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The History of Kabuki (4) / Kabuki after the Meiji period

Kabuki after the Meiji period

Beginning in 1868 enormous cultural changes such as the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the elimination of the samurai class, and the opening of Japan to the west helped to spark the re-emergence of kabuki. As the culture struggled to adapt to its new lack of isolation, actors strove to increase the reputation of kabuki among the upper classes and to adapt the traditional styles to modern tastes.
File:Shibaraku, Kabukiza November 1895 production.jpg
(The November 1895 production of Shibaraku at Tokyo Kabukiza theater)

They ultimately proved successful in this regard—on one occasion (21 April 1887), a performance was given for the Meiji Emperor.

(Kabuki Image in Meiji Era)

After World War II, the occupying forces briefly banned kabuki performances after the war. However, by 1947 the ban had been rescinded, and performances began once more.

Kabuki today

The immediate post-World War 2 era was a difficult time for kabuki. Besides the devastation caused to major Japanese cities as a result of the war, the popular trend was to reject the styles and thoughts of the past, kabuki among them. Director Tetsuji Takechi's popular and innovative productions of the kabuki classics at this time are credited with bringing about a rebirth of interest in the kabuki in the Kansai region. Of the many popular young stars who performed with the Takechi Kabuki, Nakamura Ganjiro III (b.1931) was the leading figure. He was first known as Nakamura Senjaku, and this period in Osaka kabuki became known as the "Age of Senjaku" in his honor.

Today, kabuki remains relatively popular - it is the most popular of the traditional styles of Japanese drama - and its star actors often appear in television or film roles. For example, the well-known onnagata Bandō Tamasaburō V has appeared in several (non-kabuki) plays and movies - often in a female role. Kabuki is also referenced in works of Japanese popular culture such as anime.

(Kabuki Today / Image)

Though there are only a handful of major theatres in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, there are many smaller theatres in Osaka, and throughout the countryside. The Ōshika Kabuki troupe, based in Ōshika, Nagano Prefecture is one example.

Some local kabuki troupes today use female actors in the onnagata roles. The Ichikawa Kabuki-za, an all-female troupe, was formed after World War II but was short-lived. In 2003, a statue of Okuni was erected near Kyoto's Pontochō district.

(Ichikawa Ebizo (left) Ichikawa Danjuro (center))

Interest in kabuki has also spread in the West. Kabuki troupes regularly tour Europe and America, and there have been several kabuki-themed productions of canonical Western plays such as those of Shakespeare. Western playwrights and novelists have also experimented with kabuki themes, an example of which is Gerald Vizenor's Hiroshima Bugi (2004). Writer Yukio Mishima pioneered and popularized the use of kabuki in modern settings, and revived other traditional arts, such as Noh, adapting them to modern contexts.

In Australia, the Za Kabuki troupe at the Australian National University has been performing a kabuki drama each year since 1976; the single longest regular kabuki performance outside of Japan.

Kabuki was enlisted on the UNESCO's Third Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

By T.S. on May 29, 2010
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Author:T. SATOH