Theatre of Japan - Modern Theatre

Modern Theatre

Japanese modern drama in the early 20th century, the 1900s, consisted of Shingeki (experimental Western-style theater), which employed naturalistic acting and contemporary themes in contrast to the stylized conventions of Kabuki and Noh. Hōgetsu Shimamura and Kaoru Osanai were two figures influential in the development of shingeki.

In the postwar period, there was a phenomenal growth in creative new dramatic works, which introduced fresh aesthetic concepts that revolutionized the orthodox modern theater. Challenging the realistic, psychological drama focused on "tragic historical progress" of the Western-derived shingeki, young playwrights broke with such accepted tenets as conventional stage space, placing their action in tents, streets, and open areas and, at the extreme, in scenes played out all over Tokyo.

Plots became increasingly complex, with play-within-a-play sequences, moving rapidly back and forth in time, and intermingling reality with fantasy. Dramatic structure was fragmented, with the focus on the performer, who often used a variety of masks to reflect different personae.

Playwrights returned to common stage devices perfected in Noh and Kabuki to project their ideas, such as employing a narrator, who could also use English for international audiences. Major playwrights in the 1980s were Kara Juro, Shimizu Kunio, and Betsuyaku Minoru, all closely connected to specific companies. In contrast, the fiercely independent Murai Shimako won awards throughout the world for her numerous works focusing on the Hiroshima bombing, which were frequently performed by only one or two actresses. In the 1980s, stagecraft was refined into a more sophisticated, complex format than in the earlier postwar experiments but lacked their bold critical spirit.

Tadashi Suzuki developed a unique method of performer training which integrated avant-garde concepts with classical Noh and Kabuki devices, an approach that became a major creative force in Japanese and international theater in the 1980s. Another highly original East-West fusion occurred in the inspired production Nastasya, taken from Dostoevsky's The Idiot, in which Bando Tamasaburo, a famed Kabuki onnagata (female impersonator), played the roles of both the prince and his fiancée.

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