kabuki

Definition

Theater

  • The most popular form of drama in Japan. Its name is derivedfrom the Japanese verb kabuku, meaning to be modern and off-beat,and written using the Japanese symbols for singing (ka), dancing(bu), and art (ki).

    Kabuki, which originated in the 15th century, is saidto have been invented by a priestess-dancer, who drew on the traditionsof Nō and Chinese theater to depict subjects fromeveryday life. She was subsequently imitated by many women performers.In 1616, however, women were banned from the stage as most actresseswere also prostitutes. Groups of boys replaced them, but in 1652 theytoo were banned for the same reason. Now kabuki players areall men, some of whom specialize in stylized female impersonations.

    Kabuki plays range from farces to melodramas, drawingtheir plots from daily life, history, myth, Nō plays, and Bunrakupuppet plays. The most popular Kabuki work is Chushingura(1748) by Takedo Izymo (1691 - 1756), which describes how faithfulroyal retainers avenge their master.

    The stock Kabuki roles include courageous men (tachiyaku),evil men (katakiyaku), young men (wakashukata), comicroles (dokekata), and female characters (onnagata).The actors are not masked and wear extravagant costumes. Acting techniqueswere traditionally passed on from father to son; the Ichikawa familyproduced 12 generations of successful kabuki actors in thisway. scenery and staging are often elborate; kabuki companiesmade use of a revolving stage long before such a device was adoptedin the West.

    Kabuki has always tried to keep ahead of the times,incorporating innovative musical, choreographical, and artistic stylesthat have often been considered strange and shocking: the scholarTsumbouchi Shoyo called it a "many-headed monster". Variationsintroduced during this century have included shimpa and shingeki,both of which reflect the influence of European ideas. Despite itsback-street origins, kabuki is now considered a high art form.

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