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A close up photo of kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo XI onstage as the character of Kylo Ren in Star Wars

March – Week 4 – Kabuki Kool and Noh Theatre

I’m not really sure what to say at this point. 2022 continues to outdo itself in its quest to be terrible and everything is still awful. And keeping me sane throughout it all is the Daily Hart, so let’s dive in.

My first stop this week was looking into the difference between kabuki and Noh Theatre, something I’ve always been curious about. Noh was developed in the 14th century by a father and son creative team, Kan’ami and Zeami, and it quickly became the primary form of entertainment for the samurai and upper classes. Whereas kabuki was theatre for the common people, Noh was theatre for the elite. Noh is also different from kabuki through its use of masks instead of elaborate makeup, and Noh tends to be more somber and restrained in its performance style. One article I read described Noh as relying more on the audience’s imagination, while kabuki is more flashy with its extensive visual effects, sets, and prop pieces. The difference between the two is therefore similar to the difference between reading a book and watching a movie.

Incredibly, Noh is considered to be the oldest form of theatre still regularly performed today. And between both Noh and kabuki, they represent over a thousand years of theatrical history. It’s an astonishing legacy, and one I’m eager to experience in person. Unfortunately, a trip to Japan is not in the cards any time soon, and Paris is not currently hosting any visiting kabuki tropes. Therefore, it was time for a visit to YouTube!

Now, if you guessed that I went down a YouTube rabbit hole this week, you’d be right. I discovered a series called Kabuki Kool and I was immediately hooked. Each episode features an interview with kabuki actor Kataoka Ainosuke talking about a specific aspect of kabuki. There are episodes all about kabuki villains, demons, and love stories. There’s even episodes about specific stories, shows, and characters. But my favourite was the behind the scenes look at the quick changes and backstage movements of the technicians. Once a stage manager always a stage manager I suppose.

Needless to say, this past week I devoured several episodes of Kabuki Kool. They all contain clips from actual performances, and the creative team gives commentary along the way. It was truly fascinating. Now more than ever, I can’t wait to experience this art form in person.

And then, just when I thought I had seen everything, I ended the week with one final delightful discovery. I was curious if new kabuki works are still being produced or if the repertoire of productions is set. As it turns out, new productions are indeed still being produced, because I discovered Kabuki Star Wars. Yes. You read that right. Kabuki Star Wars. Renowned actor Ichikawa Ebizo XI starred in a kabuki version of the most recent Star Wars trilogy in 2019, and it is just as surreal as you’d expect. It’s also available on YouTube, so enjoy!

This wraps up another month long deep dive. I’ll be back next week with a new topic and new art to talk about. In the meantime, enjoy Kabuki Kool and kabuki’s interpretation of a galaxy far, far away. Here’s hoping that next month will be a little less awful.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!