- Japanese Theatre and the International Stage
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Five years in the making, Japanese Theatre in the World, an outstanding exhibit of Japanese theatre arts covering early ritual genres to postmodern performance, was presented in the fall and winter of 1997 at the New York Japan Society, and at the Munich Museum Villa Stuck in spring 1998. Japanese Theatre in the World (Japan Society, 1997), a beautifully illustrated catalogue, documents the exhibit. Japanese Theatre and the International Stage is comprised of edited versions of 25 of the 40 papers presented at a three-day international symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition in Munich. Beginning with the first encounters between Western and Japanese theatre in the 19th century, and moving to 20th-century intercultural theatrical experiments, the essays cover disparate topics, making the book appealing to Japanologists as well as scholars of theatre, literature, history, and gender studies.
As the editors note in their introduction, one would expect a symposium entitled "Japanese Theatre in the World" to attract papers that "incorporate intercultural references" (x), but, in fact, one-fifth of the essays included in this volume focus "on a specific type of Japanese theatre and not on its international context" (x). The editors make a valiant, yet unsuccessful, attempt in their introduction to present all of the papers as equally germane to the intercultural/international focus of the conference. Nevertheless, the disciplinary heart of the narrowly focused papers may still be appealing for an international readership. For example, Guenter Zobel's "Ritual and Acting in Shishimai: The Black Lion of Nagai/Yamagata" and William Lee's "Japanese Folk Performing Arts Today: The Politics of Promotion and Preservation" will be interesting to scholars of folk theatre, as well as those dealing with the daunting task of preserving folk culture in our increasingly globalized world. In the area of gender studies, Helen S. Parker's "The Men of Our Dreams: The Role of the Otokoyaku in the Takarazuka Revue" and Katherine Mezur's "Undressing the Onnagata: Kabuki's Female Role Specialists and the Art of Costuming" examine male and female role specialists respectively, the first more personal and descriptive, the latter more theoretical.
Part 1, "The Infancy of Reception," contains three papers focusing on the early impact of Japanese theatre in theWest. Jean Jacques Tschudin's "The French Discovery of Traditional Japanese Theatre" examines French eyewitness accounts of kabuki in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912), making the observation that "realism was [...] the key word" (52) used to describe kabuki. At the time, what the French meant by realism was "an often ingenuous display of crime, torture, death, [End Page 169] or erotic games, and not an acting style" (53)—precisely that which was gradually cleansed from kabuki as efforts increased to make kabuki more suitable for Western audiences and a more appropriate cultural ambassador abroad. The latter is the subject of Barbara E. Thornbury's "The View from Japan: The Traditional Performing Arts as Cultural Ambassadors Abroad," and in Part 2, "Folk and Traditional Theatre: At Home and Abroad."
Ironically, the search for a realistic acting style was exactly what caused Japanese playwrights/directors to turn away from kabuki actors in early shingeki (modern theatre) during the early 20th century. In "Thinking and Feeling: Characteristics of Intercultural Theatre," Mitsuya Mori takes the position that "shingeki has never discovered an appropriate (realistic) acting style" due to the Japanese tendency to "grasp everything in a pattern, or kata" (361). Though Mori generalizes about "Japanese" vs. "Westerners," intimating that Westerners have trouble grasping "pattern" or "form" (kata), just as Japanese shingeki has had difficulty grasping realistic acting, his suggestion that there are two kinds of kata is intriguing. Mori defines "pattern" as a speech, movement, or staging convention that can be passed from one generation to the next, then reinterpreted by an actor of a subsequent generation and changed accordingly, as has often been the case in kabuki. Contrasted with this is "form," the type of kata found...