Edo Kabuki in Transition
Satoko Shimazaki revisits three centuries of kabuki theater and its dynamic representations of medieval Japanese tales and tradition, boldly reframing Edo kabuki as a key player in the formation of an early modern urban identity. Challenging the common understanding of kabuki as a subversive entertainment and a threat to shogunal authority, Shimazaki argues that kabuki actually instilled a sense of shared history in Edo's inhabitants, regardless of their class. It did this, she shows, by constantly invoking "worlds," or sekai, largely derived from medieval military chronicles, and overlaying them onto the present.
Shimazaki explores the process by which, as the early modern period drew to a close, nineteenth-century playwrights began dismantling the Edo tradition of "presenting the past" by abandoning their long-standing reliance on the sekai. She then reveals how, in the 1920s, a new generation of kabuki playwrights, critics, and scholars reinvented the form yet again, "textualizing" kabuki so that it could be pressed into service as a guarantor of national identity, in keeping with the role that the West assigned to theater.
Shimazaki's vivid and engaging reinterpretation of kabuki history centers on the popular and widely celebrated ghost play Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost Stories at Yotsuya, 1825) by Tsuruya Nanboku. Along the way, she sheds fresh light on the emergence and development of the ubiquitous trope of the vengeful female ghost, linking it to the need to explore new themes at a time when the old samurai worlds were rapidly losing their relevance.