Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints (4 stars)

Vivid arrangement provides insight into Japanese theatre culture rarely put on display

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Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints

The 19th century woodblock prints depicting Kabuki – a traditional form of Japanese theatre performed exclusively by men – could easily be compared to the celebrity magazines of today. Displayed here like comic-strip panels, the coloured ink is as bright as if the images had been made yesterday; even the museum's dimly lit room fails to dull their luminosity.

Censors’ marks help to date the images (the strong colours respond to the modernisation of Japan and the subsequent removal of censorship after the military regime’s collapse in 1868), most of which depict the superstar actors in scenes of revenge or fantasy against contrived backdrops. The city of Edo, for example, is used to focus on the fighter, whereas Osaka concentrates on the lover. An image showing the customary act of cooling off by the harbour during the summer months shows a change of pace and content and, unlike the rest of the images in the exhibition, depicts the actors off-stage.

Despite the limitations of the medium, this vivid arrangement of an affordable and colourful means of entertainment provides a fascinating insight into a culture rarely put on display.

National Museum of Scotland, until Sun 2 Feb 2014

Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints

An exhibition showcasing the museum's enormous collection of Japanese woodblock prints, focusing on those depicting kabuki – the elaborately stylised form of dance drama that thrived in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries. Woodblock prints of kabuki performers were hugely popular in 19th century Japan and this…

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