kabuki flyerA few days after a friend kindly let me know about this exhibition (and giving me a ticket!) I headed to Yurakucho and over to Hibiya Koen on a chilly damp day, and past the old pines and sparrow filled gardens down to the Hibiya Library Museum. Nice to revisit this area where I spent a while drawing the tops of the scrapers and telecom towers a few years back.

It was great to be introduced to Kabuki theatre and see this show of the famous Ichikawa Danjuro line’s costumes, scripts and recordings. There was a special focus on the Kabuki ‘Ohako’ – Eighteen Kabuki Plays – pioneered by Ichikawa Danjuro I (1800-32) and the Samurai warrior dramas contained within this line’s ‘Aragoto’ style. This has a lot of exaggerated facial expressions and fantastic style of language and intonation that is almost dazzlingly incomprehensible and comical at times. It is accompanied by the sounds of the shamisen and other traditional instruments adding rhythm and intrigue to the build up of the drama.

The design of costumes, sets and face make up is really intense and graphically strong, with powerful chromatic contrasts (viridian green and cadmium reds) and stark blacks and whites. I was particularly drawn to the simple Mimasu set of squares on the oversized costumes, a strong symbol of the family, combined with the array of colours and intermingling shapes. There was also a lot of quirky, mysterious tales from past ages of Edo theatre to draw you in, featuring the odd angry monk, dragon and huge takageta shoes too! It was interesting seeing the colourful wider history of Japan through Kabuki, dating far back to the start of the Edo period (1603-1868) and inspired by the Kabukimono folk (who dressed and acted bizarrely, such as guys wearing the female kimono and various over the top clothing) after the long warring period before.