Savannah's Theatre Blog

Kabuki Costuming

Posted in Uncategorized by Savannah on August 8, 2010

A Brief Overview

The influence of Kabuki costuming was originally taken from the contemporary styles of the time. Later, there was a reversal of influence when many ‘contemporary styles’ were based upon Kabuki costuming, epitomising the costumes not just as a focal point of the  performances but of society as well. In fact, the costumes became so extravagant that during the mid-eighteenth century a high ranked government official, Matsuda Sadanobu denied anyone, asides from royalty, the right do dress in an extravagant way. This restriction was still imposed in the mid 19th century meaning that theatres were obliged to submit their designs for approval for each new production.

A similarly significant change that occurred was that the actors were once required to purchase their own costumes, despite the cost. When they became even more elaborate, the actors began to demand that the company purchased them.

The Costumes

Kabuki costuming is ‘extremely elaborate’ making the emotions/meaning more pronounced.

The costumes signify the class, traits and age of a character by colour, contour and textile.  Generally, however, not all three are strongly depicted at once.

They are ‘full of subtlety, illusion and hidden meaning’ and ‘emphasise a character’s role’. The short happi coat can infer that the character/actor is wearing a samurai’s armour. It is the main outer garment and may be printed with the symbol or logo of the acting company.

There are several layers to each costume. Each layer may change in colour and design but the patter remains the same, asides for a slight change of consistency or placement. This, the never-changing pattern, is to remind the audience that the actor is the same the entire way through thus disallowing us, as the audience, to become completely intoxicated by the performance. We can then look analytically at the meaning.

There are stereotypical characters such as the ‘red princess’, also known as Akahime. It is worn by princesses and daughters of shoguns (historical title for a military dictator of Japan; a ‘military rand of the highest degree’) or a Daimyo (the powerful territorial lord).

How It All Works

The performer changes from layer to layer on stage. There are several different ways of changing these ‘extremely elaborate’ costumes.

1) The upper and lower parts, in two separate pieces, are obscured by a large sash. When the sash is removed, a new costume emerges.

2) Quick change: (or hikinuku) a kouken (stage assistant) removes a series of threads to allow an outer layer of the costume to be removed quickly whilst the performance continues.

3) Hedge: (or transformation) When a character’s visual representation is totally altered by a new costume and wig.

The short happi coat can infer that the character/actor is wearing a samurai’s armour. It is the main outer garment and may be printed with the symbol or logo of the acting company.

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