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Kabuki for BeginnersKabuki for Beginners

Performance and Poses

Performance Styles and Mie

Kabuki started from dance, and seeks beauty in its performance. Performance techniques built up by many different actors are still passed on today.

Passing on performance skills

One characteristic of Kabuki is that if a way of performing a role is well received, it is passed on to actors in later eras. In this way, the performance is refined, and these fixed performance skills are called kata. Kata doesn’t just refer to one single role, it extents to cover the production as a whole, including the performance skills of other roles, costumes and makeup, and stage settings.

What is mie?

“Sannin Kichisa Tomoe no Shiranami”
Ojo Kichisa: Nakamura Fukusuke IX
Osho Kichisa: Matsumoto Koshiro IX (Matsumoto Hakuo II)
Obo Kichisa: Ichikawa Somegoro VII (Matsumoto Koshiro X)
National Theatre (Y_E0100277500496)

During an important scene when a character’s emotions are running high, an actor will assume a powerful pose and stop moving for a moment; this performance skill is called mie (“pose”). Before he freezes, the actor will also make motions such as turning his head, extending his hands, and stepping forwards. All movement on the stage stops in time with this, including the other actors, which makes the audience focus on that one character and creates the impression of rising emotions.

“Sannin Kichisa Tomoe no Shiranami”
Ojo Kichisa: Nakamura Fukusuke IX
Osho Kichisa: Matsumoto Koshiro IX (Matsumoto Hakuo II)
Obo Kichisa: Ichikawa Somegoro VII (Matsumoto Koshiro X)
National Theatre (Y_E0100277500496)

Many different mie

“Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Sekinoto”
Sekibei (Otomo no Kuronushi): Onoe Kikunosuke V
Sumizome (Komachizakura no Sei): Nakamura Baishi IV
National Theatre (Y_E0100313500450)

Mie in the dynamic aragoto (exaggerated) style emphasize strength through facial expression – the actor crosses his eyes and glares at the audience – as well as body movements. Certain roles, including young stock characters and commoner stock characters, seek beauty of form, with small movements in their mie. Additionally, at the end of a story the characters may hold mie that reflect their relationship with each other, and the curtain closes on a stage-wide composition that is both beautiful and tense.

“Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Sekinoto”
Sekibei (Otomo no Kuronushi): Onoe Kikunosuke V
Sumizome (Komachizakura no Sei): Nakamura Baishi IV
National Theatre (Y_E0100313500450)

Sound effects and kakegoe

The sound effects that are created at the side of the stage in time with the performance are known as tsuke. A performer hits two pieces of wood against a board, making a clattering sound. Tsuke have the role of emphasizing movements and sounds, and are used a great deal for mie in particular. In addition, when a certain role performs mie, other roles call out in praise of the actor in time with the poses; this is called keshogoe. The audience will also shout out “____ya!”, the names of the performer’s acting-house (yago), and the noise from the whole theatre stirs up the stage.

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