Friendly interaction between the audience and actors
Kabuki storylines were written around roles for specific actors, while envisioning the key scenes of the play in which they would appear. The audience also enjoyed interacting with the actors on stage as much - and sometimes even more than - the progression of the story. This meant there were even some scenes written only to showcase the lead actors’ skills and allure, despite these scenes running contrary to the storyline.
For instance, a series of plays about thieves who stole treasures and money were performed around the end of the Edo period (mid-19th century). A leading example of this is the ‘Inasegawa Seizoroi’ (Inase Riverbanks) scene in “Aotozoshi Hana no Nishikie” (The Five Thieves), commonly known as the Shiranami Gonin Otoko, in which five thieves being pursued each hold a umbrella with the characters for shiranami (thieves) written clearly on it as they proudly introduce themselves, with each one trying to outdo the other with tales of how great a thief they are. Firstly, such a scene would never happen in reality; however, in Kabuki it is popular with audiences as a way to splendidly showcase the powerful presence of five actors lined up on stage together.
Performances that remain elegant regardless of how exaggerated they are, spectacular and eye-catching costumes, stage props that seem to manipulate time and space with their three dimensional movements, and music that sets the scene and entwines with the actors. Then there are the storylines that develop with the implicit understanding of the audience, and productions that incorporate the avant-garde customs and events of each era.
These and numerous other elements that are used to entertain the audience are alive in Kabuki.
How to enjoy Kabuki is up to the individual
Kabuki was widely known and loved by many classes of society in the Edo period – from traders and craftsmen to white-collar workers and servants. Each group had their own way of enjoying and connecting with Kabuki.
The language used, lifestyles portrayed, customs featured and other elements of Kabuki may seem a little difficult to understand in these modern times. However, Kabuki has countless creative ways to entertain the audience, such as a highly diverse repertoire of plays, captivating performances and gorgeous dances, beautiful music and vivid costumes, and the skilful use of stage props. You can surely find your own way to enjoy Kabuki among its many exciting elements.