Monday, October 30, 2017

An Introduction to Kabuki: Lecture and Costume Demonstration

On July 1st, the Portland Japanese Garden hosted a kabuki lecture and demonstration presented by Professor Laurence Kominz and Toshimi Tanaka.  This event was a prelude to the August exhibition, Kabuki: A Revolution in Color and Design.

Dr. Kominz is a Professor of Japanese at Portland State University, teaching Japanese Literature with a specialization in kabuki, noh and kyogen.  He was a student of famed Japanese literature expert Donald Keene at Columbia University and studied kabuki, noh, kyogen, and bunraku chant as well as writing about kabuki and its stars.

Shochiku is the production company for kabuki which is the only UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage theater representative that is intended to be profitable.  

Izumo no Okuni introduced kabuki around 1603, performing in the riverbed alongside the Kamo River.  As kabuki grew in popularity, licensed prostitutes started holding performances as a form of advertising.  Men in the audience, including samurai who were trained to kill, began fighting over their favorite prostitutes and these disturbances with their potential for violence and loss of life were the reasons given for the ban on female kabuki actors in 1629.  To this day, there are no female actors on the kabuki stage.

While attending a kabuki performance you will almost certainly hear shouts of encouragement (kakegoe), often the actor's house name, from within the audience toward the actors when they perform a particularly striking movement or pivotal scene.  These are professional kakegoe callers, or o-muko-san who receive free tickets to performances for their services.  The tradition of kakegoe had faded over time before famous kabuki actor Kanzaburo reintroduced it to encourage audience engagement.  

The costumes in the upcoming exhibition would include Sukeroku and Shibaraku.  

In "Sukeroku", the title character is always with a beautiful woman and wears a blue hachimaki (head scarf) indicating love sickness and yellow tabi (socks) indicating a great sense of humor.  His geta (tall shoes) and umbrella suggest rain.  His love interest is the courtesan Agemaki who wears an uchikake (outer robe) with a New Year motif and a manaita (chopping board) obi featuring carp jumping in a waterfall.  Ikyu, the villain, wears fancy robes indicating wealth.  

"Shibaraku: was first performed by Ichikawa Danjuro and the role of Gongoro is always performed by a member of his family in November, the kabuki New Year when new casts are announced.  This play is included as an interlude in longer plays.  At a climactic moment, Gongoro will shout, "Shibaraku!" ("Wait a moment!") before rushing on stage to pose with his arms out of their sleeves.  Red stripes on the face indicate a single-minded man, a superhero who is powerful, strong, and virtuous.  Supernatural paper decorates his hair which is a kuruma-bin (wheel wig), the wildest wig in kabuki.  His enormous sleeves feature three squares on a persimmon background, the crest and color of Danjuro's acting family, Naritaya.  He carries an sword so long that it's impossible to draw and wears trailing trousers.

In 2016, Dr. Kominz directed the kabuki play "The Revenge of the 47 Loyal Samurai" at Portland State University and in May he directed two kabuki plays, "The Castle Tower and The Puppeteer".  The actress in the role of Oshichi in "The Puppeteer" performed using a technique called ningyo buri, a puppet-style dance that is often seen in kabuki plays adapted from bunraku (traditional puppet theater).

Toshimi Tanaka, wife of Dr. Kominz, is a Japanese language teacher and kimono expert with over 30 years of experience. 

Yoko Shirai who assisted with the dressing is a weaver who designed some of the dolls that appeared in The Puppeteer.

[Toshimi Tanaka with a doll designed by Yoko Shirai]

Throughout the lecture PSU student and actor Alexi Logan applied kabuki makeup which included oshiroi (white makeup), white powder, rouge, black liner, red liner and lip coloring.  

The oshiroi (white makeup) worn by onnagata has its roots in Shinto where white indicates purity, as well as a being social indicator that this person has no need to work outside.  After WWII, the makeup standard moved away from white.

When Alexi's makeup was complete, Toshimi dressed her for the role of Princess Tomi in "The Castle Tower", complete with the raincoat she had borrowed from a scarecrow.  While dressing Alexi, she shared some of the clever tricks and workarounds she employed to make costuming eighty actors possible with a limited budget and limited time backstage.

Protocol backstage is for the actors to do their own makeup with help from other actors to paint their neck, but dressing is done by professionals.  Most onnagata (female role specialist) obi are pre-tied with the rare exception of actors like Tamasaburo Bando.  

On display during the lecture was the costume for the role of Oshichi, the daughter of a grocery store owner who fell in love with the temple page, Kichisa in the play "The Puppeteer".

Kabuki performances can be seen at Kabuki-za Theatre and Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre in Tokyo, Minami-za in Kyoto, and Shochiku-za Theatre in Osaka.  

No comments:

Post a Comment