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kabuki (käbo͞oˈkē): see Asian drama.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of classical Japanese theater, originally consisting of folk songs and dances performed by wandering actors. O-Kuni, who is considered the founder of Kabuki, organized a troupe of women in 1603. Although love songs and dances were the main features of the scenes in which O-Kuni appeared, there were also elements of dramaturgic composition. These elements subsequently became more prevalent. In 1629 the women’s troupe was banned on the pretext of having violated the laws of morality. Since 1652 only men have appeared in Kabuki performances (yaro- Kabuki). As a result, a specific role involving the impersonation of women was established (onnagata, or oyama).

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Kabuki theater reached the height of its development, with the rise of an urban culture during the Genroku period (1688–1703). At this time, Kabuki made a major step forward from imitation (mono-mane) to a more natural manner of acting. Stage movements and speech acquired greater significance; they were influenced by the masterful work of the actor Sakata Tojuro and the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

The crisis of the feudal order brought about strict regimentation in all areas of Japanese life. This regimentation was reflected in Kabuki plays by the use of conventions, such as dance plays, ritualistic plays (sho’sagoto), and pantomime. The musical accompaniment, the stage design, the traditional poses (mie), the canons of acting (kata), the wigs, and the kumadori makeup (red symbolized justice, passion, and bravery; blue represented sangfroid, evil, and immorality) became extremely conventional. The tradition of the succession of stage names was established, and actors’ dynasties with hereditary roles were formed.

During the first half of the 18th century, Ichikawa Danjuro II and Savamura Sojuro were two of the most highly praised Kabuki actors. In 1758 the dramatist Namiki Shozo introduced the revolving stage. This stage and the “flower path,” or the hanamiti (a platform extending from the stage to the rear of the audience), were important achievements in the development of the Kabuki theater.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the center of the Kabuki arts moved from Kyoto and Osaka to Edo (now Tokyo). In addition to the performances of the traditional historical drama (jidaimono), a domestic play devoted to urban life (sevamono) was introduced in Edo. This new genre was established in Kabuki theater by the work of the well-known dramatist Tsu-ruya Namboku and by the realistic performances of Matsumoto Koshiro V.

After the bourgeois revolution of 1867–68 (the Meiji revolution), Japan embarked upon the path of capitalist development. This development was expressed in Kabuki dramaturgy. Plays reflected the new morality, and historical dramas (kat-surekimono) were staged. Among the most famous Kabuki actors of the late 19th century were Ichikawa Danjuro IX, Onoe Kikugoro V, and Ichikawa Sadanji I. New Kabuki plays appeared that revived traditional stage devices.

In 1966 the state theater Kokuritsu gekijo was opened in Tokyo with the aim of preserving classical Kabuki theater. Kabuki actors are also affiliated with the Setiku and Toho, two prominent film companies, as well as with the only independent theatrical troupe, the Zenshinza.

During its tours in the USSR in 1928 and 1961, the Kabuki theater acquainted Soviet audiences with its popular actors Ichikawa Sadanji II, Ichikawa Ennosuke II, and Utaemon VI.


Konrad, N. I. “Teatr Kabuki.” In the collection Teatral’nyi Oktiabr’ Leningrad-Moscow, 1926.
Konrad, N. I. Teatr Kabuki. Leningrad-Moscow, 1928.
Kabuki. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Teatr i dramaturgiia Iaponii: Sb. Moscow, 1965.
Gunji, Masakatsu. Iaponskii teatr Kabuki. Moscow, 1969. (Translated
from Japanese.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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