Modern Theater

Japan Table of Contents

Modern drama in the late twentieth century consisted of shingeki (experimental Western-style theater), which employed naturalistic acting and contemporary themes in contrast to the stylized conventions of Kabuki and No. 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 Westernderived 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 No 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 Joro , Shimizu Kunio, and Betsuyaku Minoru, all closely connected to specific companies. In the 1980s, stagecraft was refined into a more sophisticated, complex format than in the earlier postwar experiments but lacked their bold critical spirit.

Many Western plays, from those of the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare and from those of Fyodor Dostoevsky to Samuel Beckett, were performed in Tokyo. An incredible number of performances, perhaps as many as 3,000, were given each year, making Tokyo one of the world's leading theatrical centers. The opening of the replica of the Globe Theater was celebrated by importing an entire British company to perform all of Shakespeare's historical plays, while other Tokyo theaters produced other Shakespearean plays including various new interpretations of Hamlet and King Lear.

Suzuki Tadashi's Togo troupe developed a unique kind of "method acting," integrating avant-garde concepts with classical No 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 fianceť.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress