KABUKI, LA VOIE DU GESTE

Don Kent, Christian Dumais-Lvowski

- 2001
Directed for TV by Don KENT
Length : 01:00:00 | Support :

Tags:

docummentaire

Casting

Position Name Role
Auteur / Author Christian DUMAIS-LVOWSKI
Direction artistique Patrick DEVOS
Intervenant/Guest Bando TAMASABURO
Réalisateur / Directed for TV Don KENT

Co Producers and Broadcasters (TV, cinema, Video)

ONLINE PRODUCTIONS, NHK

 

A Brief History of Kabuki Theater

“No Theater, I love to ponder, Kabuki Theater, I love to watch”
Yamaguchi Masao
We know almost nothing about the Priestess Okuni, who in 1603, the beginning of the Edo era, originated the new dramatic art form that would come to be known as Kabuki. According to legend, Okuni danced for the prayer ceremonies in one of the largest sanctuaries in Japan, Izumo, and with the formation of her own dance group, sowed the seeds of Kabuki. We have often elaborated on the meaning of this word, ka-bu-ki, attributing to it the erroneous meaning “song-dance-theater.” Actually, at its origin, Kabuki meant in style, or “hip.” This new form of theater was born following a period of 200 years of war, amongst a people thirsty for culture, entertainment, and anything new and enriching. The diverse influences of a cosmopolitan port in the Osaka region, which joined Japan and the Western world (The Netherlands, Portugal), were to nourish the emergence of Kabuki. And, as is often the case with those who invent new concepts, Kabuki instigators and participants were marginal in their society. The Kabuki world implied a certain allure or attitude, similar to rock and roll or flamenco.
In the beginning, Kabuki was reserved exclusively for women, and it is believed that Okuni’s group was made up of around fifteen women who played the roles of both sexes, and whose magnificent costumes influenced the daily fashion wear of the women of their day. The performances took place on the banks of the Kamo River in Kyoto, not in formal theaters, but on platforms reminiscent of those used on fairgrounds. The dancers also performed at parties and, as attest the logs left behind by ship captains who spent their days and nights in attendance, they enjoyed a huge success. These first Kabuki performances indeed resembled music hall revues.
Soon there were other Kabuki dance groups, and prostitution became an integral element in the dancers’ lives. In 1626, declaring the dancers a threat to public order and family values, the government forbid these women to perform. Kabuki adapted to this new law, and began to be performed by young men in what is called “pretty boy Kabuki.” The prostitution started up once again, and in 1653 another new law forbid adolescents to perform Kabuki. It was this second restriction that led to the birth of “Adult male Kabuki.” The government also imposed an obligation to incorporate theatrical conventions into the dancing. Thus, deprived of the courtesans and transvestites that assured its initial success, Kabuki gradually developed a stylized form that allowed it to evolve into a true dramatic art form. In many ways, this is the form that has endured to this day.
Originally, Kabuki served as a form of protest against the government. As the feudal system did not authorize or encourage direct criticism, the satire and irony expressed through Kabuki allowed for an indirect criticism of the State. Through changing the names and dates, and altering the facts presented, the Kabuki performers rose up against the established order. Kabuki was born of the people, and the people knew how to read between the lines. Unlike No Theater, which was an art reserved for the nobility, protected by the samurais, which underwent no transformation and conserved its traditions as though in a museum, Kabuki evolved throughout the eras. This evolution was not accomplished through breaks with the past, but rather through assimilation and selection.

The Onnagata

The onnagata is not a man cross-dressed to “imitate” a woman. He is an actor who has undergone an extensive process of study in order to represent an idealized figure on stage. The onnagata works in detail on his walk, voice and gestures. From childhood, he practices a series of exercises, such as learning to walk with a sheet of paper between his knees, or to stand straight and concentrate until his shoulder blades touch…Knees bent, shoulders back, shoulder blades tight, feet inverted – the dance is difficult for a man to assimilate, and requires a great deal of training. Other theatrical conventions crown the illusion: the size of the kimono sleeves and the height of the coiffure are doubled in order to make the masculine stature appear smaller, thick, white make-up is worn, and the voice placed high. The onnagata is not just any woman, she is the ideal woman as seen from a man’s point of view. Certain actors never play feminine roles, often due to their physiques, which do not conform to the rules and requirements. The woman represented by the onnagata has feminine sentiments and feelings that are expressed by a man’s body through an art that transcends the ages. The posture and the allure of femininity dominate the body curves and facial features. This is why older actors can continue to play geishas and young heroines. It has become impossible to bring women onto the stage to play the female roles adapted for their masculine counterparts, along with the costumes that can weigh 30 kilos, the large coiffures, the voice work, etc.

The Actors

Traditionally, children in families of actors learn all the feminine roles during their childhood, the stage being a place to play and learn. In the past, the child actors’ studies were strictly limited to the stage, but now they are free to pursue classical studies as well. Kabuki is to be open to the world.
Filiation and the transmission of knowledge are reminiscent of the rules found within a monarchy. The father trains the son, and if there is no boy in the family, he turns to a nephew or to adoption. As many young people have the desire to learn Kabuki, they are often engaged as apprentices in Kabuki families, where they can then be adopted. Thus, many apprentices become teachers and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. Cases where training has not resulted in adoption over the course of time are very rare.

Memory and Creation

Despite the existence of modern teaching tools, such as audio-visual performance recording, real Kabuki training is transmitted in the oral tradition, from master to disciple. The plays have been improved on over the years, transformed by the actors from generation to generation. Each play is also interpreted differently by its director; before the existence of royalty regulations, each director literally gave his own version of the play he worked on. Today, some actors are innovating the medium through the resurrection of techniques that have been obsolete for generations. Thus Ennosuke has made acrobatics popular once again, and Kanjuro is attempting a return to Kabuki traditions of a past era. These attempts to bring a breath of fresh air to the Kabuki world are met with enthusiastic public approval, and are allowing the medium to renew itself.
After World War II, Kabuki experienced a decline in popularity, when new public distractions linked to television and the cinema appeared on the scene. Audiences began abandoning the theaters, suspecting the actors belonged to a separate caste, a kind of aristocracy with which they no longer identified; and as the ancient language was no longer taught in the schools, audiences could no longer follow the plays. Furthermore, the Americans forbid Kabuki performances, associating the theater with the survival of a warrior mentality, samurais and kamikazes…Once again, Kabuki clashed heads with the government. The great actor Utaemon VI, an onnagata genius, contributed heavily to saving Kabuki from total destruction.
The art and spirit of creation that had always been inherent in Kabuki thus ran the risk of disappearing. The actors didn’t dare risk the act of creation, and instead contented themselves with simple observation, which is totally contrary to the spirit of Kabuki. For four hundred years, Kabuki had not ceased to affirm and reaffirm its existence. Two styles that appeared as early as the seventeenth century are still followed today: Osaka’s “soft style,” or wagoto, and Tokyo’s “hard style,” or aragoto. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Kabuki was faced with pressures from external progressives, but was able to resist thanks to audience fidelity, the popularity of its stars, and also its quasi-monopoly of the theaters and performing professions. Today Kabuki is a great classical dramatic art form in Japanese theater and throughout the world, and is enjoying a real popularity, and not by striving to open its repertory, but rather through a reintegration of the elements that have ensured its success from the beginning: stunts, set changes taking place before the spectator’s eyes, phantasmagoria, fantastic jumps through the air, to the most kitsch in the repertoire. Basically, through fighting for everything the progressives wanted to abolish. And this thanks to great stars such as Bando Tamasaburo, Danjuro, Shinnosuke, etc.
Japanese youth flock once again to the theaters to see their idols. But what more can Kabuki do without the creation of new plays, which would allow for a revitalization of the repertoire and a direct contact with the realities of contemporary Japan?

The Film

The film addresses a Western audience, for whom Kabuki is perhaps an exotic word void of real meaning or cultural significance. Without being encyclopedic in our approach, we tell the story of four hundred years of one of the richest traditions of dance and theater in the world, privileging the emotion evoked by the esthetic strength of the images. We will also illustrate Kabuki’s influence on dance and theater in the Western world.
The film will be shot on location between Kyoto and Tokyo, and will be structured around interviews, excerpts from performances and rare documents from archives from the NHK, the Tokyo National Theater, and Shochiku, whose participation we have solicited.
Following a historical thread, we focus on the elements distinguishing Kabuki from other theatrical forms. First, the transmission of roles within a family of Kabuki actors, from one generation to the next within a filial context, whether natural, direct (father to son), indirect (uncle to nephew), or through adoption. Secondly, the specific convention that female roles be played by men. These two distinguishing elements of Kabuki are consequently at the heart of the film. We will call on Bando Tamasaburo, Danjuro, and his son Shinnosuke to illustrate.
The Danjuro family provides one of the most prestigious lineages of actors in Kabuki. A cross interview with Danjuro and Shinnosuke allows us to better understand the mechanism behind this transmission of knowledge. Danjuro is famous for his masculine roles in the Edo tradition, samurais, warlords and superhuman characters, while his twenty-four year old son is Kabuki’s current rising star. Each of Shinnosuke’s performances attracts a young, enthusiastic audience. Thanks to this young star, Kabuki is enjoying a revival, and winning over new spectators able to identify with this young man who perfectly incarnates a contemporary image.
Tamasaburo Bando, whose fame extends well beyond the boundaries of Japan, will illustrated and explain the onnagata. Wajda, Béjart, Daniel Schmidt, etc., fascinated by the personality and the art of this renowned actor-dancer, have brought in his collaboration in the theater, cinema and world of dance. As privileged spectators, Yukio Mishima and Marguerite Yourcenar have written pages and pages of admiration for him.
Kabuki’s influence on Western theater and dance is nothing new. Eisenstein and Cocteau were certainly influenced. “The Lion Dance” inspired Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and the cinematographic “close-up” reminiscent of certain Kabuki poses led Eisenstein to predict a great future for the Japanese cinema.
Closer to home, Ariane Mnouchkine, director of the “Théâtre du Soleil” in Paris, is perhaps the European director the most heavily influenced by Kabuki. Her Shakespeare series in the 1980’s immediately springs to mind. Her last production, “Tambours sur la digue,” conceived for marionettes (bunraku) played by Kabuki actors, brings us to the very source of this influence. In an interview, the director will speak to us about the relationship between Kabuki and the Western theater.
Pina Bausch will speak to us about Tamasaburo Bando and the sensations she felt upon seeing him dance for the first time.
Maurice Béjart has also nourished his work from Kabuki sources. One of his most famous productions draws on the story of the “Loyal Vassals.” He will speak to us about the influence of Japanese theater on his work.
David Bowie has been inspired by the rapid costume change techniques in Kabuki for some of his performances. We will show him in action through concert archives.

Note from the Director

When I began working as a director twenty-five years age, one of the characteristics that most attracted me to the work was its total eclecticism. It was possible to go from a live emission, such as “Droit de Réponse” with Michel Polac to filming a Dire Straits concert with Antoine de Caunes within the same week. Or to follow up a documentary on French toreros with Purcell’s “Dido and AEneas” with William Christie, or an interview with Wim Wenders for “Cinéma, Cinémas.”
The director’s vision was essential.
Our job is to draw from all of the resources of language and visual imagery in order to translate this vision.
I have learned that it is essential for a director to always keep an open and demanding eye on a new subject, as he accompanies the viewer down a new, unexplored path.
Upon my return from two weeks of location scouting in Kyoto and Tokyo with Christian Dumais-Lvowski, my head filled with the fabulous images I had just been privileged to see, I discussed Kabuki, this traditional Japanese theater that was to be the subject of our film, with many people. And I quickly became aware of the ignorance surrounding this subject that is totally foreign to our customs and conceptions of live performance.
As Christian Dumais-Lvowski points out, our documentary is not a film made by experts for the uninitiated public. I would like to provide the spectator with certain road marks along his journey of discovery, providing tools for opening the doors onto this world that has been so closed off to our understanding and appreciation. And for this, we will have three of the best guides we could possibly imagine:
Tamasuro Bando, Shinnosuke and Danjuro.
I will also call on testimonials from the more distant past, from Utamaro, Sharaku and Hokusai, portraitists of this “drifting world,” who have been able to capture the features of the greatest Kabuki actors. In addition to Shakaru and Utamaro’s ukiyo-e engravings, we will include images shot at the end of the nineteenth century by the Frères Lumière in Japan, archives from Kabuki performances that cover practically an entire century, and excerpts from films by great Japanese directors, such as Mizoguchi and Ozu. Extreme importance will be attached to the quality of the images shot, oscillating from the shadows of the old houses in Tanizaki to the more harsh lighting and bright colors inherent in certain Kabuki decors; from the Zen temples of Kyoto to the Tokyo megapolis, bustling with neon lights and high technology, intrusive crowds, deafening noise and street music.
Kabuki provides a kind of bridge between these two worlds. The images that we have already filmed, and which accompany this dossier, give an idea of the voyage we hope to take the spectator on. Thought-provoking images, and I hope, images that spark the imagination.
Don Kent

With the participation of:

Bando Tamasaburo
Danjuro
Shinnosuke
Ariane Mnouchkine
Pina Bausch
Maurice Béjart
David Bowie

Film and Photographic Archives

NHK, Tokyo
Shochiku, Tokyo
Tokyo National Theater, Tokyo
Institut des frères Lumière, Paris
Gaumont, Paris
Musée Guimet, Paris
Fondation Albert Kahn, Paris

The Filmmakers

Writer: Christian Dumais-Lvowski
A specialist in theater and dance, Christian Dumais-Lvowski is collection director and editor at Editions Actes Sud in Paris. He has written two documentaries for Arte’s Spectacle: “Vaslav Nijinski, une âme en exil,” broadcast in October 2000, and “Maïa Plissetskaïa, Assoluta,” whose broadcast is scheduled for March 2003. In 1995, in collaboration with French photographer Francis Giacobetti, he created and produced a photographic reportage on the National Living Treasures of Japan, “Les Maîtres de l’intangible.” His interest in Kabuki led to a meeting with Nakamura Utaemon VI in Paris and Tokyo in 1991 and 1994, and with Bando Tamasaburo in 1994, whose work he has followed since this date. He is particularly interested in the transmission of roles from master to disciple.

Director: Don Kent
Don Kent regularly collaborates with Bel Air Media to direct opera recordings. He is currently one of the most renowned television directors in France. Mr. Kent worked for 10 years as a director of “Nulle Part Ailleurs” for Canal +, also directing a number of recordings for Arte, and winning the Sept d’Or in September 2000 for his work on Euripedes’ “Medea” at the Festival d’Avignon. In January 2002 he filmed for Bel Air Media “Lucie de Lammermoor” at the Opéra de Lyon, and in July 2002, “Eugène Onéguine” at the Festival d’Aix en Provence. Last May, he directed a documentary on the Corsican polyphonies for Arte.

Artistic Director: Patrick Devos A specialist in Kabuki Theater, Patrick Devos teaches in the theater department at the University of Tokyo. He has written numerous papers and articles, as well as given conferences on the subject.

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  • Kabuki medea | Keritesorszag said:

    [...] KABUKI, BEWTEEN DANCE AND THEATRE – Bel Air MediaDocumentary by don Kent and Christian Dumais-Lvowski about the Kabuki, the traditional Japanese theatre. [...]

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