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The Actor’s Absent Voice: Silent Cinema and the Archives of Kabuki in Prewar Japan

The Actor’s Absent Voice: Silent Cinema and the Archives of Kabuki in Prewar Japan

Chapter:
(p.308) 15 The Actor’s Absent Voice: Silent Cinema and the Archives of Kabuki in Prewar Japan
Source:
The Voice as Something More
Author(s):
Jonathan Zwicker
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226656427.003.0016

This chapter explores how silent cinema in Japan provided an important context for the development of the historiography of kabuki in the early twentieth century and the role played by the playwright and theater historian Tsubouchi Shōyō in developing a history of Japanese drama that foregrounds gesture over voice. Beginning in the 1910s, Shōyō developed a conception of theatrical ukiyo-e prints as proto-cinematic and used this idea to argue for these prints as an archival record of theatrical gesture. At the same time, this conception of woodblock prints as a cinema-like archive deemphasized the role of the actor’s voice for which there was no equivalent record. Only in recent years have historians begun to explore the early history of sound recording of kabuki from the first decades of the twentieth century to argue for the role that these SP records might play in not only supplementing but fundamentally complicating a historiography of kabuki theater from which the actor’s voice has long been absent.

Keywords:   voice, Japan, Japanese drama, kabuki, early cinema, Tsubouchi Shōyō

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