The long tradition behind female impersonation in both mainstream and nonmainstream Kabuki demonstrates that artistic integrity, rather than mere visual realism, is of great importance. Despite the well-established recognition of orthodox Kabuki, this paper focuses on the marginalized (Kabuki-inspired) popular theatre whose troupes lead a monthly itinerant lifestyle, moving from one playhouse to another nationwide. Recently, this popular theatre has begun to draw wider attention due to increased internet and smartphone usage.
Its acclaimed female impersonators (onnagata) in their teens and twenties—much younger than their mainstream counterparts—are able to make visible and believable imaginary and stylized feminine attractiveness. These young actors, employing Kabuki’s aesthetics, don’t pursue surface realism. Instead, they strive to artistically construct enigmatic and fascinating images of femininity that occur in the “mind’s eye” and in the imagination of the audience. Often they are so mysterious as to become gender-ambiguous.
In order to clarify this artistic construction of enigmatic eroticism, I will argue that the Polish-born German surrealist (visual) artist Hans Bellmer’s (1902-1975) perceptions of the adolescent female body help to transcend the conventional dichotomy between appearance and reality. His conceptual and visual disruption of the body is well illustrated by his multi-genre artwork that includes puppets shaped as two physically connected girls’ lower bodies in a straight line. Like the actors above, these images of “girls” evoke gender ambiguity, even reminding viewers of a phallus. Thus, both the actors and the puppets help to reveal the dormant eroticism hidden within ourselves.
|Keywords:||Appearance-Reality Dichotomy, Female Impersonation, Hans Bellmer, Japanese Traditional Theatre, Mimesis, (Modoki)|
Professor in English, Department of General Education, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
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