Thursday, April 23, 2009

Japanese Traditional Theatre

Nothing quite prepares you for kabuki, one of the three styles of Japanese traditional theatre. I imagine in the same way that nothing would quite prepare a foreigner for pantomime. We did have the benefit of an English commentary (not translation) via an ear-piece but it was still one of the most inaccessible things I have ever experienced. And strangely, hauntingly, beautiful.

These images are of the theatre in Ginza. We had tickets for an afternoon performance. Performances last for up to five hours but the audience tend to come and go, pop off for something to eat or bring their own feast. This is not considered rude. In Japan I was, at five foot ten, somewhat of a giant and so the 90 minutes we did, with my knees almost touching my jaw, were plenty long enough.

In kabuki there are a number of standard works, a bit like the classical theatre canon in the UK. The play we saw was about a samurai being stirred from retirement to go and take revenge for a friend's death.

Costumes are elaborate and expensive. Movements are deliberate and slow. Black clad stage assistants run on from time to time to move props or help with the action. When one of the actors had to drop a child an assistant was standing behind to take the infant and lower it slowly to the floor. All parts are played by men. The language is an ancient text, difficult to follow even for those familiar with the tongue. Our Japanese-speaking hosts could only pick out a few words. The play also has a narrator who sings atonally against the contra-clash of a stringed, lute-like instrument. I am running out of language here. The audience appreciate the way certain movements are carried out and some lines delivered. At the entrances of the more famous stars they yell out that person's stage name as an appreciation.

I'm glad I can say I have experienced it.

1 comment:

themethatisme said...

It is a stunning spectacle, even if following the plot is difficult. I have fond memories of visiting that very theatre nine years ago now.