One of the three major classical theaters of Japan, together with the
The creation of kabuki is ascribed to
The strong attraction of onna (women's) kabuki, which Okuni had popularized, was largely due to its sensual dances and erotic scenes. Because fights frequently broke out among the spectators over these entertainers, who also practiced prostitution, in 1629 the Tokugawa shogunate (1603−1867) banned women from appearing in kabuki performances. Thereafter, wakashu (young men's) kabuki achieved a striking success, but, as in the case of onna kabuki, the authorities strongly disapproved of the shows, which continued to be the cause of public disturbances because the adolescent actors also sold their favors.
In 1652 wakashu kabuki was forbidden, and the shogunate required that kabuki performances undergo a basic reform to be allowed to continue. In short, kabuki was required to be based on
In the 1660s a broad platform, the forerunner of the
During its formative years important elements from other theatrical forms−particularly kyōgen, Nō, and the puppet theater−were introduced. The strongest single influence came from kyōgen, which, by government fiat, had served as a model for reorganizing the basic structure of the kabuki theater. By introducing the dialogue, acting techniques, and realism of kyōgen, kabuki developed from a variety show featuring dance and music into a new form of drama. The kabuki stage was originally derived from the Nō stage, although later modified by the addition of the draw curtain and the hanamichi in the 17th century and the abandonment of the distinctive roof in the 18th century. Many Nō plays were also adapted for performance as kabuki. The simple texts borrowed from Nō, kyōgen, and early
By the beginning of the Genroku era in 1688 there had developed three distinct types of kabuki performance: jidai-mono (historical plays), often with elaborate sets and a large cast; sewa-mono (domestic plays), which generally portrayed the lives of the townspeople and which, in comparison to jidai-mono, were presented in a realistic manner; and shosagoto (dance pieces), consisting of dance performances and pantomime. In the Kyōto-Ōsaka (Kamigata) area,
The spectacular success of kabuki in the Kyōto-Ōsaka area during the late 17th century was followed by a period of diminished popularity due to the flourishing of the bunraku puppet theater. In the years following the departure of Chikamatsu, maruhon-mono (kabuki adaptations of puppet plays) were staged in an attempt to draw back the spectators who were now flocking to the puppet theater. The musical and narrative accompaniment of the puppet plays was transported to kabuki performances, and even stage techniques of bunraku, such as the distinctive movement of the manipulated dolls, were imitated by kabuki actors. Chikamatsu's
After the mid-17th century, the cultural center of Japan gradually shifted from the Kamigata region to Edo. During this transitional period, one of the more notable Kamigata playwrights was Namiki Shōzō I (1730−73; see
During the 18th century, the rise of the Tokiwazu (see
After the death of Namboku IV in 1829, kabuki did not produce any prominent playwrights until the mid-1850s, when Jokō III and Mokuami began to write for the theater. Their early successes, embellishments on the genre kizewa-mono −the masterpiece of which had been
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked the collapse of the social order ruled by the samurai, whose loss of status was symbolized by a ban on the wearing of swords and by government discouragement of the continued wearing of topknots. During the early years of the Meiji period Mokuami developed the zangiri-mono (“cropped-hair” plays), which introduced soldiers dressed in Western-style uniforms and onnagata characters wearing Western dresses. These dramas were little more than caricatures of modern life and failed to draw audiences. Actors such as Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838−1903) and Onoe Kikugorō V (1844−1903; see
The immediate successors of Kikugorō V and Danjūrō IX, including Kikugorō VI (1885−1949), Matsumoto Kōshirō VII (1870−1949; see
In the postwar era the popularity of kabuki has been maintained and the great plays of the Edo period, as well as a number of the modern classics, continue to be performed in Tōkyō at the Kabukiza and the National Theater. However, offerings have become considerably shortened and, particularly at the Kabukiza, limited for the most part to favorite acts and scenes presented together with a dance piece. The National Theater continues to present full-length plays. The average length of a kabuki performance is about five hours, including intermissions. The roles once played by the great postwar actors Morita Kan'ya XIV (1907−75; see
The kabuki theater often incorporates the prevailing moral notions of Tokugawa society as the mechanism upon which plots turn. For example, inga ōhō (law of retributive justice), a Buddhist notion, may result in the destruction of an evildoer or the bestowal of prosperity and happiness upon a long-suffering woman. The notion of
The kabuki theater uses a draw curtain. It has broad black, green, and orange vertical stripes and is normally drawn open from stage right to stage left accompanied by the striking of wooden clappers. The curtain may also serve as a backdrop for brief scenes given before or after the performance on the main part of the stage. Kamite (stage left) is regarded as the place of honor and is occupied by characters of high rank, guests, and important messengers or official representatives. Shimote (stage right) is occupied by characters of low rank and members of a household; most entrances and exits take place on this side, usually by way of the hanamichi. A unique feature of the kabuki stage is the mawaributai, a circular platform that can be rotated to permit a second scene to be performed simultaneously with the scene already in progress or to dramatize a flashback.
Yakugara, or types of dramatic role, are determined on the basis of the personality, age, or social position of characters. Onnagata are assigned to such roles as housewife, samurai lady, heroic woman, and wicked woman. Within the rich repertory of kabuki plays, the roles of Agemaki in
The dialogue in kabuki plays ranges from the extremely stylized to the intensely realistic. Generally jidai-mono contain more formalized speech and the sewa-mono more colloquial speech. In general, lines tend to be marked by a seven-five syllabic pattern (similar to that of classical Japanese poetry) and are delivered with a distinctive rhythm and tempo that is closely identified with kabuki. The tsurane, a long declamatory speech occurring in jidai-mono, effectively employs this rhythmic pattern. Maruhon-mono, kabuki adaptations from bunraku puppet plays, are in particular noted for their mellifluous lines in the seven-five pattern.
The powerful influence of a long theatrical tradition is graphically illustrated by kata (forms), the stylized gestures and movements of kabuki performers. Since kata are not subject to rejection at the whim of the actor, they have helped to maintain the artistic integrity of kabuki. Tate (stylized fighting), roppō (dramatic exit accompanied by exaggerated gestures), mie (striking an attitude), and dammari (silent scene) all belong to this category. The performing of kata occurs more often in jidai-mono, which deal with members of the warrior class and in which larger-than-life action is always expected, but sewa-mono also contain instances of kata in the apparently casual movements of actors as they walk, speak, or sit.
Costume, wig, and makeup are carefully matched with the nature of a role. In general, the costumes in jidai-mono are more stylized and elegant, befitting members of the nobility and the samurai class. By contrast, the prevailing fashions of society at large during the Edo period are portrayed quite realistically in sewa-mono plays. The costumes used in shosagoto dance pieces are especially noted for their color, design, and workmanship. Wigs are classified according to age of characters, historical period, social status, occupation, and other considerations. Makeup varies widely depending on the role. The most striking example is
In addition to the regular performers, the kōken (stage assistant) serves a valuable function on the stage. He is especially important in dance pieces. During the demanding hayagawari (quick costume change), the kōken must carefully follow the movements of the dancer, all the while remaining close behind him, and at the crucial moment assist in the hikinuki (“pulling out”), by which a layer of clothing is quickly removed revealing a costume of different pattern and color. The kōken is also known as kurogo (“black costume”) since he is often dressed all in black.
Each performer belongs to an acting family by whose name he is known. Professionally, he is part of a closely knit hierarchical organization, headed by one of the leading actors, and must spend many years as an apprentice. An actor may eventually receive a new name as a mark of his elevation to a higher position within the professional organization. It is awarded at a shūmei (name-assuming) ceremony, and in the company of his colleagues he then delivers from the stage an address (kōjō) in which he requests the continued patronage of the audience. The name Ichikawa Danjūrō, which can be traced back to the formative years of kabuki, is regarded even today as the most illustrious of honors a kabuki actor can receive. In 1985 Ichikawa Ebizō X (b 1951) became Danjūrō XII at a shūmei ceremony held at the Kabukiza, which was reported with considerable fanfare in the popular press. For synopses of individual kabuki plays see
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