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Asian Theatre Journal 17.1 (2000) 127-129

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Women's Giday u and the Japanese Theatre Tradition. By A. Kimi Coaldrake. New York: Routledge, 1997. 262 pp. plus 10-track CD. Cloth $74.99.

Gidayu narration, consisting of a giday u narrator and a samisen accompanist, is well known as an integral part of Japanese all-male bunraku puppet performances. The tradition of females performing giday u, which has existed as long as the male tradition, is not as well known. Women, though banned from the public stage from the 1620s to 1870, performed gidayu in private salons and in the teahouses of the licensed prostitution quarters. Soon after the Meiji government lifted the ban on women's public performances in 1870, women's gidayu, performed concert-style in music halls, without puppets, became an extremely popular entertainment. In fact, female gidayu performers were the very first Japanese pop music idols. The "musume gidayu" (girl gidayu) boom continued until the 1920s. Women's gidayu is now a highly respected genre of traditional performance and has many skilled practitioners.

A. Kimi Coaldrake's study of women's gidayu is the first comprehensive study of this topic in any language. The broad scope of her study ties together such diverse topics as the history of women's gidayu, the social organization of performers, training, popular playscripts, musical analysis of gidayu delivery, and analysis of women's changing role in twentieth-century Japanese theatre as seen through a biography of the most illustrious woman narrator, National Living Treasure Takemoto Tosahiro (1897-1992). The accompanying CD, live concert recordings from the archives of the Gidayu Association, gives ten excerpts of famous scenes that are well explicated by Coaldrake's musical analyses in the text. This book will appeal to readers interested in Japanese culture, music, theatre, women's studies, and modernization.

The author is well qualified to write about women's giday u. An ethnomusicologist trained in both Western and Japanese musical idioms (she has earned a professional name as a performer of koto), she is also the only non-Japanese member of the Gidayu Association, the main professional giday u organization. Thus she has both the insider's sensibility and the scholarly training to explain the traditions of women's gidayu to a Western audience. Sometimes, though, her scholarly side and her affiliated side create uneven patches in her writing. At times her prose is terse and analytical and speaks to the latest interdisciplinary modes of discourse. At other times her ties of loyalty and emotion to her subject matter are evident.

The opening chapter on the history of women's giday u from 1600 to the 1990s explains such complex topics as the history of performing arts in Japan and the history of narrative forms in beautiful well-turned phrases. Coaldrake manages not only to write a short, readable history of women's giday u but also to paint a vivid picture of the social milieu within which women performed. She provides a very useful discussion of women working and performing in the licensed prostitution districts in the overall context of "floating world" culture. [End Page 127]

The next chapter, "Performance and Performers," in contrast to the terse explication of the previous chapter, discusses the social framework of gidayu organization in great detail. In addition to training and teacher/student relationships, we learn quite a bit about hierarchical concerns in stage placement and costuming. Women's gidayu, unlike many traditional Japanese art forms, such as no and tea ceremony, is not organized in a hereditary iemoto (headmaster) system. Rather, each performer enters voluntarily and is promoted according to her skill. Coaldrake's discussion of how hierarchy is determined in women's gidayu is quite fascinating and contains details known only to an insider.

The following chapter, "Tales That Are Told," offers excellent descriptions of how gidayu is performed as well as analyses of the CD segments of famous scenes from the repertory. Coaldrake also...


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