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  • Japanese Theatre Transcultural: German and Italian Interweavings ed. by Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Andreas Regelsberger
  • Margaret Coldiron
Japanese Theatre Transcultural: German and Italian Interweavings. Edited by Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Andreas Regelsberger. Munich: Iudicium Verlag, 2011. 230pages; 10 black and white photographs. Paperback €27.00/£22.07/$38.00.

This slim but wide-ranging volume is a collection of papers presented at a symposium held at Trier University in November 2009 in collaboration with Ca’Foscari University of Venice (with three additional commissioned essays from Marumoto Takashi of Waseda University, James Brandon of the University of Hawai‘i, and Peter Eckersall of the University of Melbourne). The content ranges from historical interactions between European and Japanese artists to analysis of contemporary trends in trans- and intercultural exchange. The volume provides an excellent illustration of a complex intercultural traffic between Europe and Japan in the performing arts that travels in both directions, and some of the best of the material, as in the essays by Brandon and Diego Pellecchia, provides surprising new perspectives. It is especially useful [End Page 549] for Anglophone readers who may have limited access to current German or Italian scholarship in this area.

A tremendous variety of material is covered, arranged into three carefully defined chapters or sections and preceded by an excellent and detailed introduction by editors Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Andreas Regelsberger that sets the scene and provides an overview. The first chapter, “Reconsidering Cultural Difference,” begins with Erica Fischer-Lichte’s paper on the first tours to Europe by Japanese performers at the beginning of the twentieth century, with particular attention to the powerful effect of Sada Yakko’s performances on European critics, theatre artists, and the public. Fischer-Lichte suggests here that performance is a social process creating an evanescent “community” of performers and audience with differing expectations and responses to the encounter. Within this process she sees evidence of the “interweaving” of cultures, which can have the capacity to foster greater understanding not only inside the theatre but also beyond, as societies cope with the effects of globalization.

In the densely argued paper that follows, Diego Pellecchia looks at contemporary cultural interaction, investigating the aesthetic and ethical issues encountered by foreign students of the intensely demanding traditional art of performance. Pellecchia draws on his own experience as a student at the International Noh Institute of Milan and his further studies with Udaka Michishige (representative of National Intangible Culture, 1991) in Japan, and Pellecchia suggests that the transmission of the ethics of the performance culture are at least as important as the aesthetic elements of the art form. Referring to the “situated learning” models of Lave and Wenger (1991) and the ethical philosophy of Emmanual Levinas (see Critchley and Bernasconi 2002), Pellecchia argues that the gaps between “self” and “other” (or “own” and “foreign” culture) encountered through the training should be “nurtured” as part of a dynamic relationship to the living tradition of performance so that the interchange can transcend exoticism and become, instead, a dialogue. Marumoto Takashi’s analysis of “Comedy and Laughter on the Japanese and German Stage,” which follows, is by contrast a rather weak contribution examining the perceived humorlessness of these two theatrical cultures and doesn’t fully address the satire of kyōgen, the broad humor of many scenes in kabuki, or phenomena like the German clown Kaspar (whom Lessing had to symbolically hang to expel from the stage) or cabaret performers who skewered the Reich.

The second chapter, “Intertwined Threads of Reception,” covers a broad array of topics from a 1928 kabuki play on the life of Mussolini to Japanese influences on contemporary opera to Ninagawa Yukio’s productions of Greek tragedy. The first paper in this chapter is James Brandon’s condensed translation and detailed discussion of Osanai Kaoru’s kabuki drama Mussolini, which was staged in Tokyo just as Mussolini himself was coming to power in Italy. Both play and analysis are astonishing and illuminating as Brandon helpfully contextualizes the development of the play, which was written by a playwright known to have liberal views but nonetheless presents the fascist [End Page 550] Mussolini as a revolutionary and heroic figure. Although...


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