Thursday, October 18, 2012

UCLA Theatre Seminar - Japanese Theatre The Quest For Balance

UCLA Theatre History Seminar
October 19, 2012
Japanese Theatre - The Quest For Balance

I.         Introduction
            Covering 800 years of history in 60 minutes – Mission Impossible

II.        3 Major Nexus Points Important to Theatre
                        A. Gempei Wars 1180-85
                                    1. Fujiwara Vs. Genji Vs. Heike
                                    2. Rise and Dominance of the Samurai
                                    3. Source Material for many of the most popular plays (*Yoshitsune)
                                    4. The Samurai quest for Balance (Bun and Bu) brings No into being

                        B. Tokugawa Shogunate 1603–1868
                                    1. First sustained peace in nearly 400 years
                                    2. Flourishing of Popular Arts (Kabuki & puppets)
                                    3. Struggle between Bakfu and Kabuki

                        C. WWII and the US Army Occupation of Japan 1945—48
                                    1. Kabuki faces its biggest challenge for survival
                                    2. Shochiku uses Kabuki to resist US Occupation
                                    3. Army trained linguists bring Japanese Theatre to America

Though I am ruler of Japan, there are three things which are beyond my control: the rapids on the Kamo River, the fall of the dice at gambling, and the monks of the mountains!” – Emperor Go-Shirakawa 12th Century

III.      Noh Theatre
                        A. Kanami and Zeami “invent” Noh out of Sarugaku
                        B. Noh flourishes under patronage of Ashikaga Shoguns 1338—1534
                             Performance before Shogun Yorimitsu in 1374
                        C. Jo – Ha - Kyu
                        D. The goal of Noh is the balance of Hana and Yugen 

Yugen -- lit. ‘Obscure and Dark.’ As used by Zeami it means: “half revealed or suggested beauty, at once elusive and meaningful, tinged with wistful sadness.”

Hana -- To have hana is to have grasped the universal in the individual.  It is to have creative freedom within limitation.  As Zeami noted, "Whatever is suitable to the occasion is real hana." 

“The purpose of all art is to bring sweetness to the hearts of all people and to harmonize high and low” – Zeami, Kadensho

                        E. Noh is refined, elusive, distant.  The stage is so constructed to separate                                                                      

                             actor from audience – 
                            The White Sand Bar emphasizes this separation. 
                        F. The Mirror Room where the actor becomes the character. 

IV.      Kyogen
                        A. Comic plays staged between Noh plays on a normal program
                        B. Comparison to Laurel and Hardy or R2D2 and C3PO
                        C. Most scripts 10 pages or less, 3 to 4 characters (Busu)
                        D. Zeami notes:
“Kyogen should kindle the mind to laughter, but neither in speech nor in gesture should there be anything low.  The jokes and repartee however funny they may be, should not introduce the vulgar.”

                        E. Kyogen in Children’s Theatre (Jennifer DeCosta’s Kyogen O’ Hawai’i)

V.        Kabuki and Puppet Theatre
                        A. Kabuki from the verb “kabuku” = at an angle, askew
                             Is Kabuki a Chonin response to theatrical and Tokugawa orthodoxy?
                                    1. Okuni starts kabuki dancing 1596
                                    2. Onna Kabuki 1603 – 1629
                                    3. Wakasu Kabuki 1629 – 1652
                                    4. Yaro Kabuki 1652 –
                                    5. Bakfu forbids ALL amateur theatricals 1697.

                        B. Struggle Between Kabuki and the Bakfu
 1. Laws segregating actors & prostitutes
 2. Actors required to have their hair length measured
 3. Forbidden to depict current events or people
 4. Bakfu wants to keep everything just as it is. 
     They use “morality” as a means of control. 
     Their other major tool is segregation – of the country,
     of classes, of the towns & provinces. 
     Everyone has a place and they must remain there.

            “People are easily influenced by the behavior of actors and prostitutes.  Recently there has been a tendency for even high-ranking people to use the argot of actors and prostitutes.  This habit has become a kind of fashion, and people think that those who do not use such words and phrases are rustics.  I am ashamed that this is so.  Such a tendency will result in the collapse of the social order.  It is therefore necessary to segregate actors and prostitutes from ordinary people.”

“Morality is nothing but the necessary means of controlling the subjects of the
Empire … Morality may be regarded as a device for governing the people”
            Ogyu Sorai (1666 – 1728), advisor to Tokugawa Yoshimune, 8th Shogun

                        C. Competition between Kabuki and Puppets
                                    1. Ideas move in both directions (Double Suicide Plays)
                                    2. Puppets Not Viewed as Threat to Social Order
                                    3. Joruri is 3rd Person while Kabuki is 1st Person
                                        Kabuki is an Actor’s drama, Joruri belongs to the Chanter
                                        Original 1-man puppets have limited movement
                                        They essentially “disappear” when not moving.
                                        To compete with Kabuki, larger 3-man puppets are developed
                                    4. Chikamatsu the Japanese Shakespeare?
                                    5. Puppets Theatre undergoes MAJOR change in 1746-48 moving
                                        away from the style of Chikamatsu to one more like Kabuki. 
                                        3 Great Epics of Takemoto Puppet Theatre:
                                        Sugewara Denju Tenarai Kagami – 1746
                                        Yoshitsune Senbonzakura – 1747
                                        Kanadehon Chushingura – 1748

“From the beginning joruri has modeled itself on kabuki, with even the puppets imitating kabuki actors.  The natural result, now that kabuki is imitating puppet movement, is the decline of kabuki.” – Kabuki Actor Otowa Jirosaburo
In the first staging of Chushingura by the puppet theatre, 6 chanters were used in the Ichiriki Brothel/Tea House scene – one chanter for each major character.  This made the scene much more like a kabuki play, more 1st person drama than 3rd person narrative.

                        D. The Physical Theatre
                                    1. Hannamichi – Single and Double
                                    2. Traps, Lifts, Revolves
                                        Scenery Lift - 1727, Actor Lift - 1736, Revolving Stage - 1758
                                    3. Draw and Drop Curtains
                                    4. Geza Music

The kabuki stage invites the audience in.  The house is traditionally wider than it is deep so that everyone is close to the stage. (At the old Kabuki-za in Tokyo the stage is 90' wide while the house is 60' deep.)  Likewise the hannamichi is more than simply a runway from the back of the house to the stage – it is an acting space upon which (usually at the 7-3 point, major characters are introduced, and important action takes place, right in the midst of the audience. 

An important action that takes place there is the maku-soto – acting outside the curtain.

Kumagai’s final exit
Kampei and Okaru’s exit at end of michiyuki (with Bannai closing the curtain)
Benkei’s ropo exit at the end of the Daimotsu Ura act, Yoshitsune Senbonzakura

Brandon calls the maku-soto “The single most important solo moment in any play.”
-- Chushingura – Studies in Kabuki, p133

                        E. Kabuki Play Formats, Acting Styles and Major Themes
                                    1. Play Types
                                        Jidaimono – History Plays
                                        Sewamono – Domestic Tragedy
                                        Shoshigoto – Dance Play
                                    2. Acting Styles
                                        Aragoto – Rough House, Edo
                                        Wagoto – Soft Style, Osaka
                                        Onnagata – Female Roles

The goal of the onnagata is not to imitate or impersonate a woman, but rather it is to capture the very essence of femininity.  This is why, even today, geisha closely observe the onnagata at the Minami-za theatre for tips and examples of how to behave, move, and speak. 

                                    3. The Major Theme of Japanese Theatre – Balance
                                         Bun and Bu – the Civic and the Military Virtues (Arts)
                                         Giri and Ninjo   Duty vs. the yearnings of the Heart
                                         Life and Death  The Beauty of Each
                                         *Yoshitsune epitomizes this Balance.

                                    4. Juhachiban – The 18 Favorite Plays of the Ichikawa Family


                                    5. Misc. Notes on Kabuki
In Japanese theatre the pauses, the silence, the stillness, are just as important (perhaps even more so) than the moments of action.

The Noh and Kabuki actor use “stillness” as expressively as a Western actor uses movement.  (Consider Steve McQueen’s performance in the film The Magnificent Seven – he is always moving, always doing ‘business’ never still.)

When Okuni staged her dances in the dry bed of the Kamo river, actors were often called kawara-kojiki (river bank beggars).

The audience sat on the grass and perhaps this is why the Japanese word for play, shibai, is written with the Chinese character (kanji) meaning turf and to sit.


Daimostu Ura no Ba from Yoshitsune Senbonzakura
            Entire Act: 30 minutes
            Maku Soto (out of curtain exit) 5 minutes

Michiyuki from Yoshitsune Senbonzakura
            Entire Act 25 minutes
            Tadanobu’s entrance and dance 5 minutes

Yoshitsune, hero of stage, screen and the video game console

At the Battle of Yashima, during the Gempei War 1180-85, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, leader of the Genji Army, dropped his bow in the water. Despite heavy enemy fire and the frantic urgings of his own troops, Yoshitsune continued looking for his bow and returned to the safety of his own lines only after he had recovered it.

His own officers and veteran warriors were angry with the young general and told him so.

"That was a terrible thing to do sir. Your bow may be worth a thousand, even tens of thousands of gold, but how could it be worth risking your life?"

"It isn't that I didn't want to lose the bow itself," Yoshitsune replied. "If my bow were like my uncle Tametomo's and required two or three men for the stinging, I even might have deliberately dropped it for the enemy to take. But mine is weak and feeble. If the enemy had taken it, he would have jeered at me, saying 'See, this is Minamoto no Yoshitsune's bow!' I wouldn't have liked that. That's why I risked my life to get it back."

Yoshitsune epitomizes this ideal of Balance so admired by the Japanese, combining the refined grace of the Heike with the robust spirit of the Genji.  He is the quintessential tragic hero in Japanese literature and theatre.

Sources / Further Reading

The Gempei Wars

The Samurai – A Military History by S.R. Turnbull, ©1977 
See in particular pp. 13 – 83 for the Hekei-Genji struggle
And pp. 266-90 for the Decline of the Samurai during the Edo period

The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris, ©1975  
See in particular pp.67-105 Chap 5 Yoshitsune Victory Through Defeat

Legends of the Samurai by Hiroaki Sato, ©1995
See the Introduction for an excellent essay on the origins of the samurai
Also pp.110-56 for Yoshitsune and pp.304-38 for the 47 Ronin

The Tale of the Heike Vols. I and II translated by H Kitagawa & B Tsuchida ©1975

The Kabuki Handbook by Aubrey and Giovanna Halford ©1956
See in particular pp. 418-25 for a synopsis of the Heike--Genji Cycle

Noh and Kyogen

The Noh Drama translated by the Special Noh Committee, Japanese Classics © 1955
See in particular the Introduction pp.9-16

20 Plays of the No Theatre edited by Donald Keene, ©1970
See in particular pp.1-15 Conventions of the No Drama

Ze-ami’s Kadensho translated by Sakurai, Hayashi, Satoi & Miyai, ©1968
The man who started it all writes on No and the search for artistic truth.

A Guide To Kyogen by Don Kenny, ©1968
See in particular pp.7-14

Three Modern Kyogen by Donald Richie, ©1972
The Introduction is excellent and the plays themselves very funny.

Japanese Folk Plays translated by Shio Sakanishi, ©1960
See in particular the Introduction pp.1-22. 
This slim volume contains many of the most popular Kyogen and a few obscure plays as well, like The Magic Mallet Of The Devil.

Kabuki and Puppet Theatre

The Kabuki Theatre by Earl Ernst, ©1956 & 1974
This remains the very best detailed study of Kabuki covering history, theory and production written by one the officers who was part of the US Army Occupation Forces.
If you have a serious interest in the Kabuki Theatre this book is a Must Have.

The Kabuki Handbook by Aubrey and Giovanna M Halford, ©1956
Contains synopses of the most popular plays as well as explanatory notes on acting styles, make-up, costumes, music, play cycles, etc.  An indispensable book.

Kabuki Encyclopedia (Kabuki Jiten) translated and adapted by Samuel Leiter ©1979
An excellent one-volume reference book on all things kabuki.

The Art Of Kabuki Famous Plays In Performance by Samuel Leiter, ©1979
Translations of the kabuki scripts for Benten Kozo, Sugawara’s Secrets Of Calligraphy, Shunkan, and Naozamurai.

The Actor’s Analects translated by Charles J Dunn and Bunzo Torigoe, ©1969
A fascinating collection of notes and advice on the kabuki theatre made by kabuki actors.

Kabuki – Five Classic Plays by James R Brandon ©1975
Excellent translations each with extensive notes on staging, costumes, etc.  Includes the plays Sukeroku, Narukami, Ichinotani (with Kumagai’s Battle Camp), Sakura Hime and the wagoto masterpiece Love Letters From The Licensed Quarter.

Studies in Kabuki by James R Brandon, William P Malm, Donald H Shively, ©1978
Essays on Kabuki Vs. the Tokugawa Bakfu (Shively), Kabuki Music (Malm) and Kabuki acting techniques, styles and kata (Brandon).

Chushingura Studies in Kabuki and the Puppet Theatre by James R Brandon, ©1982
Contains a new translation of the kabuki version of this famous play along with excellent essays on Chushingura (Keene), Forbidden Plays (Shively), Jouri Music (Malm) and the differences in the puppet and kabuki versions of Chushingura.

Sukeroku’s Double Identity: The Dramatic Structure of Edo Kabuki by Barbara E Thornbury, ©1982
Excellent study of Edo Kabuki and the Soga Brothers tradition in both Noh and Kabuki.

The Traditional Theatre of Japan by Yoshinobu Inoura & Toshio Kawatake, ©1981
Good General Text covering No, Kabuki and the Puppet Theatres

Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu translated by Donald Keene, ©1961
Excellent Introduction on Chikamatsu and the puppet theatre pp.10-38

The Puppet Theatre of Japan: Honor, Vengeance, and Love
translated by Stanleigh Jones, ©2012
4 Classics of the Puppet stage newly translated into English

Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees translated by Stanleigh Jones ©1993
Translation of the Joruri text along with extensive stage notes, background information and bibliography

Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy translated by Stanleigh Jones, ©1985
“His translation is of excellent quality, as he attempts to offer not only the strict English version of the story but also to mimic poetic devices so often lost in most translations.”

The Voices and Hands of Bunraku by Barbara Adachi, ©1978
This is a good general text with excellent photos of the puppets and their puppeteers.

An Interpretive Guide to Bunraku edited by Patricia Pringle, ©1992
In depth essays on every aspect of the puppet classic The Love Suicides At Sonezaki
This was a special publication for the 1992 Bunraku Artist-in-Residence program at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.  Contact the Dept. of Drama and Dance directly to see if any copies are available.

Kabuki and the West

Kabuki’s Forgotten War 1931 – 1945 by James R Brandon, ©2009
Fascinating study of how Kabuki adapted and survived World War Two and how Shochiku used Kabuki to resist the US Occupation

Theatre East and West–Perspectives Toward a Total Theatre by Leonard Pronko, ©1967
Pronko’s ideas for using Asian Theatre to infuse new life into the theatre of the West.

The Challenge Of Kabuki by Mitsuko Unno, translated by Ann Cary ©1979
A detailed study of the kabuki productions staged by the foreign students at the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan.

Dreamers, Dilettantes and Documenters by Leonard Pronko, ©2010
An essay by Dr. Pronko on the use of kabuki in Western Theatre, “Super Kabuki” in Japan and the concept of “Kabuki imaginaire.”

On-Line Resources

Theatre Nohgaku Blog
A blog dedicated to Noh Theatre with excellent photos and commentary

For example - their report on the No play Aoinoue

Bunraku Bay is a US based troupe performing with traditional Japanese puppets.
Using the word "Bunraku" in their name has a nice ring to it, but it is a bit of a misnomer as Bunraku is the name of a specific troupe in Japan.  However ... Bunraku Bay is doing some very interesting work name notwithstanding.

This is, by far, the most accessible and comprehensive web site for all things kabuki.  In addition to current news and performance schedules, there are synopses of plays, actor bio’s and an exhaustive list of links to other useful web sites.  This should be your first stop in researching topics in kabuki.

The 47 Ronin are the most revered samurai in all of Japanese history.  Their story has been told not only in the Puppet and Kabuki theatres but over 100 times on film and television.  There have been turned into toy soldiers for collectors, a board game for adults, and I dare say someone somewhere is even now working on a video game version.  Indeed, Universal Studios is currently producing a new version of the 47 Ronin, for the first time in 3D and staring Keanu Reeves. 

Not surprisingly, there are numerous web sites devoted to this band of loyal retainers.  Here is a list of the more useful or interesting ones:

On-Line Video

There are quite a few kabuki videos on YouTube.  Most are fragments or short sections of plays while a few videos contain the entire act.  There are also several documentaries from the NHK or National Geographic that provide a good 'general' introduction to Japanese Theatre.  

Below are links to a few of the kabuki videos on YouTube.  No doubt the diligent will find many more.

Noh and Kyogen

Atsumori Otoko-mai Atsumori's dance as performed by the Nogaku Theatre, a US based Noh troupe. (5 minutes)

Busu - a short section of the Kyogen performed in Japan (4 minutes)

Puppet Theatre

Short Introduction to Puppet Theatre (10 minutes)

Kabuki Theatre

Dai Motsu Ura act from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune And The Thousand Cherry Trees)

Michiyuki (Travel Dance) from Yoshisune Senbon Zakura (40 minutes)

Musume Dojoji starring Bando Tamasaburo (each part is 12 - 14 minutes in length)

Short Introduction to Kabuki (10 minutes)

Kanjincho - The Subscription List (adapted from the No Theatre. In Multiple parts with English narration.)

Additional parts are listed on the YouTube site.

Renjishi - Two Lions a Kabuki Dance Drama (Shoshigoto)

In 1978 the University of Hawaii undertook a year-long program of intensive kabuki study culminating in the production of Chushingura.  The play ran for three weeks in Honolulu, then toured the neighbor islands before embarking on a six week mainland tour beginning in LA and ending in Boston.

Here are a few videos from that production

A final thought ...

The Zen of Noh.

Zeami divided hana into nine grades or levels. He described the top three grades as:

3rd Grade: "The whiteness and purity of snow lying on a silver garden"
2nd Grade: "Among snow-covered mountains one peak has ceased to be white."
1st Grade: "The light of the sun at midnight."

This is the state of mind beyond thought and language.  It is mind without mind ... The human is no longer human and art is no longer art.   -- from the introduction to Zeami's Kasenso.


Kabuki said...

Really good post regarding Kabuki Theater. I love your information and look forward for another update. I recently have collected kabuki history book and some cards from at PIJ. Now i am very happy to find this post here. Thanks.

Narukami said...

Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to comment.

I fell in love with Kabuki Theatre in my first year of graduate school, quite by accident. I had every intention of studying pre-modern Japanese History, but discovered that none of the history professors were interested in teaching that topic or had just done so and were on to something else.


There were two professors there, one an expert on puppet theatre and the other on kabuki who were very enthusiastic about Japanese Theatre and ready to teach. I switched my focus and never looked back.

You might find this earlier post of passing interest.

Thanks again for your most generous comments.