This paper investigates the perceived images of female characters by analysing reviews of Otojiro Kawakami’s Terumaro: the Japanese version of Hamlet in 1903 and his strategies of using both male and female performers.
After his second trip to Europe, Otojiro staged Shakespeare’s plays with his wife, Sadayakko. Hamlet was Otojiro’s third of four Shakespeare productions, and was an adaptation set in Japanese society in the Meiji era, so the female characters reflect Japanese women of that period. Both the social image of Japanese women and the physical features of performers influenced how characters were depicted. Furthermore, Otojiro encouraged his performers to act ‘naturally’, so reviewers could not ignore the presence of female bodies in the performance.
This paper classifies performers into three types; actresses (joyu); who follow European acting styles, Onnagata; male performers playing female roles in traditional Kabuki styles, and Onnayakusha; female performers performing both sexes’ roles in the Kabuki style and who traditionally formed all female troupes.
In this adaptation, the image of virginity presented in Orie, (Ophelia) was strengthened by cutting her obscene lines and songs. In spite of this revision, some reviewers did not accept Orie as intended because of the choice of performer, since Sadayakko had been a geisha. Others described her performance as, “natural”. This choice of word shows the reviewers’ awareness that female characters were more convincing as actual women when performed by females. Thanks to her past experience Sadayakko had both Japanese and European physicality, and this ambiguity provoked such contrasting evaluations.
By contrast, Yaeko (Gertrude) performed by Shinobu Ishida, an Onnagata, was severely criticized by reviewers including Kayo Yamagishi, one of the adapters of Otojiro’s Hamlet. Otojiro pursued realistic acting styles but Ishida, being biologically male, could not meet this expectation.
Otojiro grasped not only the importance but also the risks involved in having actual females on stage. It was uncommon for both sexes to perform together at that time, so female performers exposed themselves to the risk of sexual objectification. To avoid this, Otojiro attempted to make his troupe look austere and to portray he and his wife as an ideal couple in patriarchal Japan. To bolster this image, he also chose plays including women embodying traditional feminine virtue, and was at pains to portray these images to the media.
This study demonstrates the importance of Otojiro’s endeavors in naturalistic performance and of the appearance of female performers identified with fictional characters. Moreover, this adaptation of Hamlet paradoxically shows an awareness of women’s spontaneous sexuality by concealing the sexual objectification of female bodies.
This paper aims to reassess the context of the Bungaku-za production of Hamlet directed by Tsuneari Fukuda (1955). This production is known for its huge box-office success and seen as one that shows the new possibilities to present Shakespeare plays on the post-war Japanese stages. Fukuda, influenced by the same play directed by Michael Benthall which he saw during his stay in London in 1953-4, introduced new acting style, i.e., speaking lines with high speed and no pause, without psychological depict.
It is well-known that this production was realized with the Toyo-o Iwata, one of the members of the Directorial Board of the Bungaku-za. Iwata himself had stayed in Paris twice before the WW II and was known as a theorist and translator of French Theatre and plays. Of course, he was completely unfamiliar to Shakespeare and Shakespearean production. The Bungaku-za had never produced any Shakespeare plays under Iwata’s directorship. The question arise naturally why Iwata supported Fukuda’s Hamlet.
There are two possible answers to it;
1) Iwata’s reevaluation of Shakespeare during his stay in London in 1953.
2) His reluctance to agree with naturalist tendencies of modern dramas.
In Iwata’s view, Shakespeare’s plays could be a breakthrough to the dead-end situation of modern dramas in general.
Fukuda’s Hamlet might be said to be a product of chance, i.e. that of accidental coincidence of Fukuda’s ideal and Iwata’s view of the modern theatre.