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Kabuki Theatre and Geisha Imagery in
High and Popular Western Culture
Eisenstein’s grotesques;
Memoirs of the Geisha
Kabuki Theatre
Kabuki Theatre
• Classical Japanese theatre, dance drama.
• Dates back to early 17th century.
• First was all female, then became all-male
theatre (onnagata, cross-dressed actors).
• Late 17th-mid 19th century – the “Golden age”
of Kabuki: elaborate costumes and makeup,
artful performance, accent on drama; specially
written plays in place of improvisation.
Kabuki Theatre
Mask-like make-up, wigs
Exaggerated body language
Codified make-up and performance
Plays based on history and legends
Traditionalism in dance and music
Special effects: revolving stage: trap doors,
footbridge to the audience
• Popular subject for ukiyo-e prints.
Make-up conveys emotions
Kabuki Actors
“Masks,” grotesque
in Ivan The Terrible (1944)
by Sergei Eisenstein
Love, Heroism, Moral Codes
Dramatic Plots
Kabuki Theatre
Ivan the Terrible
Dancing scene
Emotions through make-up and
Eonnagata (2009) by Robert Lepage
• Based on the life of an
18th-cent. French crossdressing diplomat and
spy Chevalier d'Éon.
• The plot and emotions
are shown through
costumes, make-up,
and dance.
• Drum music, japaneselooking props (swords,
fans, etc.)
Memoirs of a Geisha
(dir. Rob Marshall, 2005)
• Based on a 1997 historical
novel by Arthur Golden.
• Academy awards for: best
costumes, art direction,
• Casting;
• Disrespect for geishas and
maiko; stereotyping;
• Inaccuracies in costumes,
dances, cultural facts, and
daily life details.