Origins of Japanese Theater • Early theater was based on Shinto ritual celebrations known as kagura dating as far back as the third century b.c.e. • Two forms of theater evolved after Buddhism was introduced to Japan between 538 and 552 c.e.: gigaku, a Buddhist dance play with masked figures in procession, and bugaku, based on courtly dances from various Asian cultures.
Origins of Japanese Theater • Sarugaku or “monkey entertainment” is a variety of theater consisting of comic dialogue and short skits performed at Buddhist temples. • During the thirteenth century drama evolved into an elevated form called sarugaku noh, or “skilled monkey entertainment.”
The Emergence of Noh Theater: Kanami and Zeami • Shoguns took over Japan in 1192 when the emperor was deposed from power. With the shoguns sarugaku noh theater received many patrons. • Kanami Kiyotsugu (1333–1384), a sarugaku noh troupe memberperformed before the shogun Ashikaga in 1374; as a result, his son—actor Zeami Motokiyo—became the shogun’s companion and lover. • Wrote Atsumori
The Emergence of Noh Theater: Kanami and Zeami • Kanami created a dramatic form adapted to the tastes of the shogunate and lower warrior tastes by combining popular songs, dance, and music with Zen Buddhist meditative ideals. • Kanami’s works use a single protagonist. • Zeami wrote a seven-volume text titled Kadensho(1400–02) in which he discusses noh acting and theater including yugen—a theory of beauty, grace, and life’s impermanence.
Noh Drama • Noh plays are based on mythology, legend, and the twelfth–century civil war among samurais. • Noh are divided into five categories: plays about gods, warrior plays, plays about women (called “wig plays”), miscellanies including contemporary issues, and demon plays. • Protagonists (shite) are ghosts, demons, or haunted persons.
Noh Drama • Noh dramas are divided into two acts with the protagonist disguised in the first and revealed in the second. The protagonist speaks in literary verse and quotes Chinese and Japanese poetry. • The climax in a noh drama takes the form of ritualized dance.
Noh Drama • Other noh drama characters include a secondary character/actor (waki), protagonist’s companion (tsure),, a priest, and a servant (kyogen) who is a comic actor provides the narrative summary in simple languange. • Kyogen(“wild words”) can also refer to farcical sketches performed between plays. • Nohgaku is a dramatic program including various dramas in a seven- or eight-hour performance.
Actors • Costumes in noh drama are very elaborate silk outfits including kimonos, wigs, and stylized masks that represent character types (male and female, old and young, human and supernatural). • Physical settings are minimal and temporary structures are used, as well as hand-held props that represent emotional states and other objects (e.g., a folding fan could represent a sword, flute, or other object).
The Noh Stage • Noh stages were standardized during the seventeenth century and remain unchanged today. • Main stages are 18 feet square, raised 2.5 feet above ground, made of polished cypress with four 15-foot pillars that support a temple-like roof.
The Noh Stage • Musicians sit in front of a visible backstage that features a wooden wall with a painted pine tree, the audience sits front left of the main stage, and the chorus occupies an area to the audience’s right. • Hashigakiri are railed passageways or bridges through which actors enter and exit the stage.
The Noh Stage • Reverberating jars are placed under the main stage, backstage, and bridge to amplify characters’ walking movements. • Noh is the art of footwork • Characters are assigned standard places (e.g., the protagonist stands before the bridge-stage known as the shite-pillar to announce his name upon entering).
Later Noh Theater • Noh theater was standardized during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1867) when the government moved to Edo (Tokyo). • Noh troupes had hereditary leaders (iemoto) who were responsible for upholding Noh traditions. • Noh acting technique handed down through family • Noh’s principal audience was courtly and upper class, though amateur companies entertained the public.
Kabuki • Kabuki evolved during the seventeenth century for the urban middle classes, particularly focusing on stage technology, elaborate scenes, and costumes, and were influenced by the erotic dances of temple maidens. • Kabuki was restricted to adult males in 1653. • Kabuki practitioners are called onnagata—actors of female roles.
Bunraku • were elaborate dramas developed from an earlier form of theater that used puppets and dolls. • Name derives from a famous pupeteer • Bunraku has roots with chanter • Would play biwa, a large lute • Intone chronicle wars and romantic tales • 1570-1600 – samisen (like a 3 stringed banjo) replaced biwa • By 1600 the custom was to add something to the chronicle, so puppets were added
Bunraku • Joruri= chanted texts • Chanters are highly regarded like opera singers. • Perform all of the voices in the play • Narrate the play
Puppeteers • Chief handler dressed in elaborate costume • Other handlers in black • Training progresses from handling two feet and legs, then the left arm then right arm and head. • Puppets about 2/3 human size today, originally smaller
Chikamatsu(1653-1724) • The first and undoubtedly the best of the writers for bunraku, Chikamatsu, contributed enormously to the transformation of this popular theater into a true art form. • Chikamatsu wrote both historical plays and domestic dramas dealing with life in his own day; his domestic dramas have remained popular to the present time. • His emphasis on ordinary people was new to the Japanese stage and foreshadowed later developments in European theater.
Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653 – 1725) • Born into samurai family • Major dramatist • Started at age 30 • Wrote puppet plays and for kabuki • Kabuki plays were often adapted for bunraku • Highly regarded for his verse, compared to Shakespeare • The Courier for Hell - video
hanamichi “flower passage”, thrust pathways for actors into audience area