The Asians’ Portrayal in Both Japanese and Western Theater

The Asians’ Portrayal in Both Japanese and Western Theater

Theater history for female Asians could be described as colorful as well as haunting; the message behind each play echoed the suppressed cries of women - The Asians’ Portrayal in Both Japanese and Western Theater introduction. Women were not permitted to be in theatrical art for such a long period of time. One particular race that experienced such hardships is the Japanese women (both playwrights and actresses). Misako Koike, a prestigious American Studies professor from Tohoku University, explained with the excerpt below:

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At the very beginning of Japan’s theatre history, women occupied the central place–in fact, Japan’s oldest written document (compiled in 712 A.D.) records a performance given by a woman and dedicated to “Amaterasu the Great,” the Sun Goddess in Japan’s creation myth. Kabuki, Japan’s still-thriving, 300-year-old classical theatre, was originated by a woman named O-Kuni. After some years, however, women were totally excluded from Kabuki troupes; women’s parts are even now played by onnagata, male actors specializing in women’s roles. It was not until the turn of the 20th century, with the arrival of the Shingeki (“new drama”) movement, modeled after European theatre, that women performers appeared onstage in public. A women’s movement has ever taken place in Japan the way it has in the United States from the 1970s on, and Japan has no organized Women’s Theatre–although since the late ’70s, a number of women playwrights have gained limited popularity, and groups led by women have given fresh vitality to the theatre scene. None of their works, however, cut through the fundamental structure of hypocritical and aesthetic cover-ups that oppress Japanese women, Some women in the audience may have identified with sympathetic female stage characters and taken comfort; others (like those drawn to the totally unrealistic and apolitical Takarazuka all-women revue company) may have found solace in gymnastically busy and lavish stage-business.

But for women, that was all. The mere fact that any women captured critical and audience attention was itself phenomenal, since women’s voices had been so scarce and so detached from their own reality. Not even the turbulent decade of the 1960s did much toward breaking the mold that prevailed for so long. To borrow a phrase from the drama critic Yasunari Takahashi, the ’60s “saw an upheaval of turbulent theatrical energy and eventually the birth of a new theatre “–but when one looks closely into the works of male dramatists whose careers date from this period (writers like Shuji Terayama, Kunio Shimizu, Juro Kara or Minoru Betsuyaka), it is clear that this “new theatre” didn’t embrace any new images of women. Suffice it to say that, with a few exceptions, women in the work of these and other modern Japanese playwrights can be grouped into three types: dependent and self-sacrificing mothers and wives; beautiful and dedicated prostitutes; innocent and lovely virgins waiting to fall into the arms of “authentic” men (Koike, 1997)

            The portrayal of the Japanese women in these plays rung true to the current setting and domestic reality in the country. With the turn of the 21st century, the Japanese women may b seen as liberal on the front but accompanied by men, whether by their husbands or their fathers, interdependence is mixed with women’s submission. No one questioned this setting; women continuously forgive and accept men who physically and mentally abused them. It was quite ironic that Kabuki, the foundation of Japanese theater, was founded first by a woman. With its popularity several years ago, men excluded women from acting in Kabuki; female roles were also done by men (Koike, 1997; Martin, 2003)

            The Asian portrayal in the Western Theater, on the other, seems to have a opposite result compared to the former. Asians, particularly the Asian-American actresses, provided versatility in the theater acting. Its history was described below:

While many hail Asian-American theatre merely as an ethnic subset, this artistically flourishing entity is poised to catapult itself into a new era where it hopes to bolster the vitality of theatre art as a whole, state the field’s leading artistic directors. “Asian-American theatres will be the next significant movement in evolving the art form that is known as American theatre,” says Tim Dang, EWP artistic director. Along with several dramatists, Dang notes that Asian-American theatre, by necessity, has become more ethnically diverse. The term “Asian American” has been continually evolving in terms of forms, styles, countries of origin and ethnic affinities since Asian-American studies pioneer Yuji Ichioka coined the phrase in the 1960s. Dang says the label no longer means simply “the Chinese, Japanese, Korean or East Asian type of experience” but “hapa voices [half Asian Pacific Islander] or polycultural voices as well as immigrant and multigenerational voices…”In the art form, we are the future, and we are the new markets.” Lim says. “In financial markets, you invest in future performance. If American theatre is going to survive, it is best to look at theatres of color as emerging markets. The mainstream theater market is saturated, and, in the world of business, if you’re not investing in future performance and considering new markets, then your business dies. A lot of mainstream theatres don’t think of this risk as a problem. They hear what theatres of color are saying, and they say, ‘Why can’t we just placate them?’ But I believe that American theater has to support Asian-American theatre and other theatres of color based upon pure investment principles and the changing face of America. Once people are forced to connect to cultures outside of the mainstream, it will only benefit the whole.” (Hasu, 2006)

            The excerpt above showed that in the Western theater, the Asians’ portrayal, even for the females, is more progressive compared with the Japanese theater. This goes to show that with time and the diversity in varying cultures, the Japanese women may experience the joy the Asian Americans had on producing a play in their theatrical career.

References:

Koike, M. (1997). Breaking the mold: Women in Japanese theatre. American Theatre, 14(4), 42. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=9704175777&site=ehost-live

Forbis, D. (1995). An Asian accent in a western setting. American Theatre, 12(1), 36. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=9508252695&site=ehost-live

Brandon, J. (1989). A New World. TDR: The Drama Review, 33(2), 25-50. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=17209419&site=ehost-live

Martin, C. (2000). Japanese Theatre. TDR: The Drama Review, 44(1), 82. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=2944650&site=ehost-live

Hasu, V. (2006). Out of the Margins. American Theatre, 23(8), 132-137. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=22773546&site=ehost-live

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