Re: Dating Kabuki Prints

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Posted by John Fiorillo on April 04, 2003 at 18:25:39:

In Reply to: Dating Kabuki Prints posted by Papa Jean on March 29, 2003 at 02:25:26:

Helen and PJ,

The Keyes book mentioned by Helen, while wonderful (and recommended for all who are interested in Osaka printmaking), is certainly not the definitive source for dating Kabuki plays (it was not intended to be, even for plays just in Osaka). Perhaps Helen only meant to say that it can be helpful.

It is also not accurate to say that Osaka kabuki plays represent most of the kabuki plays that exist today. There were far more productions of Edo-based plays during the Edo and Meiji periods.

As for sources to date Edo-Meiji Kabuki plays, you must seek out Japanese publications or original documents of the period.

One primary compendium is titled Kabuki nenpy˘ (Chronology of Kabuki). Edited by Ihara T˘shir˘ and published by Iwanami from 1956 through 1963. 8 vols. of play and actor listings spanning Kabuki's beginnings (1596) up to 1907 with occasional commentaries, separated into Edo and Kamigata (primarily Kyoto-Osaka) performances. These listings are not always accurate or complete, but, basically, this is the primary published modern source for dating plays. By the way, just a glance at all these volumes clearly verifies that there were far more Edo plays than Osaka plays.

Original period source materials include theater programs(banzuke), picture-book programs (ehon banzuke, and street playbills (tsuji banzuke). Unfortunately, these ephemera exist today incompletely and in only very small numbers. Those that have survived have been widely dispersed into various collections, and the information contained in them is often not published in modern compendiums. Nevertheless, scholars seek these out because they generally provide accurate information about plays, dates, theaters, performers, etc., and help to correct or fill in the blanks in Kabuki nenpy˘.

Fortunately, the late Professor Matsudaira was responsible for 3 excellent modern listings of Osaka banzuke based on the originals now in the collection of the Ikeda Bunko Library: Hankyű gakuen Ikeda Bunko shoz˘ shibai banzuke mokuroku (Ikeda Bunko Collection Hankyű Gakuen - Catalogue of Theater Programs), Vols 1. 1981; vol. 2, 1984; vol. 3, 1990.

Other sources are the ukiyo-e prints themselves. Various combinations of actors, the names used by actors at different times in their careers, the roles, the scenes or costumes, the theaters, and so on can sometimes provide clues for dating, but this often requires prior knowledge of the kabuki world. Matching these up with what is known, or comparing with Kabuki chronologies / biographies (the latter should include Nojima, Jusabur˘: Kabuki jinmei jiten (Biographical Dictionary of Kabuki), 1988) can lead to success in verifying a performance date.

It is important to note that many kabuki "programs" did not survive or were not even written down in codified form. This was especially true (though not exclusively so) when the play served primarily as a vehicle for star actors, who would modify and improvise what had been prepared and would not actually write down dialog or stage directions. In comparison to j˘ruri (puppet theater), far fewer kabuki "librettos" have survived as a percentage of all that were performed during Edo-Meiji. There are a great many plays for which we have only the titles and no surviving librettos.

Yet another thing to keep in mind is that there can be differences in the performances of the same play over time, or among different theaters, or in various cities and towns. Thus what we see portrayed in an eighteenth or early nineteenth century print may not match the existing libretto for a later production of the play. Kabuki was an ever-changing form of drama in which characters, scenes, and plots were frequently modified, even when the play title was left intact. It can therefore be difficult sometimes to identify the particular scene or role, even when we have a later libretto for the play.


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