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  • Histoire du Théâtre Classique Japonais by Jean-Jacques Tschudin
  • Leonard C. Pronko
Histoire du Théâtre Classique Japonais. By Jean-Jacques Tschudin. Toulouse: Anacharsis Editions, 2011. 506 pp. $35.00.

Jean-Jacques Tschudin is the author of books on Japanese popular culture, theatre, and literature. An emeritus professor at the University of Paris-Diderot, he has also translated a number of modern Japanese novels. Histoire du Théâtre Classique Japonais is a significant addition to the books that cover the history from its beginnings to the present. Tschudin writes at a high level of sophisticated scholarship, addressing a reader who has some understanding of Japanese culture and will not be discouraged by the use of technical terms that are not defined each time they recur. The book is nonetheless a pleasure to read, for it is written in an energetic, rich French that sometimes approaches the complexity of Proust but always displays the clarity of Flaubert. Analytical and casting an objective critical eye on all genres, Tschudin presents an overview, but deals constantly in specifics, including interesting and precise details.

Anyone reading this volume will be reminded of Benito Ortolani's important The Japanese Theatre (Princeton University Press, 1995). Indeed, the organization of both volumes is somewhat similar, but there are striking differences. Perhaps suggestive of these is the approach to the introduction in each volume. Ortolani, in his four-page introduction, underlines the importance of Japan's religions, Shinto and Buddhism, in the development of theatre, while Tschudin stresses throughout his study the gradual secularization of most forms of Japanese theatre (excepting, of course, ) as they moved from ritual beginnings to an increasing use of more secular content and musical styles. The puppet theatre offers a clear example of such an evolution.

Tschudin, in his introduction, "General Presentation" (twenty pages), stresses the fluidity of tradition and suggests that the "classical" performance we may see today is necessarily different from the performance audiences saw many years ago, for the circumstances of the performance have changed: the kind of theatre space available, the attitudes of the audience, and the theatre's [End Page 254] relation to everyday life (length of performance, for example). Today we would scarcely recognize as the same genre a text performed as it might have been for country audiences in the mid-fourteenth century, or the kabuki of Okuni in the early seventeenth century, or the puppet performances of jōruri Hime in the late sixteenth century. These great genres, once they had reached aesthetic fulfillment, "resisted remarkably the test of time and changes in lifestyle, largely because they were transmitted through apprenticeship from master to disciple . . . in a closed world that was jealous of its traditions" (p. 19).

In the last part of his introduction Tschudin emphasizes the theatricality of major genres like kabuki and in which the actor presents rather than represents reality. In this task he is aided by every element of the performance: costumes, wigs, settings, makeup, and music all contribute to setting him apart from the audience, bigger than life, a theatrical creation, not a representation of familiar reality.

Finally, the author describes a number of characteristics that help to create the "intrinsic theatricality" of these theatres. Each is discussed in some detail, but here I simply append a list:

  1. 1. The visibility of all participants (from stage assistants to musicians, etc.).

  2. 2. Nonseparation of the arts (total theatre, all arts integrated).

  3. 3. Relation of actor and audience (noncompartmentalization, acting areas in audience space).

  4. 4. Performance inserted in everyday life (length of performance, relation to seasons, to rites; alternation of tension and relaxation).

  5. 5. Actor-dancer king, or the preeminence of performance over text.

I hope these examples have given an indication of the critical acuity, imagination, and range of this book. It is a treasure of information, but goes far beyond pure description, offering many fruitful ways of looking at Japanese theatre and stimulating the reader to look at the subject in fresh ways. The book is divided into seven parts, and each part into several chapters preceeded by a dense introduction, usually offering a concise outline of the historical and social background. The chapters...


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