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  • Kabuki text by Masakatsu Gunji ; photographs by Chiaki Yoshida ; introduction by Donald Keene ; Translation by John Bester
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Kabuki text by Masakatsu Gunji ; photographs by Chiaki Yoshida ; introduction by Donald Keene ; Translation by John Bester

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Tokyo ; Kodansha International Ltd., 1969. First edition. Hardcover. 265 pages ; illustrated ; 34 cm. Very good copy; no underlines or markings within the pages. Satisfaction guaranteed!

KABUKI has often been likened to the Shakespearean theater of the West, but such a comparison cannot possibly express the full 'pe of this Japanese theatrical art. As Donald Keene points out, the literary beauty of kabuki plays no more important a part in the performance than all the other elements that combine to make a spectacular production—"Kabuki as a theater is above all theatrical." The costumes, the movements of the actors, the language, the sets, and the music of kabuki are all "actors" in the creation of an atmosphere that envelops the spectator in lavish tradition.

Unlike its austere and aristocratic relative, the Nö drama, the kabuki had origins that were strictly popular. It began with the antic dances of the shrine maiden Okuni, who started the tradition of off-color parodies still found in the kabuki of today. As the kabuki developed through the ages when it was performed by groups of female prostitutes, then by male prostitutes who introduced acrobatics and elements of the Nö drama into it, it gradually became more sophisticated, more unified, and more like drama in the modern sense. By the time it began to enjoy official license and nationwide popularity, it had become an elaborate production involving acting families, playwrights, music taken over from the Bunraku puppet theater, and complex aesthetic concepts.

Professor Gunji emphasizes yatsushi and mitate, two conceits beloved of the theater audiences of the Edo period. These sophisticates resembled the first audiences of Shakespearean theater in that they too delighted in seeing historical personalities dressed in contemporary garb, speaking in contemporary speech, and engaging in contemporary activities that put them on the same level as the spectators themselves. yatsushi and mitate provided the vehicle for this kind of double role-playing and intellectual games. Audience enthusiasm was so great as to make direct interchange with the actors on the stage an essential part of the kabuki atmosphere, and shouts of encouragement, appreciation, and criticism became traditional to the performance. In its golden age, the kabuki was the style-setter, the gossip subject, the intellectual stimulus for people of every class of society. Its life was the center of culture, and it influenced the popular literature, the ukiyo-e print, and the politics of the day.

Kabuki is the third volume in Kodansha International's series on classical Japanese theater. Also available in the same format are ND and Bunraku, both written by Donald Keene. These three volumes together provide a comprehensive study of the classical dramatic arts of Japan, and all are illustrated with excellent photographs of actual performances.