30. April 2015
Different metaphysical constructs give rise to different dramaturgical principles in world theatre. Unlike Western theatre, traditional Japanese performance is not anthropocentric but situates humanity into a larger matrix of life and death, nature and supernature, where principles of metamorphosis and transmigration, not to mention the very function of role-play itself, render identity contingent and unstable. “It’s commonly said that kabuki’s stage characters are stereotypical and not psychologically accurate, but it was never from the onset the intention to theatrically portray human beings on stage,” kabuki scholar Gunji Masakatsu has written. “The performing arts were founded on of the people’s psychological need for an apotheosis, on their expectation to see repeatedly with their own eyes the miracle of resurrection and metamorphosis.”
Here I shall examine how transformation (at times natural, at other times, magical) inform the dramaturgy of kabuki theatre. With some specific examples from that genre—notably, the portrayal of fox characters in Lady Kuzunoha (1734) and Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees (1747)—I will discuss how such devices as modoki (parody or mocking imitation), mitate (playful comparison), yatsushi (disguise), jitsu wa (true identity), migawari (substitution), and monogurui (madness) underscore this metatrope of metamorphosis.
Mark Cody Poulton (PhD, U of T) has been teaching Japanese language, literature and theatre in the Department of Pacific and Asian Studies at University of Victoria since 1988. Currently he is Fellow at the International Research Center "Interweaving Performance Cultures”, Freie Universität, Berlin.