Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by its performers. The word Kabuki is believed to derive from the verb Kabuku, meaning "to lean" or "to be out of the ordinary," so Kabuki can be interpreted to mean "avant-garde" or "bizarre" theatre. The expression Kabukimono referred originally to wild urban gangs of young eccentrics who dressed outrageously and had strange hairstyles.

1603–1629: Female Kabuki

The history of Kabuki began in 1603, when Okuni, a miko (young woman in the service of a shinto shrine) of the Izumo Taisha Shrine, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry river beds of Kyoto. Female performers played both men and women in comic playlets about ordinary life. The style was instantly popular. Okuni was even asked to perform before the Imperial Court. In the wake of such success, rival troupes quickly formed, and Kabuki was born as ensemble dance drama performed by women—a form very different from its modern incarnation. Much of its appeal in this era was due to the ribald, suggestive performances put on by many troupes. This appeal was further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution. Since Kabuki was already so popular, young male actors took over after women were banned from performing. Along with the change in the performers' gender came a change in the emphasis of the performance: increased stress was placed on drama rather than dance. Their performances were equally ribald, however, and they too were available for prostitution (also to male customers). Audiences frequently became rowdy, and brawls occasionally broke out, sometimes over the favors of a particularly handsome young actor, leading the shogunate to ban young male actors in 1652.

After 1653: Men's Kabuki

From 1653, only mature men could perform Kabuki, which developed into a sophisticated, highly stylized form called Yaro Kabuki (roughly, men's Kabuki). This metamorphosis in style was heavily influenced by kyogen comic theater, as mandated by the shogunate. Kyogen was extremely popular at the time. The Yaro was eventually dropped, but all roles in a Kabuki play continued to be performed by men. Male actors who specialize in playing women's roles, called onnagata or oyama, emerged, and families of onnagata specialists developed. In later years, most onnagata came from these families.

Kabuki today

Today, Kabuki remains relatively popular. It is the most popular of the traditional styles of Japanese drama, and its star actors often appear in television or film roles. Though there is only a handful of major theatres in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, there are many smaller theatres in Osaka, and throughout the countryside. Kabuki was listed on the UNESCO's “Third Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” on 24 November 2005.

This Cinema Kabuki is a new experience for almost all viewers. This is not a film. A new HD camera is used, and the viewer can see it on a large screen, much like a movie.

A new projector (DLP, Digital Light Processing Cinema) is necessary for this kind of cinema. Inquiries of details should be made to Shochiku (name of company that controls the Kabuki business). Please e-mail at: cinemakabuki@shochiku.co.jp