. The actor may want to rein­terpret a character or a scene, or he may wish to accomodate some peculiar physical strength or weakness. An ancient actor may, for instance, have changed a bit of business because he grew fat or became injured and modern actors may still use the “new” kata even though they don’t have the same physical limitations. Kataoka Gato V (b. 1935), a tachiyaku, or actor specializing in male roles, plays the same characters his father (Nizaemon XIII, 1903-94) and grandfather (Nizaemon XI, 1857-1934) played; in fact, he learned the kata from them and then his father taught him the roles. But Nizaemon XIII was slimmer than Gato and the son adjusted his performances to accommodate his physicality, subduing his performances somewhat, playing the parts less forcefully than his predecessor.

So far I’ve been discussing kata in general, and since the term covers every aspect of the Kabuki performance, it’s necessary to look at it broadly first. There are dozens of categories of kata, many of them non-acting, and each category has myriad types and each type may have several variations. There’s hardly room here to discuss any of this in detail, so for our purposes I’ll examine briefly, and superficially, a very few of the most striking kata an actor can use to demon­strate emotions and mood, as differentiated from kata that primarily convey plot, pure esthetics, or technical adjustments.

The most unusual device of a Kabuki performance, one that has no like in any other theater form, is the mie. A “frozen moment,” as Samuel Leiter calls it, a mie is a dynamic pose held rigidly for a few minutes by one or more actors; it’s created and selected by the actors as an effective way to show the inner feelings of the character. It’s been compared to a spotlight on a stage actor, a close-up in film, or ital­ics in print. It stops the action of the scene and intensifies the emotions much the way the “significant moment” of a televi­sion soap opera does—except with much more panache. There are dozens of dif­ferent mie, all with different configurations and purposes. One of the most powerful belongs to the Ichikawa family. This mie, which includes a fierce, cross-eyed grimace called nirami, is performed at the Kojo or name-taking cer­emony by the Ichikawa actor assuming the title Danjuro. It was a highpoint of the 1985 Grand Kabuki tour which included the Kojo for Danjuro XII (b. 1946), holder of the most illustrious name in all of Kabuki. This mie is so powerful, Kabuki devotees consider it to have magical powers, tremporarily driving illness, misfortune, and other evil forces out of the theater.

Another famous mie occurs in A Messenger of Love in Yamato, a popular wagoto (“soft style") play of the Nakamura family. The hero, Chubei, a poor, young courier, and his rival, Hachiemon, a wealthy but boorish merchant, are both in love with Umegawa, a beautiful courtesan. Each actor demonstrates his antagonism towards his opponent by striking a mie, held for two clacks from the tsuke wood blocks, combining the effects of the visual image and the sound to emphasize the heat of the moment.

Almost as striking as the mie is a certain kind of exit, usually executed on the hanamichi, called a roppo. Literally meaning “six directions,” the roppo is a swaggering walk which may indicate arrogance, bravado, or machismo. The best known of these exits is the tobi, or “flying,” roppo. The ac­tor almost lit­erally flies down the hana­michi in great jumps, his arms and legs going in “six direc­tions” at once. It’s a spec­tacular sight, and greeted with much de­light by the audience.

Both the nirami mie and the roppo are elements in aragoto acting, one of the five general Kabuki acting styles. Invented in Edo in the 17th century by Ichikawa Danjuro I (1660-1704), it’s the grandest, most exaggerated style, projecting power and masculine bravura of both villains and heroes. Aragoto’s converse, showing tenderness or humor, is wagoto acting, the special province of the Nakamura family of the Kyoto-Osaka Kabuki center, invented by Sakata Tojuro I. Certain plays and roles are written in these styles, so they’re not really options an actor can choose; nonetheless, they’re techniques that convey emotion and inner character. (The other three acting styles are maruhon, or “puppet style,” borrowed from Bunraku; shosagoto, “dance style,” used in Noh-derived dance plays; and danmari, “wordless,” a short pantomime suggesting nighttime action. These styles have less to do with character and emotion than spectacle and technical virtuosity.)

The Kabuki script, which isn’t regarded with the same reverence as a Western play text to start with, includes many points where actors are expressly required to improvise. (James Brandon, a professor of theater at the University of Hawaii at Manoa—I’ve taken two classes from him myself—and one of our most respected experts on Asian, especially Japanese, theater, has written a fairly comprehensive essay on the various kinds of improvisations specified in a Kabuki script: “Performance and Text in Kabuki” in Japanese Theatre and the International Stage.) These prescribed breaks in the performance text, to use Richard Schechner’s phrase, are intended to provide actors an opportunity to “express his character’s feelings and thoughts.” (I believe that what Yukio Mishima was describing above were instances of Kichiemon’s using his freedom to improvise to show how his character felt.) Of course, an actor’s license “to fill the moment” are restricted according to the actor’s artistic standing and the acquiescence of the leading actor, who’s responsible for the overall shape of the production. (Traditional Kabuki troupes don’t have directors in the conventional Western sense, but the lead actor serves as artistic director—much like the principal actor in 19th-century Western troupes.)

Dance and choreography are another skill the Kabuki actor must use to convey emotion. Not only is Kabuki as a whole derived in part from dance (bu, the middle syllable, means dance, you’ll recall), but much of the Kabuki repertoire are dance dramas (shosagoto) and plays derived from Noh. As I mentioned, dance is a fundamental part of the training for novice Kabuki actors because shosagoto plays require them to portray their roles almost exclusively through choreography. In Kasane (Kesakake Matsu Narita no Riken), for example, a two-hander in which a pair of onnagata each play two roles, the characters express their passion and confusion, ranging from lyrical elegance to savage ferocity, in dance.

Along the same lines, physical dexterity and agility are also tactics Kabuki actors can use to convey emotion and psychological state. Along with dance, Kabuki actors are trained extensively in acrobatics and martial arts and tremendous strength and control is a necessity for Kabuki acting. “An actor needs tremendous coordination of body, suppleness, ability to adjust from one position to another, and he must have perfect balance,” asserted Baiko. The greatest actors can manipulate the smallest parts of their bodies and make the smallest gestures and movements so that the subtlest changes carry meaning because the norm on the Kabuki stage is stillness. Nakamura Matagoro II (1914-2009), a renowned onnagata, was known to be able to move his eyebrows alone, without moving any other part of his face, even his eyelids. Matagoro was expert at the technique of separation—moving one part of the body while keeping the other parts immobile. Few other actors had his skill in this area, but the principle holds: Kabuki actors use their superb physical control to enhance the emotional aspects of their performances.

Since Kabuki is rhythmic both in its move­ment and its speech, there are several identifiable vocal kata. Most are written into the script, but, as with any kata, there’s still room for variation by master actors. One in particular is sawari, analogous to our soliloquy but always spoken by a female character. The name means “touch,” and it’s a device for touch­ing the chords of pathos in the audience as the heroine expresses her sorrow. The onnagata shares the dialogue with the chanter, who speaks while the actor mimes the character’s deepest feelings. (Matagoro also had extraordinary skill at manipulating his voice, using varied pitches in his vocal delivery. This is clearly another technique Kabuki actors, highly trained in singing—the first syllable, ka, means “song”—as well as dance, can use to communicate emotions.)

Although Kabuki is an actor-centric theater, there are dozens of other elements essential to the performance. These are also governed by kata, many of which help convey emo­tion, mood, or atmosphere, assisting the actor to develop the scene. Possibly the most impor­tant, given the dance roots of Ka­buki, is the ubiquitous musical and rhythmic ac­companiment. Music, which establishes mood for every scene, is provided by an off-stage geza ensemble. Though care­fully matched to the content of the scene, it’s not coordinated to the actor’s actions in the same sense that Western background music is. Among the several sound kata are wooden clappers, known as tsuke, which usually underscore the already spectacular effect of a mie or augment the martial atmosphere of tachimawari stage combat. The tsuke clacks enhance the emotional content of the mie by filling the sound space of the action. The kata for the tsuke and the other wooden clapper, the ki, are pretty standard, but there are variations possible, and, according to ki- and tsuke-players on tour with the Grand Kabuki in 1988, the actors can request certain types of rhythms, thus selecting the emotional support the beats give their scenes.

Costume and make-up kata, of course, help reveal character in some of the same ways they do in the West. Since dress and appearance are codified, there’s little leeway for variation, but one kind of make-up because of its stylized design enhances the actor’s ability to express emotion. As worn by the aragoto actor, the kumadori make-up is composed of bold lines that follow the musculature of the face. Rather than hiding the expressions the actor uses like a Noh mask or even other Kabuki make-up, kumadori make-up allows “every facial gesture to be seen clearly in the vast reaches of darkened theaters,” making the feelings evoked by the actor’s grimaces and scowls all the more visible to the audience.

There are many other devices that can be used to affect emotional portrayal in Kabuki, including the position on the stage or hanamichi; stage effects manipulated by kurombo, the black-clad stage assistants; narration by a reciter, an effect borrowed from the puppet theater; and even special curtain kata that reveal things about the characters and their feelings. The list is endless, since, in the stylized perform­ance of Kabuki, the symbolic use of any device can transmit a meaning to the knowledgeable audience. Furthermore, since the audience is mostly there for the beauty and spectacle of the presentation, it’s less the message than the medium that moves them. Kabuki theater is meant to be an emotional experience for the audience, not the intellectual or spiritual one that Noh provides. The very nature of the performance, the characters, the dialogue, the kata, the designs, costumes and make-up, and special effects all evolved, and not by accident, to make the audience respond emotionally and viscerally. It is, in the end, the complete harmony of all the ele­ments of the production, each making its own contribution to the overall beauty, that results in the special world of dreams that is Kabuki.

[The art of Kabuki theater is complex and fascinating, especially to us Westerners. I’ve discussed only a small aspect of the acting techniques used to express and convey emotion (with a brief mention of some non-acting practices), but there is a great deal more to this performance form than I’ve hinted at here. Indeed, many Western scholars and theater artists have devoted their lives to studying and trying to understand this art. There are many sources for a history of Kabuki, including the Internet. The interested reader should also consider, among others, Chapter 20 of Yoshinobu Inoura and Toshio Kawatake’s The Traditional Theater of Japan (New York: Weatherhill, 1981). A more detailed analysis of the form is provided in Studies in Kabuki by James R. Brandon, William P. Malm, and Donald H. Shively ([Honolulu]: University Press of Hawaii, 1979).]


  1. Lovely post regarding Kabuki, I always love to share my opinion about theater works. Recently I have collected my kabuki theater dance dress from at PIJ. Its really amazing to me.
    Thanks for your nice share.

    1. Thank you for your compliments and your interest in ROT. I became fascinated with Kabuki a long time ago and have been interested in it ever since. I even went to Honolulu for three weeks back in the '80s to participate in a U of H course on the theater form in conjunction with the Grand Kabuki's residency there. That was an amazing experience!