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  • Thumbnail for Shochiku Light Opera Company
    Shochiku Light Opera Company

    Members of the Shochiku Light Opera Company are shown taking curtain calls in November 1935 at the Shinjuku Daiichi Theatre. With the changing tide in Japan, the government in general frowned on all activities having a Western flavor.

  • Thumbnail for Noh Mask: Hannya
    Noh Mask: Hannya

    The Hannya "devil" mask expresses the violent anger and distress of a woman whose love and trust have been betrayed, turning her into a raging, revengeful female demon. The two horns protruding from disorderly hair evince diabolic malevolence, and the upper lip, tense and pointed in the center like a snake's, and the glinting of the metal eyes and teeth effectively add to her menace. This mask is attributed to the monk Hannya, who is said to have lived in Nara during the Muromachi period and to have originated this type of mask. A lesser form of the hannya mask is the Namanari mask.

  • Thumbnail for Sumo match
    Sumo match

    After the establishment of the first Shogunate in Kamakura from 1185 to 1392, Sumo came to be practiced by the warrior class. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the most famous Shogun of the era, was a huge Sumo fan. Oda Nobunga (1534-82) was particularly fond of Sumo. In February of 1578, he assembled 1,500 wrestlers from across Japan for a tournament held at his castle. Until then, there were no boundaries to the area in which Sumo matches were held. The space was previously designated by the people waiting for their turn to compete. Nobunga was the first person to draw circular boundaries on the ground for the first time. In the Edo period (1603-1867) several Daimyo (Feudal Lords) began sponsoring the strongest wrestlers. Those sponsored by the Daimyo got a big paycheck and Samurai status.

  • Thumbnail for Master puppeteer Lee Tien-Lu with puppets
    Master puppeteer Lee Tien-Lu with puppets

    Photo of Master Lee Tien-lu, an internationally known puppeteer, posing with two puppets.

  • Thumbnail for Uki-e: The interior of the Ichimura-za Theater, Edo
    Uki-e: The interior of the Ichimura-za Theater, Edo by Utagawa Toyoharu

    Utagawa Toyharu was the founder of the Utagawa school of ukiyo-e painting and printmaking. He was born in Kyoto and studied Kano school painting under Tsuruzawa Tangei. Upon moving to Edo in the 1760s he studied with Shigenaga and Sekien and began releasing his own work shortly thereafter. In 1763 he became a printmaker in the ukiyo-e tradition. After establishing himself as a foremost master of printmaking, Toyoharu began to take pupils, among them Toyohiro and Toyokuni, who assumed Toyoharu’s title after his death. Toyoharu’s output was diverse. He is probably best-known for creating the innovative uki-e or perspective print, which was a melding of Japanese and Western art tastes for composition and design. He created several landscape print series in the uki-e manner but he also worked within traditional subject matters and designs. The perspective print illustrates the influence of western images as they made there way into Japan. While contrary to traditional Japanese depictions of space, perspective was particularly appropriate to depictions of the floating world. Attending the Japanese theater, particularly Kabuki, was a popular pastime in the theater quarters of Edo and other large cities. Many plays depicted well-known historical and literary events from Japan’s past, while others featured narratives of a particularly modern bent. The uki-e print was able to capture the bustle and din of the Kabuki theater and the pleasure quarters in which they were located.

  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act IV: Scene at Enya-Hangan's Castle in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act IV: Scene at Enya-Hangan's Castle in Kamakura by Utagawa Kuniteru

    Studied first under Kunisada and later with Toyokuni, took the name Kuniteru around 1844. Kana-dehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Included here are printed depictions of some of the particularly dramatic acts of the play. Act IV: Enya-hangan commits hara-kiri, while his loyal retainer Yuranosuke vows revenge on Moronao.

  • Thumbnail for Scene from the series: Story of Loyal, Prominent, and Faithful Samurai, act 4 (Ch?y? gishi roku dai yon)
    Scene from the series: Story of Loyal, Prominent, and Faithful Samurai, act 4 (Ch?y? gishi roku dai yon) by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)

    Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper. Signed: Ichisai Toyokuni Hitsu. Two round censor seals at the top of the picture used between18471848. Right: Yoshimura Gentaro; left: Muramatsu Yoshimura. This print is nice because its border has not been trimmed and the round censor seals are still intact above the top margin of the picture. The series portrays the most famous vendetta of samurai retainers in the Edo period, the Chushingura, or the tale of the 47 masterless samurai (ronin). On the snowy night of January 30, 1703, in an incident known as the Ako vendetta, forty-six samurai who had sworn an oath to revenge their master's needless death burst into the mansion of the man responsible for the death of their former master, Asano Naganori, the lord of Ako. They were led by Oishi Kuranosuke, Asano's chief advisor. Their intended victim, Kira Yoshinaka, was a powerful noble and an important retainer of the imperial household. After refusing the opportunity to die by his own hand, Kira was killed with the same dagger Asano had used to commit seppuku, and then beheaded. At dawn on the following morning the samurai surrendered themselves to the priests of a Buddhist temple to await their punishment. The vendetta served as the basis for what is without doubt the most famous and popular work of the Japanese Kabuki theater, Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers: A Model for Emulation). During the Tokugawa era (1600-1868) there was a ban on the depiction in art or the dramatization on stage of current historical events using the actual names of the nobility involved. Therefore, the theatrical version of the Ako vendetta was set in the days of the fourteenth-century shogun Takauiji; Asano, Kira, and Oishi became Enya, Moronao, and Oboshi, and the setting of the play was changed from Edo to Kamakura. Act IV, depicted here, consists entirely of Enya's seppuku, the punishment ordered by the shogun for his attempt on Moronao's life. This scene, filled with quiet, yet terrible, passion, is one of the classical moments of kabuki theater. As the preparations for his suppuku are completed, Enya swears to "return to life again and again until my vengeance is accomplished." From an adjoining room Enya's retainers beg through the closed door to be allowed one last look at their master. In silence Enya, dressed in white, the traditional color of death, waits for Yuranosuke while he continues his preparations. A thick, white tatami mat is laid with branches of ceremonial herbs in each corner. Enya slides his outer-garment off on his shoulders and tucks the long ends firmly under his knees so that the tension of the fabric will cause him to fall face down. At a silent signal Rikiya enters bringing a short sword on a wooden stand. Finally, there is nothing else left to do; Enya gathers his composure, and in a swift motion takes up the sword and drives it into his stomach. Just then Yuranosuke enters and speaks in calm, almost fatherly tones, bidding Enya to die bravely. Gazing steadily into his chamberlain's face, Enya tells Yuranosuke that he must avenge his death using this very same sword, and with a last effort completes the act of ritual suicide.

  • Thumbnail for Bunraku, Head of a Demon
    Bunraku, Head of a Demon

    Wood, long hair, paint, inlaid eyes and handler's stick. This mask type is often used for the role of a beautiful woman driven mad by tragic events or, more often, by jealousy. 6-1/2 (L) x 3-1/2 (W) x 15-1/4 (H)

  • Thumbnail for Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase)
    Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1789-1861)

    Showing the 34th or Wakana (Young Greens) Chapter of the Tale of Genji with the Actors Juro Sukenari and Kobayashi Asahira. Woodcut on paper, 14 x 10 inches (oban size). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is one of the classics of court literature and was often the subject of hand-scrolls (Yamato-e). An example of such a Yamato-e hand-scroll appears in the upper part of the print. The cover of the hand-scroll is folded over, so that its back faces us. A vertical title bar normally decorates the back of a hand-scroll. In this case, the title reads Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase.) The text that follows the title starts with the word 'wakana', identifying the section of the Tale of Genji in question as Chapters 35 and 36, that is New Herbs, Parts 1 and 2. Below the hand-scroll, there is a diagonal wall covered by branches. Beneath it, a censor's seal appears and then the signature of the artist Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi with his seal. Another long inscription follows to the right, and then the figures of two actors, identified by vertical cartouches as Kobayashi Asahira to the left and Juro Sukenari to the right. To the bottom left is the publisher's seal: hangen Ise-ichi. Prints such as this one are excellent evidence of how ukiyo-e relates to Yamato-e. They also show how ukiyo-e used the 'double-edged' line. For instance, consider the vertical contours of the two folds in the part of the blue belt on the left that hangs down beneath the tie. Note that the lines begin thick and quickly grow thinner. Focus on the thicker areas at the tops of the line. The right and left sides of these lines differ slightly. The right side creates a flat, square area at the top that shows how the cloth changes direction as it bends downward, whereas the left side is curved to reveal the way in which the material is continuous across the fold.

  • Thumbnail for Bunraku, Head of a Demon - close up of eyes
    Bunraku, Head of a Demon - close up of eyes

    Wood, long hair, paint, inlaid eyes and handler's stick. This mask type is often used for the role of a beautiful woman driven mad by tragic events or, more often, by jealousy. 6-1/2 (L) x 3-1/2 (W) x 15-1/4 (H).

  • Thumbnail for Kabuki Scene
  • Thumbnail for Noh Mask: Koomote
    Noh Mask: Koomote

    One of the earliest Noh masks to be developed, Koomote represents the countenance of a calm young woman, her neatly arranged hair parted in the middle, with three loose, but not overlapping, strands on either side. Ko (small), the first Japaanese character of the two that form the word koomote, suggests the youth, freshness and charm embodied in this mask. Reflecting the standard of beauty from the Heian period on, the oval face is full, with eyebrows shaved and repainted high on the wide forehead. The teeth are blackened (ohaguro), with a paste made of powdered iron filings and gall nuts steeped in vinegar or tea; this was a cosmetic fashion adopted by young women on coming of age. Although Koomote represents a general character type, subtle differences among masks are apparent. Some emphasize youthful freshness, some refinement, some a delicately erotic charm. - Matshushima Ken

  • Thumbnail for Kotsuzumi Drum and Storage Box
    Kotsuzumi Drum and Storage Box

    The kotsuzumi is a percussion instrument shaped much like an hourglass, with a thin middle and two flaring ends. Drumheads of leather mounted on iron rings are fitted on either end with the two drumheads connected by hemp cords. It is held with the left hand, placed on the right shoulder, and struck with the fingers of the right hand. This set is decorated with a spring design of rafts with cherry blossoms in gold maki-e on a black lacquered ground. This kotsuzumi is accompanied by a storage box decorated witha design in maki-e on black lacquer of running water and maple leaves. The design allude to many poems from the Heian period regarding the Tatsuta Riber, famous for the autumn foliage along its banks." - Kawakami Shigeki

  • Thumbnail for Noh
    Noh

    The actor Umewaka Rokuro leads a busy life, reviving ancient Noh plays, presenting new Noh productions and performing overseas.

  • Thumbnail for Noh Costume
    Noh Costume

    Embroidery with glued-on gold or silver leaf. In Noh, costumes decorated in this technique are known themselves as nuihaku.

  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura by Utagawa Kuniteru

    Studied first under Kunisada and later with Toyokuni, took the name Kuniteru around 1844. Kana-dehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Included here are printed depictions of some of the particularly dramatic acts of the play. Act III: Enya-hangan draws his sword in reaction to the insults of Moronao, a capital offence resulting in a death sentence.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 2)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 2)

    1 1/2" h x 1 3/4" l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 1)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 1)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Actor on Walkway; Scene from Chikubushima play
    Actor on Walkway; Scene from Chikubushima play by Kogyo, Tsukioka

    Actor in elaborate costume and mask with long red hair. Published by Matsuki Heikichi. Color woodblock print. Color woodblock print; 9†x 14â€.

  • Thumbnail for View from Backstage of Actor’s Entrance
    View from Backstage of Actor’s Entrance by Kogyo, Tsukioka

    Actor accompanied by attendants entering stage. Audience in background. Published by Matsuki Heikichi. Color woodblock print; 9†x 14â€.

  • Thumbnail for Ichimura Uzaemon
    Ichimura Uzaemon by Kunisada, Utagawa (1786-1864)

    14 x 10 inches. Woodblock print depicting actor, Ichimura Uzaemon in Kabuki drama of the Satomi clan. Shino fights off henchmen of Inukai Kempachi on roof of Horyukaku Pavilion of Kaga Castle.

  • Thumbnail for Kurishima Sumiko
    Kurishima Sumiko

    A top-ranking Japanese actress of the 1920s.

  • Thumbnail for Charumera
    Charumera

    A double-reed wooden flute used to create a Chinese mood in Kabuki plays.

  • Thumbnail for Rampei Monogurui
    Rampei Monogurui

    One scene in Rampei Monogurui (Rampei Goes Insane). Here the main character, Rampei (played by Onoe Shoroku), fights with his enemies. Traditionally, Kabuki skills are passed from older members of a family of actors to the younger members, down through the generations. But in 1969, the National Theater established the Kabuki Actor Taining Center to teach aspiring performers from outside the Kabuki world as well. The training program lasts two years and is free. A few participants join every second year, and after they graduate, they are eligible for a role on the Kabuki stage. Almost all of the actors shown here graduated from the Kabuki Actor Training Center.