- Creating Kabuki Plays: Context of Kezairoku, “Valuable Notes on Playwriting.” by Katherine Saltzman-Li
This book illuminates the practice of playmaking/playwriting in kabuki via explication of a text, Sakusha Shikihō: Kezairoku (Valuable Notes on Playwriting; Methodology for Playwrights, 1801) by Nyūgatei Ganyū (probably Namiki Shōzō II (?–1807), that is translated in the appendix. Saltzman-Li sets the work in the web of theatre practice, history, and aesthetics of nō, kabuki, jōruri, folk performance, visual arts, popular literature, and cultural practice. What seems to the uninitiated a sometimes interesting but often opaque text on kabuki playwriting—sometimes giving extended lists of little-known authors names, [End Page 242] various older literary texts, or obscure charts that seem hard to penetrate despite the detailed annotations—becomes through her extensive introductory chapters an analysis of kabuki practice in Tokugawa popular culture. The text is like a diamond in the rough that that, via exegesis, is slowly cut/polished to show the multifaceted refractions. By the end her discussion she returns kabuki back to roots in orality and contemplates it as a genre never really divided from performance. In summing up the work Saltzman-Li restates what she has done: “By placing Keizairoki—the only treatise solely devoted to play-writing—at the center of my discussion, I have worked to give an accurate, historically considered understanding of the work of play creation and the place of playwriting … [as] complimentary and evolving practices throughout the Tokugawa Period” (p. 164). She gives us insight into the many members of the troupe and their collaborative work in playmaking and the other allied artistic practices of the time. She shows how a modern concept of authorship by a relatively autonomous or solitary wordsmith is inappropriate for this genre and contrasts kabuki with nō and jōruri, which she argues have more in common with through-composed literary works.
Near her opening the author sets out “rewarding good and punishing evil” (p. 2) as a stated purpose of the art in the Tokugawa period and sets the idea of falsehood/“fabrication” (uso) versus reality/“faithfulness” (jitsu) as counterpoints (pp. 2–3), asserting this as the stated aim of kabuki, to convey a moral message. Continuing, Salzman-Li discusses the place of gekisho (theatre treatise) as works that were aimed either at fans (explaining the theatre, plots, backstage acitivities) or professional practitioners (geidan that were written by the artist for disciples). The author situates Kezairoku in the latter category and notes that some of these works had elements of secrecy. For Keizairoki, secrecy comes not so much with the religiophilosopical view, but the competitive nature of kabuki as a business. To maintain a commercial edge trade secrets were guarded, so aside from certain issues (e.g., how to construct an “overnight pickle” play that could scoop other houses by putting the most recent scandal/news on stage quickly, or tricks of constructing your public display) the text glosses over the secrets.
Chapters 1 and 2 are an overview of play development practices from the Genroku era through the Meiji period, showing the art started with improvised dialogue, moved to writer-actors, and then developed writers as specialists in both the Kyoto-Osaka area and Edo. Salzman-Li notes the balanced relationship between writing and playmaking through the Genroku era (1688–1704) when kata (stylized acting/movement patterns), dance formulas, acting lineages, and other features were set. The author notes that as pieces moved from improvised one-acts to two-acts or more the need for writers increased: Tominaga Heibei (fl. 1673–1697) was the first writer to have his name on the program (1680). The early practice had actors devising and generating text—often the top performer (such as Ichikawa Danjuro I [1660–1704], who wrote fifty plays (p. 28) or a side actor (for example Kaneko Kichizaemon [d. 1728], who often collaborated with Chikamatsu). Chikamatsu, by contrast, was the first playwright who was not an actor/practitioner. [End Page 243] However, Salzman-Li clarifies that even in such...