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Posts Tagged ‘ハワイ歌舞伎’

In my final post about the kabuki symposium, I thought I would provide a summary of the history of kabuki at Hawaii, as described by the extremely prominent kabuki scholar and UH professor emeritus, James Brandon.

Above: A scene from the 1924 UH production of “The Faithful.”

As his presentation for the symposium, Dr. Brandon gave a summary of the 87-year history of English-language kabuki here in Hawaii, starting with a 1924 performance of “The Faithful,” by John Masefield, a play written originally in English, loaded with Orientalism, intended to introduce Western audiences to Eastern culture, and loosely based on the story of the 47 Ronin but not really based on the kabuki Chûshingura.

In this first decade of kabuki productions, theatre at UH was very much dominated by Caucasians. Though the student body was something like 60-75% Chinese or Japanese, roughly 90% of the casts of shows performed by the “Dramatic Club” were Caucasian. A new UH Theatre Guild was formed in 1931, dedicated explicitly to providing theatre opportunities for those who had been denied them before on account of their ethnicity/race. The group was to organize one Chinese, one Japanese, one Hawaiian, and one Western play each year, this final category being referred to as “haole plays,” in what I perceive today as a snarky jab. In an interesting twist, however, the casts were divided by race, so Japanese plays had all-Japanese casts, Chinese plays had all-Chinese casts, and haole plays continued to have all-white casts. In addition to serving many other purposes, such as introducing Asian high culture to the Hawaiian public etc., it was believed that studying performance would be a great way for non-whites to learn to speak standard English, so they could get better jobs, and be better off in life.

It’s troubling and painful to be reminded that this sort of racial discrimination went on, and it being brought up created, I felt, an interesting tension in the room as those who share ethnic background with the victims of this discrimination had of course a different reaction to it from those of us who happen to share the skin color of the perpetrators of this kind of discrimination. I must admit, there is something to be said for actually having people who look Japanese play Japanese roles, and for the aesthetics of it actually looking right. But, of course, excluding anyone of any background from participating in anything is today considered quite racist and inappropriate.

In any case, racially mixed casts just didn’t happen at this time, and wouldn’t for decades. While it may seem on the surface to be reflective of Chinese and Japanese (and native Hawaiians) getting revenge or something, in fact, this was still very much reflective of the race relations environment we all lived in back then, in which Chinese, Japanese, and others had to forcibly create these kinds of experiences for themselves, and in which even in those contexts, the thought of mixing races (e.g. allowing haoles, or having haoles choose to, participate in spaces carved out for Chinese/Japanese activity) was apparently just out of the question.

For about five years from the bombing of Pearl Harbor until the end of WWII, Japanese cultural expressions were severely suppressed in Hawaii, so there was no kabuki, though of course that was hardly the worst consequence of this suppression. I have heard stories of people today who lament that their parents or grandparents destroyed their family’s heirloom kimono and other such family treasures at this time, in order to try to appear more loyally American. And, of course, as we all know, that too was hardly the worst of it.

Kabuki returned after the war, revived by Earle Ernst, chief theatre censor for the Occupation forces (who would later go on to be a super major kabuki scholar), who came to Hawaii in 1947 or so and organized a production of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami in 1951. Our current movement teacher, Onoe Kikunobu, was involved in this production, and in most, if not all, since. Unlike was done before, Ernst made a point of declaring this to be real kabuki, and not just some American imitation or version or adaptation, an important discursive move, which has helped solidify the idea down to today that Hawaii Kabuki is a regional form, a local “troupe” so to speak, performing “real” kabuki just as genuine as any rural, regional, local (jishibai) troupe in Japan.

Above: David Furumoto and Gertrude Tsutsumi (Onoe Kikunobu) in rehearsals for “The Road to Kyoto”, 1976-77

Beginning around 1963 with a production of Benten Kozo which opened the new Kennedy Theatre, and peaking in the 1970s under the leadership of James Brandon, UH Kabuki experienced its Golden Age. It had great funding, was able to borrow costumes, wigs, and other things from Shochiku, and was able to bring professional kabuki actors such as Nakamura Matagoro II (see also) to Hawaii to train up the students. One of the professors who spoke later, David Furumoto, was a UH student at the time, took part in 7 productions, and was extremely emotional about how powerful that experience was for him. My friends, current grad students in the Theatre Dept, were amazed at the resources evidently available at that time, evident in the quality of the sets, etc, since such resources are certainly not available today. At one point, they apparently even somehow reconstructed an early Edo period style stage, and perhaps the whole theater, with box seats.

Race-blind casting was not introduced until 1970, far later than I would have expected, and even at that time it was described as only an experiment. Brandon’s 1970 production of Sukeroku was described as “blue-eyed kabuki,” though whether that was a criticism, or an amused, intrigued comment, I was not quite clear; I imagine there were those who held each view. This production also took the bold move of (re-)introducing a love scene between Sukeroku and Agemaki which is not normally performed in Japan, ever, anymore. A 1978 production toured the country.

Above: A clip from a 1995 UH performance of “Sukeroku”.

Hawaii Kabuki continues today under my teacher, Dr Julie Iezzi, who organized a performance of Nozakimura in 2004, and is leading us all in preparing for Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba (The Vengeful Sword) which will debut April 2011. After today’s symposium, and all the videos shown of students participating and everything, I really want to continue to be involved somehow. I had set my mind on not auditioning for the play, since I know I’m not really up to it in terms of my skills and such, either in voice or in movement, nor am I particularly motivated to go through hours and hours and hours of rehearsals. But, now I am once again thinking that this is an opportunity not to be missed, to actually participate in a performance. How will I feel come April if I am to go to just one performance, sit in the audience, and just be a regular audience member, totally divorced from being “one of them”, part of the cast? How will I feel years down the road, when I know I could have had the opportunity to be in a kabuki, and let it pass me by?

Auditions are on Monday. Wish me luck!

PS I have added videos to my post Kabuki Symposium Part 2. If you are interested in seeing the demonstrations of some of what we have been working on, please take a look.

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As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I have broken up my coverage or review or whatever you want to call it of Saturday’s Kabuki symposium here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It is still pretty long, even in parts. I hope you will bear with me, especially as this second part has far fewer images.

The first panel consisting of Japanese scholars discussing kabuki in Japan, after lunch we switched to the more hands-on, practical, live demo portion of the program. This was then followed by talks from several American scholars on kabuki in the US.

Tanaka Toshimi started the afternoon session with a talk about creating or obtaining costumes for Portland State University productions, and about all the contrivances they came up with for tailoring kimono to fit their very tall actors, and just for creating costumes and wigs and everything to begin with. She brought with her a number of wigs and costumes, and ended up using one of my classmates as a model to show how corners were cut for financial reasons, without sacrificing the final appearance. To take just one example, rather than making or obtaining full multiple-layer kimono for all the actresses, they contrived collars (eri) and sleeves that could be attached or worn under the kimono to give the appearance of wearing multiple layers of full garments that were simply peeking out from underneath. For those more involved or interested in the practical side of actually making or obtaining costumes, this was surely of particular interest.

The event continued with my classmates and I performing demos of our voice practice and movement routines. I didn’t do much, just the big group warm-up; my friends did a fantastic job at the tachimawari swordfighting, danmari, and other scenes.


Much thanks to Matjaž Matošec for sharing these videos, and giving me permission to share them online here.

This sitting there, watching, knowing my part was done, that I wasn’t really involved, played a large role in pushing me to rethink not auditioning for the UH mainstage kabuki production of “The Vengeful Sword (Ise ondo koi no netaba)” which will be opening in April 2011. Though, auditions are this coming week already, and I have never auditioned for anything in my life. I wish there were some other way to audition for the smaller parts, to not have to go in with a full monologue and everything… especially a monologue from outside of kabuki, since I have at least been practicing a kabuki monologue as part of class, and have never memorized or performed something from any other genre ever. As much as the idea of spending so many hours rehearsing, and devoting so many evenings in April to actually performing, turns me off, at the same time, this may be my only opportunity to try to hone those skills that we’ve started acquiring in class, to feel not excluded as my friends continue on to rehearse and perform in this production, and my only opportunity to participate in and be part of a kabuki production. Years down the road, when I am teaching about kabuki, and demonstrating what little skills I have to my class, or even just as I continue to frequent the professional performances in Tokyo and elsewhere, I will want to have taken that opportunity, and to have not missed out on it.

… The program continued as James Brandon, quite probably the most eminent American scholar of kabuki alive today, gave a summary of the 87-year history of English-language kabuki here in Hawaii, which I will skip over for now, as my initial attempt to summarize his most interesting talk (most interesting particularly because of my newly acquired close personal connection to the tradition of Hawaii Kabuki) is quite long. I have made a separate blog post of it, which can be found here.

Above: A scene from the University of Wisconsin at Madison performance of Narukami, Feb/Mar 2010.

Professors Lawrence Kominz of Portland State, who is also a huge name in kabuki scholarship, and David Furumoto of UW Madison, spoke of the difficulties of putting on kabuki in Oregon and Wisconsin respectively. While I have never really thought of us at UH being particularly blessed with resources (kabuki only happens once every 5-7 years; we couldn’t afford this year to bring a professional kabuki actor to train us; my friends are always talking about how the dept doesn’t have enough funding; we kind of had to struggle to find shamisen players; and things just don’t feel that amazingly wonderfully blessed in general), it quickly came out that in comparison to places on the mainland, we absolutely do have it pretty good. Though Kominz is a huge name in kabuki scholarship, he has apparently been having much difficulty gaining access, permission, the ability to organize a production on the university theatre’s mainstage. Furumoto has had similar difficulties; in addition, he arrived at UWM knowing of the school’s reputation of having had an excellent kabuki program back in the ’70s or so, only to discover that all the kabuki materials had basically been thrown in a closet, ignored and neglected for years, and so he has had to start building the program up almost from scratch. … Both professors have been teaching courses on kabuki, its history, voice, and movement, and organizing workshop-style intensive programs in which students put on a small production after three or four weeks of training. But in the end, it would seem that no mainland institution (or at least not these two) have put on full, mainstage kabuki performance with any regularity any time recently, with both Kominz and Furumoto only putting on one or two big full mainstage kabuki performance in the time since they took their positions at their respective institutions. (Kominz organized a performance of Mishima’s “The Sardine Seller’s Net of Love” or Iwashi Uri Koi no Hikiami, this past spring, while Furumoto organized small (non-mainstage, as I understand) performances of scenes from Narukami and Migawari Zazen

The symposium ended with much talk about forming stronger connections between those in the US putting on kabuki performances (i.e. between UH, Kominz, Furumoto, and others) and between those in the US and those in Japan. Given the difficulties of funding and logistics, and the difficulties of getting administrations, theatre depts, and others at mainland universities to respect and encourage and support kabuki efforts, I am not sure this can happen any time soon, but we can hope. While Kominz and Furumoto both said there is no trouble drumming up an audience for the shows, it was clear that support from their universities, and interest among the students was sometimes lacking (such as when another concurrent production in the theatre dept draws students who otherwise would perform in the kabuki), something which does not so far as I know happen in Hawaii, where so many students come here explicitly for the opportunity to perform in kabuki.

After today’s symposium, and all the videos shown of students participating and everything, I really want to continue to be involved somehow. I had set my mind on not auditioning for the play, since I know I’m not really up to it in terms of my skills and such, either in voice or in movement, nor am I particularly motivated to go through hours and hours and hours of rehearsals. But, now I am once again thinking that this is an opportunity not to be missed, to actually participate in a performance. How will I feel come April if I am to go to just one performance, sit in the audience, and just be a regular audience member, totally divorced from being “one of them”, part of the cast? How will I feel years down the road, when I know I could have had the opportunity to be in a kabuki, and let it pass me by?

This post has gotten really really long, and there is so much more to say. But I will end here, by simply saying just how wonderful it was to attend these talks this weekend, to have such a kabuki-filled day. I truly love the kabuki, and today reminded me why, and just how much. It put a smile on my face, and calmed my heart in the way seeing actual kabuki on stage does, and makes me question once again whether I should or could become a kabuki scholar…

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Left: A scene from UH Manoa’s 2004 performance of Nozaki-mura.

Since the beginning of the term, if not earlier, I had been hearing about and eagerly looking forward to a kabuki symposium that would be held on campus. The day finally came yesterday. The voice and movement classes I am taking this term have of course been building up (in part) to this, be we also prepared and practiced more intensively for the last week or two. [I was not actually selected to take part in any of the more major individual or small group demos, but took part only in the large group voice warm-up demo so really I had very little to stress about, or practice or prepare, but of course I was nervous anyway, as one is when one performs.] In terms of our participation, the live voice/movement performance demo element of the day’s program, there’s sort of a sense of it being over, as if this was it, this was the performance we’d been working up to. It’s hard to remind myself that that’s not it, that for the next few weeks, from now until finals, we need to get right back into it, practicing and working at it, and being on my game if I want to continue to be in the sensei’s good graces, and if I want a good grade on my final.

But, my own performance side of it aside, it was just really wonderful to spend a day talking about kabuki. I do enjoy the subject so much, and the feeling in the room was quite lively, with professors presenting videos, live demos, and the like. At times it felt more like a workshop atmosphere than a real serious academic symposium, and it was never particularly dry or too serious. In fact, the feeling I got from the symposium was that I get from a day at the theatre – I entered a different space for a day, engaging with a topic I love, entering a world I rarely do (that of kabuki, that of kabuki scholarship), and putting “real life” aside for the day.

And the topics, that is to say, the papers delivered, were just fascinating and fantastic. Abstracts for some of the papers can be found here.

Professor Ryo Akama of Ritsumeikan opened with a summary overview of the history of kabuki, with particular focus on the barriers or borders between Kamigata and Edo styles, “Borders” and “Negotiating Borders” being the over-arching themes of the whole day’s program.

Above: A jishibai (rural/local) kabuki stage and performance, on Shôdoshima in the Seto Inland Sea, May 2009.

Professor Noriko Yasuda, of Gifu Shotoku Gakuen University, presented on local/regional/rural kabuki – that is, jishibai and mura shibai (地芝居・村芝居). I didn’t realize how active it was in the Edo period, and I especially didn’t realize how active it still is today, with many theatres still actively in use – roughly 200 across the country – and presumably many more maintained for other purposes or purely as historical artifacts/sites. A Google search for 『地芝居』 and other related terms yields tons of blog posts including photos of theatres and performances. Here is one of them.

Sadly, it seems that most of these theatres are used only once a year or so, for specific festival occasions, but on the other hand Prof. Yasuda’s photos of these local performances made them look quite tempting, exciting and inviting. I would absolutely love to see one of these performances, but I would even love to come across one of these theatres even if it were closed.

Left: Not strictly a niwaka image, but a print by Utamaro, depicting Tomimoto Toyohina, a courtesan who also studied under professional kabuki musician Tomimoto Buzendayû II, and who was granted the Tomimoto name, officially making her a member of the Tomimoto school, the crest of which she bears on her shoulder.
Image copyright Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I make no claims of ownership or rights to this image.

Dr. Ryoko Matsuba of Ritsumeikan, who also presented at the Utushi Symposium I couldn’t attend last month, gave a lively and interesting talk about niwaka (仁和嘉) as depicted in ukiyo-e prints. This is a topic I had never heard of before – Yoshiwara courtesans performing a form of kabuki, or an imitation of kabuki. I guess I knew that courtesans might put on small skits for their customers, but I never knew what it was called, or anything much else about it. I am still a fair bit unclear on how these skits worked – were they really small, just performed in private in one room of the teahouse, for one or two customers, or a little larger, performed for an entire dinner party? Matsuba-sensei focused upon more public niwaka performed during summer festivals (the eighth month on the lunar calendar), in conjunction with processions down the Nakanochô (Yoshiwara Main Street) and other events.

Some prints depicting these courtesans in kabuki costume actually list courtesans’ names, and sometimes roles as well. Some kabuki musicians were brought in to help choreograph or otherwise to help train the courtesans and otherwise prepare for the performance. Matsuba-sensei focused on the Tomimoto school, pointing out depictions of Tomimoto Buzen-dayû II and others in prints, including degatarizu (出語り図) such as the one to the right, in which the contrivances of the stage – such as the musicians – are shown, and the scene is not made to seem like a real event. Sometimes the Tomitomo crest, a spring of sakurasô (桜草), would appear on the courtesans’ sleeves. There was also crossover between communities, such as in the case of Tomimoto Toyohina (pictured above), a courtesan who studied under Buzen-dayû II, and bore an actual Tomimoto name, and in the case of Tomimoto Yasuna-dayû (富本安和太夫), who was a proper professional kabuki musician, who performed at the licensed kabuki theatres, but who was also identified elsewhere as a male geisha (男芸者).

I had missed her talk at the Utsushi symposium last month, when she talked about actors and print artists copying one another in a circular sort of way – actors looking to prints to see how certain poses were done in the past, or how costumes were done, I suppose. Just from her topic title alone, even not hearing her speak last month, I knew this was someone I wanted to hear speak, someone whose scholarship I wanted to follow, and probably someone who would be a good professional contact. Today, I was delighted to hear her speak, animatedly, in very clear English, on a fascinating topic, and just as I was thinking about how I might introduce myself or get into a conversation with her, there I was, being introduced to her by a mutual friend. I guess I am sort of starting to make my contacts, to develop コネ, though it is all due to the kindness and introductions of others, for which I am quite grateful. I spoke to her briefly, of course made a fool of myself as I, nervously, stumbled over polite Japanese set-phrases rather than sort of opening up and having a real conversation, especially given her English-language ability… But, she seemed quite warm and happy that I was willing and able to help; I got her meishi, and… that’s a start.

Above: Students in Prof. Yasuda Bunkichi’s kabuki seminar, dressed as the gonin shiranami otoko, or band of thieves, in their production of the kabuki play Benten Kozô.

Prof. Yasuda Bunkichi of Nanzan then talked about his university seminar in kabuki, in which students practice for three months in preparation for a performance which regularly attracts 200+ audience members. He showed us video clips of the final product, and while some of his students were clearly too short, too thin, or just too girly to really pass for the Shiranami Gonin Otoko (a gang of five tough thieves), the costumes and makeup, movements, and lines were spot on enough to make one really recognize it as a production of Benten Kozo, and to smile and clap and appreciate it not as a poor amateur production, but as genuine art and entertainment. Hell, they even had people shouting kakegoe, though I can’t imagine how they decided which yagô to call out. He showed us a clip as well of girls from Nanzan High School who created their own kabuki version of Snow White. It was pretty incredible.

His students also had the opportunity to visit a local rural kabuki theatre, and to try their hands at the stage mechanics – the revolving stage (mawari butai) and trap doors (seri) – which are operated in the traditional manner at this theatre, with ropes and wooden, human-powered machinery that requires a full team of people to run, pushing and pulling. I was totally envious. What a rare opportunity to get to not only see below the stage, but to actually handle it and experience it!

It was a long day, filled with interesting talks. My blog posts sometimes tend to be quite long as is, and this one goes way beyond that. So, I have split it in three (or more? perhaps. we shall see.). Please look forward to Part 2, which I will post shortly.

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