Asian Theatre Journal 1.1 (2002) 240-243
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As Ruxandra Marginean notes in this collection, "Japanese theatre exists 'in the world' not only in and of itself, but also through its scholarly interpretations" (p. 133). Indeed, Japanese Theatre and the International Stage is a fine demonstration of the current state of scholarship in this field and a worthy [End Page 240] addition to a number of other recent volumes about Japanese theatre seen from a world or comparative perspective. This book contains twenty-five papers out of forty that were presented in May 1998 at a symposium at Munich's Museum Villa Stuck. The symposium was held in conjunction with a major exhibition of Japanese theatre that was shown first in New York at the Japan Society in the fall and winter of 1997 and then moved to Munich the following spring. That exhibition spawned the gorgeous catalog, Japanese Theater in the World, edited by one of the coeditors here, Samuel L. Leiter.
The contributors to the new book represent an international cast of theatre scholars and practitioners, both eminent and up-and-coming. Some are specialists in Japanese theatre; others come to this subject from a background in Western theatre studies and performance. Anyone interested in Japanese or comparative theatre will find something delicious. The essays are arranged in four sections. Parts I and IV focus on "intercultural theatre," notably how Western theatre has embraced Japanese styles of acting and stagecraft over the past century. Parts II and III are a mixed bag devoted to specific types of traditional and modern Japanese theatre, playwrights, or directors.
The historical and theoretical scope of Erika Fischer-Lichte's essay, "The Reception of Japanese Theatre by the European Avant-Garde (1900- 1930)," makes it an excellent place to begin this collection. Fischer-Lichte points out that the European avant-garde embraced Japanese theatrical devices in a reaction against the "textual culture" of nineteenth-century theatre. She notes that the lessons of Japanese theatre were employed by the likes of Meyerhold, Reinhardt, Eisenstein, Artaud, and Brecht chiefly in the aid of experimenting with "new ways of using the actor's body" (p. 36), creating purer, more theatrical forms of spectacle and sensation, or redefining the relationship between actors and audience. The second essay, by Jean-Jacques Tschudin, looks at the French discovery of Japanese theatre in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Focusing largely on the groundbreaking tour of Kawakami Otojiro and his wife Sadayakko, Tschudin notes that many appreciated kabuki acting and staging for their "realism." This may sound odd today, but elsewhere Mitsuya Mori makes a convincing case for kabuki's "patterned realism" (p. 361). Although Kawakami Otojiro may have pandered to French tastes for gore and orientalist savagery, many were impressed by the skill and humanity of his wife's acting. The final essay in Part I, by Samuel L. Leiter, looks at coverage on Japanese theatre in the American magazine Theatre Arts from 1916 to 1964. Though Theatre Arts was the most influential and progressive magazine of its kind, what appeared on Japanese theatre in the pages of that magazine was fairly superficial before 1945. Ironically, it was the American occupation of Japan that sparked serious interest among American theatre circles in Japanese theatre, particularly kabuki.
Part II contains two essays on folk performance (minzoku geino) by Guenter Zobel and William Lee; four essays on no by Benito Ortolani, Ruxandra Marginean, Haruo Nishino, and Shinko Kagaya; and two on kabuki by James R. Brandon and Katherine Mezur. Part III contains essays by Christina Nygren on tabi shibai, or traveling theatre, and Helen S. Parker on Takarazuka; [End Page 241] Keiko Courdy and Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei on playwright-director Terayama Shuji; Yasuko Ikeuchi on Terayama's student, Kishida Rio; J. Thomas Rimer on Shimizu Kunio; and two essays on the body in contemporary theatre, Peter Eckersall on Gekidan Kaitaisha and Maria Pia D'Orazi on buto. All...