Shin Kabuki By Zheng, Guohe
Shin Kabuki literally “new kabuki,” a modern outgrowth of traditional kabuki and one of the fruits of Japan’s modernist theater movement.
The term was first coined by Kasuyama Masao and later defined by Kagayama Naozō to mean plays written in the kabuki format but with Western ideas incorporated in to them and with literary merit. As used today, it refers to works written since the late Meiji period (1868–1912) by intellectuals who were not part of the kabuki establishment. These works were staged with kabuki’s apparatus but without such traditional kabuki acting and staging conventions as climactic poses (mie), stylized makeup, and quick role-change (hayagawari). Through these plays, kabuki came to be divided into “classical” (koten) and “new” (shin) categories.
Following the Meiji Restoration, government leaders returning from trips to the West sought a potential counterpart to Western drama in Japan, as part of Japanese high culture suitable for entertaining the upper classes and visiting foreign dignitaries. This desire of the Meiji leaders coincided with indigenous modernist efforts to reform this traditional performing art to suit the times. This led to the appearance of zangiri-mono and katsureki-mono. However, following the death in 1893 of Kawakate Mokuami, who had provided most of the scripts for such reformative efforts, there was no playwright of comparable caliber to support the reform of kabuki. This gap, coupled with the growing influence of Western theater and the era’s great social changes, facilitated a transition away from the old practice—scripts were written exclusively by playwrights attached to a company—and the appearance of intellectual playwrights who were unrelated to kabuki.