Japanese theatre and more

I write this from memories from a time spent in Japan in the mid 90s. Not a long time, a total of about 18 months. I have sadly long since lost contact with all I knew back then, Nihonjin as well non-Japanese. I do not keep that much interest in Japan anymore, and certainly not anime, which seem to be the focus of a lot of people outside the country. However, sometimes my memories are triggered by news or whatever. I have written about Japan a little on this blog here before.

This post has been swirling in my midden of a mind for a little while. Triggered by the phenomena of "trans". Not transnational, nor fats. The gender. "The thing", as Pres Boe Jiden likes to say.

When I was in Japan, I saw some Japanese theatre. All traditional.

One time it was . I asked a colleague to take me there. She was doubtful I would enjoy it. When we got there all the other in the audience were old. Pensioners. Nō is performed in older form of Japanese. The audience had books with them to read in, as a help to understand what the actors say. Some duffers dozed off for while. Nō is slow and "ritualistic", in a metaphorical way. It feels like being transported to another place and time, even if one does not understand anything. A special experience. It has been liked to a moving still life. In the Western tradition we do not have anything like it, afaik. Recommended.

One time I saw Bunraku, doll theatre. The operator(s) of a doll is visible. The article I link to has the usual (I think) setup where the operator(s) is partly hidden. But part of the thing is that you look at the doll, and not the operator, who is skillful enough to make you "forget" him. The performance I saw, the stage was in light and the operators were visible. None wore the total cover that can be seen in the linked article/photo. The burden of imagination and focus lies more with the audience in such a case. But I did not have too much trouble to look mostly at the dolls. It was a certain dignity over the performance. Years before, in Sweden, I saw a doll theatre performance from South East Asia. Forgot where, probably Indonesia. The operator (of several dolls) were more visible, the music was louder, and it was more action packed. It was interesting, but I did not get any immersion from it.

While writing this, I just remembered there was some sort of lion dance, too. Lot of jumping and even "wig" swirling. Was a bit metal. Sort of. I recall I did not find it very exciting, even if the audience was enthusiastic. In a disciplined society, maybe it provided a bit steam to go off. Vague memory of it, to be fair.

Last on the same evening was a bit of kabuki, most well known theatre form outside Japan. It has even become a metaphor in English. It was not much at all. All theatre is pretense, some can transport the viewer to a "different" place; it says something; may provide insights and aha moments. To me Kabuki does not do this. It has no content. It is only tantalizing. For some at least. Traditionally, theatre (Shakespeare, too) by edict was often performed by men only, after companies had turned into touring bordellos. Maybe getting rid of women did not remove that business aspect. I do not know. So men as women was more out of necessity and then, at least in Japan, remained a tradition. Nō is performed by men, often with masks. It's nothing drag about it. Kabuki is drag, just much more polished and elegant than the Western style. Still, the whole point is men performing as women. As a career. It's like an actor doing the same basic role his whole life. And is somehow hailed as art.

But it is not only acting. Many years ago I saw an interview with one of the most famous kabuki actors. A real star who lived in a magnificent house. So it is big money in kabuki. He claimed that he acted a women better than real women, and they should look on him as a model of womanhood. At the time I thought he was full of himself and arrogant. And just stupid. Now I think he was a misogynic, narcissistic, unpleasant twat. He did not really make anything. He was a professional imitator who thinks he is better than the original. Meh. Maybe had too much miso ho ho.

Somehow drag shows are considered great artistry by doing one thing only. Few, if any, of them would get a job as a singer or actor or dancer in normal performance context. Not impressive at all. PR for this has been broadcast for decades, so many people go "ooh aah". Tantalizing. But there is really no content. As they say, "there is no there there". I am sorry, but it is very non-impressive. And in parts misogynic, as many look like parodies of women.

Bunraku is of course also tantalizing, but in a different way. It is artifice, it's not like they claim they can become dolls. Or that the dolls are people. I do not think they are metaphorical sock puppets, either.

Thank you for reading this far in my post. Have a nice day. 🙂