vol.2 Presentation, not Representation
Most people in the world today are used to watching commercial movies and television. The style of entertainment in such drama is representational. In other words, it attempts to convince us of its 'reality' through a 'realistic' style. Traditional Kabuki, however, is very different.
A fundamental principle of Kabuki performance is that it is presentational, implying that all stage action is consciously directed outwards towards the audience. Things are clearly displayed in a formal manner, rather than in a realistic way. This principle was immediately recognised by such influential giants of western theatre as Bertolt Brecht who used his experience of Kabuki to develop his own theories of modern theatre. Thinking along the lines of presentational theatre, Brecht wrote, "...everything to do with the emotions has to be externalised; that is to say, it must be developed into a gesture. The actor has to find a sensibly perceptible outward expression for his character's emotions, preferably some action that gives away what is going on inside him. The emotion in question must be brought out, must lose all its restrictions so that it can be treated on a big scale." (See Brecht, 'Bertolt on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic,' ed. and trans. by John Willet: Hill and Wang, 1992, p.139.)
Though this principle applies equally well to most of what we see in Kabuki, an especially good example is found in the special Kabuki acting technique called mie. A mie is a kind of strong pose struck by male characters, often in history plays, in which some powerful emotion or conflict is expressed outwardly in the form of a stop-motion tableau. For greater emphasis, the pose is accompanied by loud beats of the wooden clappers. Such a pose is not realistic in any way and does not seek to be so. Instead, it is a way of embodying visually and aurally a particular feeling, and 'presenting' it to the audience like a picture.
Kabuki's tendency to externalise applies not only to what audiences see, but also to another vital aspect of Kabuki acting - diction. This is also part of Kabuki's presentational form. Inspired by what he observed from Kabuki practice, Brecht advised that, "If the actor turns to the audience [to speak] it must be a whole-hearted turn rather than the asides and soliloquising of the old-fashioned [western] theatre." (Ibid.) Speech, in other words, should be declaimed, and Brecht also appreciated the skilful and beautiful handling of "verbal media". He did not realise, perhaps, that Kabuki acting encompasses a vast array of styles ranging from the artificial to the very naturalistic, but it is true that many works from the traditional repertoire display tremendous attention to the beauty of rhythm and elocution that transports the text out of the commonplace. Indeed, though the aragoto acting style is often described as 'wild stuff', another of its essential components is, in fact, eloquence. This skill is perfectly demonstrated in the speech called the tsurane that we hear in the play 'Wait a Moment', (Shibaraku). This is basically a kind of self-introduction made by both the hero of the play, and by the actor playing that hero! Ending with another magnificent mie pose, this speech is one of the play's great highlights. Other famous examples of speech include the 'speech of abuse', called the akutai that we hear from the great courtesan Agemaki in the play Sukeroku, and also from the hero Gorō in the play 'The Arrow Head', (Yanone). Finally, the speech of self-introduction made by the thief Benten Kozō in 'The Shiranami Five', delivered purely in seven-five metre, is one of the most exciting and beautiful in the Japanese language. (See 'Story' section). (Text by Paul Griffith.)